"'Day After' Omen of Real Disasters" - Boston Metro, May 26, 2004
In the latest blockbuster du jour The Day After Tomorrow, Earth’s rapid warming triggers a global climate switch, unleashing a devastating barrage of severe weather: Manhattan freezes solid in the span of a few days; New Delhi is battered by a blizzard; and vicious tornadoes in Los Angeles tear asunder the Hollywood sign.
But amid the film’s overdone storylines, there is more than just a kernel of truth behind the premise. For our planet is warming rapidly – nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1990. And, we are experiencing the more frequent, more severe weather that climatologists have long predicted would be a result of this warming: the five year long drought in the Southwest, fueling last October’s California wildfires which torched 3,600 homes; the month long European heat wave last August which claimed 20,000 lives; and the 516 tornadoes that ripped through our country in May 2003, shattering the old record of 399 set in June 1992.
Here in New England we see this pattern in the increased intensity of winter storms. Last December we experienced a devastating three-day Nor’ easter, which dumped up to four feet of snow in the region a full two weeks before the official start of winter.
Boston itself got “lucky” and officially received only 16.9 inches. That meant the storm just missed being one of the city’s top 10 snowstorms, which coincidentally have all occurred since 1958, even though records have been kept since 1892. Topping the list - last year’s President’s Day Storm at 27.5 inches.
Governor Mitt Romney deserves much praise for recently releasing the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan, a comprehensive agenda to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. In so doing, he has put us firmly at the forefront of the burgeoning technologies that will curb this ever-growing threat.
Unfortunately, Governor Romney also asserted that he doesn’t personally know whether climate change is actually happening. This seemed to be a rather craven political bow to national Republicans, led by President George W. Bush, who have long maintained that the theory behind global warming is just that – a theory, not yet proven to be fact.
This excuse cleverly uses the inherent uncertainty involved in all science to avoid action on a threat that the overwhelming majority of scientists thinks is very real. It is true that the theory of climate change will never be 100% proven. Likewise, the theory of gravity will never be 100% proven. Care to jump out of a 50 foot high window on the infinitesimal chance that Newton et al are wrong?
Probably not. Yet that is what critics are asking us all to do in refusing to reduce emissions - jump out a window, without having a clue as to how far the fall will be. Scientists can make an educated guess though, and in this analogy, the overwhelming consensus is damn far.
Are you and your kids willing to be guinea pigs in a grand experiment in willful ignorance? The results of such a reckless experiment might actually be worthy of a Hollywood disaster movie by the end of the century, if not sooner.