Kurt's Blog: Conversations Around the Fire

Since 1994, Kurt has offered contemplative kayaking retreats in Alaska through Inside Passages. His work as a mindfulness teacher now includes regular mindfulness retreats and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes in the Seattle area. Kurt's book "The Circumference of Home", and other essays and writings, are also available on this site. He periodically updates his blog reflections on this page, "Conversations Around the Fire".

Mar 04 2012

Extreme Tornadoes Put Climate Change Back In The Public Mind


“The most prolific 5-day period of tornado activity on record for so early in the year”?

NBC: “It’s as if a huge chunk of the country has suffered a deep, deep scar.”

Following the rash of devastating early tornadoes last week, Joe Romm has written in  his Climate Progress blog,

“The unexpectedly fierce and fast tornado outbreak so early in the season has folks asking again about a possible link to climate change. Climatologist Dr. Kevin Trenberth emailed me that, because of climate change, “there is every expectation that the [tornado] season will move up in time.  The warm winter in the US is perhaps an indicator of the nature of the changes to be expected.”

The former head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research stands by his 2011 statement, “It is irresponsible not to mention climate change in stories that presume to say something about why all these storms and tornadoes are happening.”

Despite an alarming 30% drop in media coverage of climate change between 2009 and 2010, and another 20% drop in 2011 over 2010, it’s encouraging to note that the number of Americans who say they think global warming is happening is up 7% from last spring, to 62%. The same report suggests that direct perception of the impacts of extreme weather, rather than media reports or the science about it, are behind this rising acceptance of climate change. “With record-shattering droughts, floods and storms in 2011 that scientists attribute to an increasing degree of warming, atmospheric circulation changes, and extra moisture in the atmosphere driven by greenhouse gas emissions, and with 4 out of 5 Americansimpacted by extreme weather since 2006, more people say that temperatures and weather changes are influencing their perception of global warming.”

A recent Gallup Poll showed that 78% of Democrats see solid evidence of climate change. 55% of Independents accept climate change, compared to 30% who do not.. And more Republicans see solid evidence for climate change than do not, at 47% to 42%. Furthermore, Democrats who took a Green position on climate change won much more oftenthan Democrats who remained silent on the subject in both 2008 and 2010. Given this, it is strange indeed that climate initiatives have been taken off the table by President Obama and most Democrats leading into the 2012 election cycle.

As D.R. Tucker has written in his piece called “The Warm War” President Obama needs to do the right thing by delivering a “State of the Climate Address” highlighting the need to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Tucker rightly states that, “Obama has been remarkably skittish about mentioning climate change. The indispensable environmental blogger Joseph Romm has argued that David Axelrod and other members of Obama’s inner circle have convinced the President that environmental and climate issues do not drive votes. Team Obama has it half-right — environmental and climate issues do not drive the votes of those who are already vehemently anti-Obama. There is no political downside to Obama making climate change an issue in this election. Those who would be disgusted by a “State of the Climate Address” have already sent their donations to the Santorum campaign.”

Hopefully this newest spate of tragic weather events will tip the balance back toward action in Congress, and visibility in the press. And it is our place to keep this point clearly before the President and Congress as we head into a turbulent election cycle.


    One Response to Extreme Tornadoes Put Climate Change Back In The Public Mind

    1. Steve M March 26, 2012 at 7:17 am

      Kurt,

      As you noted, putting climate into the political campaigns will certainly not gain votes. While the number of people who believe climate change is happening is at an all-time high, there is certainly fragmenting as to its origin (anthropogenic or not), and even more disagreement as to the appropriate response. In this regard, taking action against anthropogenic climate change is still in the minority. As such, if our political system is such that it represents the convictions of the people, it seems more understandable why it is not on the lips of politicians.

      And yet our politicians are our elected leaders. Leaders are required to not only understand and act for the present, but have the capacity to understand the future with wisdom and direct their constituents in a manner that will be in their best interest. This leadership may take the group on a path that may not be popular at the time, but will reap the ultimate benefit in the future.

      Leadership needs to return to our democratic system, both in the politicians and the people.

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