Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snowboarding in DC

Does climate change come with that?

DC's 14-inch Saturday snowstorm is history. And, in fact, four days later the snow is more than half gone. But it will live on in local lore--probably forever. It will certainly live on in Brendan's memory. He managed to snowboard three days in a row. He never did that in Chicago, which gets far more snow than DC residents could tolerate, because there are no boardable hills in Chicago.

All three days in DC, some combination of Brendan, Marrianne and I slogged half a mile through drifts and wound up at a hill. A similar slog to a hill in Chicago would probably end up somewhere in Wisconsin; though there is an artificial sledding hill on the lakefront just north of McCormick Place. Marrianne and Brendan did have to journey from there one time after the car battery died. They walked, broke fresh trail through snowdrifts, took bus and train, and made it home. They arrived pretty bedraggled. Based on that experience (and other facts known to me) I don't think any of us would survive a winter hike to Wisconsin.

Considering that snowboarding only developed as a sport in the last 20 years or so, and that it has been pretty much confined to places that actually have winter, Brendan might be the first person ever to snowboard in DC on three consecutive days. Though I put in good effort crafting the snowboard run, I didn't ride it.

Still, it was good winter sport for me, too. And, as any long-time Midwesterner could testify, winter weather sometimes presents painful challenges, but vigorous outdoor play in winter is both exhilarating and the stuff of fond memory. Brendan has some such memories from living in Chicago for eight winters, but now he will have a rare thing, a DC winter weather memory.

Anyway, I started wondering whether global warming would jeopardize our collective chances for winter experiences in the future that subsequently become fond memories. So, though you cannot google "will global warming jeopardize our collective chances for winter experiences in the future that subsequently become fond memories," I did a little checking up and, I'm happy to report that with global warming we will still have winters. And, more good news, our winters might be milder, but have worse storms. Doesn't that sound nice?

Of course, there's the usual bad news; we'll be breathing increasingly toxic mixes of air (more carbon dioxide, more methane, less oxygen), but maybe we'll have more hallucinations, too. You have to admit that would be a sort of silver-lining. Regardless, here is a selection of the "key messages" extracted from something called "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" (you can find the paper posted on Scribd):
• Projections of future precipitation generally indicate that northern areas will become wetter, and southern areas, particularly in the West, will become drier.
• The amount of rain falling in the heaviest downpours has increased approximately 20 percent on average in the past century, and this trend is very likely to continue, with the largest increases in the wettest places.
• Many types of extreme weather events, such as heat waves and regional droughts, have become more frequent and intense during the past 40 to 50 years.
• Cold-season storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are likely to become stronger and more frequent.

There are other messages we're getting about global warming, as well. These messages range widely, but we can ignore, for now, the ones about conspiracies of climate change scientists, and technology-will-fix-it, and twenty-years-ago-they-were-predicting-global-winter. Let's instead focus only on the notion that what happened at Copenhagen wasn't good enough. I know progressives are distressed that Obama has failed to push the envelope in so many ways. Banks and brokers still seem to be getting away with murder or, at least, most of the cash; there won't be another stimulus that focuses more closely on working people; and there won't be universal payer, or, even, a public option.

But Obama didn't keep the world from making good progress toward reducing carbon emissions, that clearly wasn't happening; he got to Copenhagen late in the process and talked to China, India and Brasil. That engagement should seem to everyone like a huge change in the US attitude toward the rest of the world. All by itself that change should be more than enough to keep everyone talking. Continued discussion means hope, hope that there really will be a climate change treaty that will reduce and reverse the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the next year or two. If that does happen, it won't be Obama who stands in the way of treaty ratification by the US Senate, it will be Republicans. If people really want to do something about climate change, then they ought to be working to elect Democrats and keep them focused on important things. Blaming Obama for lack of progress on all the things we want to change won't cut it.

Copenhagen turns out to be just one more stop on the way to making something earth-shaking happen. That's what it will take to reduce human contributions to global warming. But that's what it should take to save the planet--something earthshaking.

No comments:

Post a Comment