The Heat Is Still On


More than a decade ago, journalist Ross Gelbspan wrote The Heat Is On, one of the best mass market books on the threat posed by global warming. Gelbspan peppered his narrative with examples of freak weather events around the world – floods, droughts, heat waves and the like. The introductory section of the book – which was written, mind you, in 1997 – was titled, “Climate Change Is Here. Now.”

Fast forward to today. Emissions of global warming pollution have continued to rise. Comprehensive legislation to address the nation’s energy and climate challenges lies in tatters. Environmentalists are engaged in a campaign of soul-searching, trying to figure out what went wrong and how we can finally get the world to move with the necessary speed to recognize, let alone address, the most profound long-term threat to our environment and civilization.

And yet, the actual scientific support for the notion that global warming is happening and humans are largely responsible is stronger than ever. Meanwhile, the list of climate casualties around the world continues to mount.

It is clear that we need to hit some sort of "reset" button in the movement to stop global warming. And it is also clear that building the necessary political support for action to address the crisis will require educating and mobilizing the public - often one person at a time.

In that spirit, we release our new report, Global Warming and Extreme Weather: The Science, The Forecast and the Impacts on America. The report is a summary of the latest science linking global warming with projected changes in the severity, frequency or impacts of a variety of extreme weather events – including heat waves, wildfires, droughts, flooding, hurricanes, and coastal storms. The report also tells the stories of some of the extremely damaging freak weather events that have occurred in the U.S. over the past five years.

The list is, in many ways, more troubling than the list of events that appeared in Gelbspan’s book years ago. Consider the events of just the last year: “1,000 year” floods in Tennessee, 500-year floods in New England, unprecedented snowfall in Washington, D.C., and the most powerful winter storm on record in the southwestern United States. And that's not to mention the events that have happened overseas - the unprecedented heat wave in Russia or the massive floods in Pakistan.

In just the past week, the nation experienced a fast-moving wildfire in Boulder, Colorado, that claimed at least 63 buildings, as well as the sudden emergence of Tropical Storm Hermine, which meteorologist Jeff Masters, at his excellentblog on Weather Underground, reports experienced one of the most rapid intensifications on record - erupting from nothing into a strong tropical storm in less than a day.

For years now, we and others have highlighted the vast potential for the United States to shift to clean energy sources and have called attention to the many benefits – ranging from improved public health to the creation of millions of new jobs – of doing so. That's important work. But it is also important to remind the public from time to time that the debate over climate policy is about more than just alternative theories of how to stimulate the economy. Rather, at its core, the debate is about whether we as a society care to lift a finger to protect our kids (and their kids) from the disruption that global warming will bring – including the kinds of extreme weather events that are rapidly becoming the new normal in the United States and worldwide.