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Congressional Recess Confronted By Climate Reality

Denial of Science in Washington Overshadowed by Record Drought

SOURCE: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Spring 2011 has seen record droughts across Texas and the Southwest.

Fresh off a vote in the House of Representatives to substitute ideology for climate science, members of Congress returned home to Texas and the Southwest to find the most severe drought in more than 100 years.  Humans are overloading the air with heat-trapping carbon and the result is a warming planet.  Scientists have found that as warming continues, evaporation will increase and droughts will likely intensify.  This is compounded by a climate change-induced shift northward of westerly storm tracks meaning less rain for the area.

Earlier this month, the Texas Forest Service warned that “critical drought conditions, high temperatures and high winds are combining to create a perfect storm for wildfire,” adding that conditions “could shape up to be among the worst in Texas history.” And conditions are likely to deteriorate further. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook issued on April 7th and valid through June 2011 indicates that drought is likely to persist or intensify in Texas.

“The current drought cannot be absolutely attributed to climate change, but it is consistent with the warming and drying conditions expected for this area based on climate change projections,” said Connie Woodhouse, Associate Professor Geography & Regional Development, University of Arizona.  “Water resources in Texas are already stressed.  The inevitable warming and drying in the future will only make droughts like this worse.”

Members of Congress are misleading their constituents by not acknowledging that the climate is changing and heat-trapping pollution is responsible.  A majority of the House voted to reject an amendment affirming an understanding of climate science to a bill in the House.  While the bill would compromise the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to enforce the Clean Air Act, the rejected amendment simply called on Congress to at least accept the EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gas pollution threatens the health and welfare of Americans with a wide range of impacts, including more frequent and severe droughts and wildfires.

The current drought is not expected to end anytime soon. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for April – June, 2011 indicates persistent drought for most of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico and large parts of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas as well as parts of the southeast.

These conditions come as no surprise to scientists.  Nearly two years ago the U.S. Global Change Research Program stated, “Human-induced climate change appears to be well underway in the Southwest. Recent warming is among the most rapid in the nation, significantly more than the global average in some areas.”  And that was an affirmation of years of research reporting the same conclusions.

It’s a double whammy for Texas and the Southwest. “What’s happening today in Texas and the Southwest should be a wake-up call on climate change. These are the kinds of conditions that we expect to see more often as climate warms,” said Dr. Julia Cole, Professor of Geosciences, University of Arizona.

“Droughts like this can be triggered by natural causes like the La Niña that is now dying down in the Pacific. But the same pattern of drought is expected to become more frequent as the world warms. In both cases, we expect to see the storms that normally bring rain to the southwestern US move northwards, and our region to become drier. Warming temperatures will only make the drying worse.”

But right now, Congress isn’t listening.  “We need our elected leaders to get serious about climate change and stop putting ideology ahead of science.  There is no question that the carbon that we’re putting into the air, and that will stay there for hundreds of years, is trapping heat and warming the planet.  Anyone who contends that climate change is simply due to natural variation is either deluding themselves, their audiences or both,” said Dan Lashof, Director of the Climate Center for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Last year, the most authoritative and respected scientific body in the world, the National Academy of Sciences, reported to Congress, “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities . . . and in many cases is already affecting a broad range of human and natural systems.”

“Records from tree rings show us that droughts much more severe than any we’ve experienced to date have occurred in the western US in the past and there is no reason to think droughts of this magnitude could not occur in the future… but under warmer temperatures.  Increases in water demand where supplies are limited, along with inevitable droughts, and the added effects of climate change dictate some serious thinking about the ways we use water,” added Dr. Woodhouse

The burning of over 88,000 acres and 58 homes in Western Texas led Texas Forest Service spokesman Lewis Kearney to say, “With the drought pattern Texas has had, fire season now is almost running 12 months out of the year. I mean that’s not normal.”

“Unfortunately, it is the new normal,” says Nick Sundt of the World Wildlife Fund in a recent post. As Forrest Wilder said in February in the Texas Observer:

‘While Republicans in Congress, led by members of the Texas GOP delegation, work to defund and defang the EPA, climate change – and the science of climate – marches on. The GOP’s willful suspension of trust in what ever-mounting evidence – and dare I say, common sense? – tells us is happening to the planet is not just short-sighted. It’s reckless.’”

This repost is excerpted from two articles by Abbey Watson at The Project on Climate Science and Nick Sundt at the World Wildlife Fund.

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