A Case Where Change is Not Good

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President & Executive Director Philip B. Duffy

My recent travels between Falmouth and California highlight very vividly that both regions are experiencing weather patterns that are unprecedented, prolonged, and problematical—and possibly related to climate change. Falmouth, of course, is in the grip of a modern-day ice age, while California has its second consecutive winter of record warmth and record-low precipitation.

Both of these weather patterns have serious societal consequences.  Our local friends need no reminder of the inconvenience, expense, and danger associated with record snow and unusual cold.  And when the thaw comes—late July, I would estimate—we may be treated to flooding and an ocean of mud. In California, the warmth and dryness are a double-whammy for the water supply.  The implications of low precipitation are obvious. Record warmth means that precipitation comes mainly as rain, and the snowpack—an important source of water for the summer dry season—is even smaller than it otherwise would be.  When summer arrives, the winter’s warmth and dryness will increase fire risk, and water scarcity will affect both agricultural and urban users.

Whether or not these particular examples of extreme weather are in fact associated with climate change, there’s no doubt that some forms of extreme weather are.  These connections illustrate that climate change involves much more than gradual warming.  They also illustrate the silliness of oft-repeated arguments that the occurrence of cold or snow disproves the reality of climate change, or that climate change is beneficial.  Extreme weather is disruptive, expensive, and dangerous.  Not only that, but any major change in climate is a problem, not because the new climate is necessarily “worse,” but because human systems—everything from agriculture to snow removal—are very finely tuned to the old one.  This is one case where “change is not good,” and the unprecedented rate of human-caused climate change is especially not good.

Who could have guessed that climate change might cause extreme snow in Massachusetts or a year-long dry season in California?  These examples illustrate why the work we do at WHRC to understand climate change and its consequences, and to slow its progress, is so important.  Thanks for your continued support.