All winter, the Midwest and Eastern regions have faced glacial winter storms named after terrifying mythological Greek characters. The average temperature for Chicago this winter will likely be around 16–18 degrees, making it the third-coldest winter since records began in 1877, according to the National Weather Service.
The miserable winter weather must mean that climate change isn’t real, right? Wrong. On behalf of every breathing human being, I wish that were the case, but the especially cold winter clearly indicates how gravely unprepared the world is for the realities of a changing climate.
People, particularly those in charge of making big policy decisions, can continue to argue whether they believe climate change is real, but bickering won’t halt its effects. They can bicker and disagree on carbon pollution’s impact on the atmosphere and the oceans, but that isn’t going to stop Manhattan from flooding. Denying the realities of climate change is only prolonging the road to proper legislation in this country, and the world needs to start solving this problem now.
While icicles form on the tips of Chicagoans’ noses, people across the West and Southwest regions are dealing with the worst drought since the 18th century, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The lack of water in those regions is the result of this season’s lack of snowfall, which is vital to farmers preparing for the dry summer months. State and national politicians are currently scrambling in California to come up with a solution to the water distribution problem.
The state legislature has considered a number of bills that would reroute water from the northern part of the state to the lower part. In Southern California, the drought is leaving farmers without any contingency plans and wondering whether or not they will have anything to harvest next season, as this season is already a lost cause. The result is just short of an all-out water war.
President Barack Obama addressed the impending disaster to a number of farmers and community members Feb. 14 on farmland in Los Banos, Calif., according to White House records.
“We’re going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for,” Obama said. “We’ve got to start looking at these disasters as something to prepare for, to anticipate, to start building new infrastructure, to start having new plans, to recalibrate the baseline that we’re working off of.”
But Obama’s statement, however well-received or well-meant, is long overdue in the annals of politicians putting bandages on wounds that need stitches. The retroactive solutions conjured up to deal with immediate impacts such as freezing temperatures and a lack of water rarely leave anyone prepared for the next occurrence.
Although these weather events are not direct results of climate change, the scientific consensus is that this kind of weather will become the norm. A freakishly cold winter in Chicago does not invalidate rising temperatures. NOAA has 137 years of documented weather data, and despite the record-low winter, 2013 still made it into the top 10 hottest years for the entire planet, according to the annual data analysis at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. Last year tied for fourth place with 2003 in the top 10 hottest years since 1880.
The battle happening in California right now is exemplary of what is preventing a viable, long-term solution to a problem that will likely intensify as the 21st century rolls on. The southern half of the state is pointing fingers at the northern half, claiming a decision made years ago to route water to the coasts where salmon fisheries thrive has left the agricultural south and central regions barren. The north is arguing that even if the water gets diverted back to the south, it will not be helpful because the land and air are so dry—in short, the south just needs rain.
The fact that California legislators are spending more time pointing fingers than finding long-term solutions is indicative of what is happening on a global level. Governments and citizens everywhere have to deal with weather calamities that could be mitigated if everyone stopped blaming each other and started coming up with solutions.
In the U.S., people do not have to cope with the thought of their homes sinking below an ocean. Island nations across the Pacific are dealing with that threat right now, and the world stands to lose entire nations to rising sea levels.
Secretary of State John Kerry recently spoke in Jakarta, Indonesia, to a room full of Indonesian policymakers Feb. 16 as a part of a speaking tour discussing the impacts of climate change. Kerry said island nations would be the first to experience the harmful effects of rising temperatures and oceans, making them a testing ground for compensatory policies.
People need to acknowledge these problems before irreparable damage is done so we as a planet will be poised to confront them when they inevitably escalate. The current generation has the power to do something and should be able to tell their grandchildren someday about how they saved the world, rather than apologizing for letting it die.