Watching climate change before my eyes

Here in the U.S., despite what the majority of scientists say, people are still arguing about whether climate change is real. Meanwhile, I’m watching my local climate change profoundly.

It almost rained here last night. We could see dark roiling rain clouds in the distance, and black sheets of rain falling … north of us. My lawn got a few drops only. Still, where I live in central Texas, we’ve been in drought conditions since 2007, and it has been a long hot dry summer. The city parks department is about to cut down 50 trees in my local park, many of them big old oaks. They up and died this summer due to the extreme heat and lack of water, and now the city is cutting them down. So even distant rain is a welcome sight. At least we can see with our own eyes that rain still falls, somewhere.

In my little corner of the globe, we’ve been in a climate extreme. It’s been a profound change from our beautiful central Texas climate of the past, which was hot in the summer, sure, but still with a certain deliciousness about it. That climate has been gone for some years, since long before the drought started, and scientists are telling us to expect climate extremes across the globe as climate change progresses in this century.

I get mad when I hear TV weathermen cite statistics about past weather. Why? Because for 30+ years, I’ve been hearing from scientists that Earth’s climate is bound to change if we don’t stop adding carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases to Earth’s atmosphere. When I was a girl journalist – note pad in hand, trembling a little each time I knocked on a scientist’s door – I heard scientists speak of global climate change and imagined what it might be like, in the future, to live in a world whose climate really was changing. Now I believe that future has arrived. I’ve lived in the same place for nearly 60 years, and I remember what it used to be like here. I look around and see we’re all living in that world of climate change, that profoundly and intricately changing world. So comparing the current Texas drought to the drought of the 1950s has no meaning at all for me. Those weather stats just seem misleading to people whose job it isn’t to follow science and who aren’t sure what to believe.

For me, it’s hard not to see the long surreal hot Texas summer of 2009 as a manifestation of global climate change. I know you all don’t agree with me, but what if climate is changing before our eyes? What if that change has the potential to affect all of us, but especially the poorest of Earth’s 6.8 billion inhabitants? What if climate change has become just so politicized and so obfuscated that most people remained confused about it, or unsure, or angry, or in denial about it?

Photo Credit: Lu Guang/Greenpeace

One week ago – August 28 – marked precisely 100 days before the start of the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009. Greenpeace launched a countdown to the Summit by placing ice sculptures of 100 children at the Temple of Earth in Beijing, a nearly 500-year-old monument where Chinese emperors once prayed for good harvests. An organization called TckTckTck started counting down to the Summit, too, which they call ‘the most important meeting of our lives.’ The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is also counting down. That’s because, in 2012, the Kyoto Protocol to prevent climate changes and global warming runs out. In Copenhagen in 2009 the parties of the UNFCCC meet for the last time on a government level before the climate agreement needs to be renewed.

Many are saying that Copenhagen will be the world’s last good chance to craft a new global-warming agreement. People like me – who believe climate change is human-caused – convey a sense of time running out. And yet we hear that global negotiators remain distant in their goals and desires. For example, Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a veteran of past climate talks, was quoted in Time as saying, ‘Negotiations are moving much more slowly than they need to be. If we’re going to get a climate deal by Copenhagen, we’re going to need political will injected into the process – not just rhetoric.’

The Obama Administration is said to be pushing for a global-warming deal. A bill featuring cap and trade was passed by the U.S. House and is now up for debate in the Senate. It would commit the U.S. to carbon reductions, but under the new law – if it passes – U.S. emissions would fall only 13% from 1990 levels by 2020. Meanwhile, the U.S. approximately ties China as the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, according to Wikipedia.

The ice sculptures placed in Beijing by Greenpeace are melting now, as the countdown to Copenhagen continues.

These sculptures are made of glacial melt water from the source of Yangtze, Yellow and Ganges rivers. Greenpeace says they symbolize the risk that disappearing ice poses to the billion+ people in Asia who are threatened by water shortages due to climate change.

Deborah Byrd