When the Republican National Committee made the decision to call off Day 1 of the Republican Convention as Hurricane Isaac threatened the Gulf littoral, some thought it was an appropriate comeuppance for Republican obstruction of climate change legislation. We won't pass such judgments. Our focus here is all about addressing climate change; we leave it to others to assess the blame.
What we have noticed, however, is a rising swell of concern in the electorate about climate change, which might start to cause the Republicans some concern. To be sure, this is only anecdotal, and filtered through climatelawyers.com's prism. Still, sometimes it is meet to consider other viewpoints.
We start with a Superfund site community meeting we attended a few months ago. The site is near the ocean and one citizen asked whether the proposed remedy considered rising sea levels. EPA's answer was non-commital.
We next stopped in at a public meeting hosted by the Maryland Public Service Commission to consider electric service reliability. The citizenry turned out en masse to excoriate Baltimore Gas and Electric. Overflowing the hearing room, they questioned BGE's ability to handle the increasingly more severe weather (record blizzards in 2010, Hurricanes Irene and Lee in 2011 and the June 29, 2012 derecho - a new storm word in most vocabularies). We took away a new thought: extreme weather can trash not only your facilities; it can also trash your reputation if you are not prepared to deal with it. And this is so whether one believes climate change is the cause of the problem or not.
And what do we know about extreme weather? National Geographic delivered a frightening cover story on the subject in the September 2012 issue. We can't do justice to the article here but note a few unequivocally disturbing facts:
"As the oceans warm, they're giving off more vapor. ... During the past 25 years satellites have measured a 4 percent average rise in water vapor in the air column. The more water vapor, the greater the potential for intense rainfalls."
This followed a description of the "once-in-a-millenium" flood in Nashville in 2010, which received over 13 inches of rain, more than twice the previous record. And Nashville wasn't alone; the article mentions record floods in Rio de Janiero. Pakistan and Thailand. "Extreme events ... are happening more frequently than they used to."
From floods to droughts to heat waves, "Losses from such events helped push the cost of weather disasters in 2011 to an estimated $150 billion worldwide, a roughly 25 percent jump from the previous year." These losses are characterized in the article by the Reinsurance Association of America as "extraordinary." More ominously: "The past is not prologue to the type of weather we're about to see."
The article concludes that climate change is part of the cause of this demonstrably increasing extreme weather. National Geographic's circulation is about 5 million monthly in the United States. Query weather that means 5 million voters that believe something ought to be done about it?
Extreme weather is not the only climate change effect that is impacting individuals. The News Journal, "serving Delaware daily since 1871," ran a 3-part front-page series last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday on the effects of climate change on Delaware and Maryland.
One can look at the predictions of Delaware's losses in the next century:
• All of Delaware’s 73,400 acres of tidal wetlands, and 98 percent of its tidal marsh
• Up to 15,000 Sussex County homes or businesses; 18,000 statewide, including 5 percent of identifiable commercial properties.
• 44 percent of the state’s parks, refuges, conservation areas and otherwise protected land.
• 5 percent of roads and bridges, including 6 percent of evacuation routes.
• 6 percent of railroad lines, including areas around Wilmington’s Amtrak station.
Or one can look at the effects that are being felt now:
A farmer near Milford is watching salt-water brine kill his crops a mile inland from Delaware Bay.
Homeowners in Kitts Hummock have been told by the State that the beachfront community should "go back to nature" "it's not cost-effective to save."
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland is losing an acre a day to erosion and inundation. The salt marsh habitat is, or is becoming, open water.
James Island has lost 160 acres to Chesapeake Bay. Smith Island, one of two inhabited islands in the bay, is likely to be entirely submerged should sea level rise another foot.
The series notes: "those who don't see or feel the weight of the evidence are finding the facts harder to ignore." The News Journal, the paper of record in Delaware, thinks climate change is worthy of the front page three days running. The smart money is on those - Republican or Democrat - who have a plan to address it; those whose plan is to deny it are going to get wet, or worse.