These last few weeks have involved wildfires destroying hundreds of homes, an organized thunderstorm system called a derecho resulting in several million homes without electric power, and a drought causing agricultural loss in large areas of the central USA. So how does the US government respond?
As reported in the Hill in the article by Ben Geman (h/t Marc Morano) [highlight added]
A senior Obama administration scientist said this year’s heat and Western wildfires are altering perceptions of climate change in the United States.
Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in Australia on Friday that many have previously regarded climate change as a “nebulous concept,” The Associated Press reports.
“Many people around the world are beginning to appreciate that climate change is under way, that it’s having consequences that are playing out in real time and, in the United States at least, we are seeing more and more examples of extreme weather and extreme climate-related events,” she said at a university in Canberra, AP reports.
“People’s perceptions in the United States, at least, are in many cases beginning to change as they experience something first-hand that they at least think is directly attributable to climate change,” she said.
Lubchenco “said that while it was impossible to attribute any single weather event to climate change, the pattern of extreme events was consistent with forecast consequences of increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” AP reports.
She is the second Obama administration official to weigh in this week on the nexus between the violent U.S. weather and climate change.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano linked climate change with the wildfires hitting Colorado.
Napolitano said “there’s a pattern here” as she noted the summer wildfires as well as the East Coast heat wave and the high-velocity winds that whipped through the mid-Atlantic late last week.
For other comments on the extreme weather by senior members of the Obama administration see Judy Curry’s post
with statements by Jane Lubchenco, Undersecretary of NOAA, Morris Sherman, Undersecretary of Agriculture for Resources and Natural Environment, and Janet Napolitano, Secretary Homeland Security.
The clear implication is that the Obama administration is going to continue with the top-down, global climate model approach to respond to extreme weather events. Their focus will be on mandating reductions in CO2 emissions as a way to reduce the occurrence of these extreme events.
However, as discussed in our article
Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2012: Dealing with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press.
the top-down approach is too narrow, and will likely result in poor policy choices since all mitigation and adaptation responses to weather extremes are not being considered.
For example, with respect to the three extreme weather events listed earlier in this post there are a number of bottom up responses that should be adopted regardless of how or if weather patterns change in the future:
1. With respect to homes lost in wildfires, one way to reduce risk is to require homes built in those areas have fire resistant construction. This means that shake roofs be prohibited. When I lived in Fort Collins, our covenants actually required us to have skaked roofs! This is no better than having kindling for a roof top. A number of the homes lost in Colorado Springs appeared to have shake roofs which will often combust just from a single ember!
2. With respect to the recent power outages in the eastern USA, this has been a perennial problem. Tropical storms and hurricanes, ice storms and thunderstorms have caused large losses of power in the past due to trees and branches breaking electric lines (e.g. see hurricanes for Maryland). The obvious solution is to place the electric lines underground as much as possible, as they do in Colorado, Florida and elsewhere. The cost for this reduction of risk certainly will be less than the losses incurred by the power outages that will inevitably occur again.
3. With respect to the drought, crop insurance certainly is a response by many farmers. However, this is just a short-term stop-gap approach. What is needed is the development of pipelines to ship water across large distances. This has been proposed in Colorado and California (Big Straw project; see and see) and is worth considering throughout agricultural regions of the country. Canada, for example, with its vast fresh water supplies from inland lands could provide the USA with a source of irrigation water during times of drought.
None of these approaches depend on whether weather patterns are changing or not. They make sense regardless. This approach is much better than appears to be adopted by the Obama administration. In the upcoming election, it could be another point of contrast in policy, if the Romney campaign adopts a broader based, resource-focused approach to reduce the risks of society to the climate.