I’ve been news free for 22 days and counting. So, I am basically clueless about what’s going on in the broader world.
When I called to talk to my mom today, she asked about our weather. I launched into an explanation of the craziness we had last night with two inches of rain falling in less than an hour, and another inch dropping after that. I went on to boast that despite all that snow we got a few weeks back and the extended rain run we’ve had, and the virtual lack of sunshine for weeks, our landscape had still managed to absorb most of it.
I had been worried that our three month drought had done irreparable damage to all the soil we’ve been trying to building. But, with all the terracing, swales, hugelcultures, ponds, rain depressions, trench composting, contouring, etc. that we’ve done, it seems to have bounced right back. Our land which used to be an erosion nightmare is now a living sponge.
Then, I talked about a few new leaks our roof had sprung and how our pond almost flooded the road, but luckily I caught it in time and used the alternate drain to empty it. When I finally took a breath, she said she was just glad we weren’t having the conditions like the people in Mississippi and Georgia with tornadoes taking 19 lives last night.
“Oh no,” I say. “I didn’t know.”
So, she tells me more about what the news reported to bring me up to speed. We both talk about how horrible it must be for those people, their families, and those communities. It’s just me and my mom on the phone, but we both feel some need to express our sympathies even though no one but us can hear them. Then we talk about how weird it seems for this to be happening in January. We wonder aloud if it is normal or not? And I wonder silently if this is related to climate change.
Tonight when I sat down to write, I had to set my news sabbatical aside for a minute to satisfy my curiosity. January tornadoes are less common than spring tornadoes. And the reason it seems weird to me is that the last time we had this kind of loss from a January tornado was in 1969, before I was born.
The fact that the last time something like this happened was in 1969 seems to suggest climate change is not the cause. But I still have this nagging feeling that I am missing something important. So I research tornadoes and climate change anyhow.
On the climate change front, the jury, at least from the perspective of well-supported science, is still out. Extreme weather certainly contributes to the kind of outbreak behavior that caused so much damage this week. The increased likelihood of extreme weather these days is clearly related to climate change. But what is hard for scientists to unravel is whether a particular extreme weather event is climate change related, or just something that otherwise would have happened had we not tampered with our climate. Crazy outlier weather happened before climate change too, just with less frequency.
As I am trying to make sense of the available studies and historical data, it occurs to me that it doesn’t even matter, certainly not to the people who lost their family members, their homes, and their sense of security in the world. Whether these events are climate change related or not, they are definitely more common, more devastating, and impact more lives than in the past.
Whether it’s a tornado, a hurricane, a flood, or a drought, more frequent and devastating catastrophes are the new normal. For that matter, so is more extreme weather in general, longer droughts, heavier rains, more pest problems, more plant diseases, beneficial insect loss, greater species extinction, resource depletion, more crop failures, and so on.
Just like the scientists who struggle to unravel whether a specific event is climate change related or not, I too feel that way each time one of these events happens. Since I am now fully aware of how carbon emissions impact our climate and I know what a user I have been in my lifetime, I think what I meant when I was swapping sympathies for the victims with my mom and secretly wondering if this was climate change related is:
“I am so sorry for the loss of lives this week and anything I may have done, or not done to, to contribute”.
It just seems easier to accept my share of the responsibility than to try to figure out whether or not I specifically contributed this time.