Is Extreme Weather the ‘New Norm?’

July 27, 2018

Media reports over the past two weeks read like a litany of biblical wrath, permeated with details of unprecedented heatwaves, extreme drought, wildfires, persistent rains and damaging floods occurring around the world.

In the United States, the National Weather Service said that dangerous heat will persevere through at least today as temperatures across the Southwest, California and parts of the Pacific Northwest continue to be well above average, prompting a heat advisory for 30 million residents. Areas in the Southwest and southern California can expect high temperatures near and above 110 degrees.

The hot and dry conditions have aggravated wildfires that are forcing thousands of Californians to flee their homes. Torrential storms and flooding have plagued the Mid-Atlantic states in recent days and are now moving into the Northeast.

Meanwhile, devastating fires and heatwaves, from Sweden to Japan, have claimed the lives of scores of people all over the world. In Greece, the death toll from fires stands at 80 and is feared to rise, while in Japan a heatwave claimed the lives of at least 65 people. Wildfires have raged from the Russian Far East to Quebec and Ontario, Canada, making this a truly global phenomenon.

There are many complex factors at play in extreme weather events, but what the world has been experiencing is certainly consistent with the indicators of a planet undergoing climate change.

Unfortunately, radically extreme weather events are becoming, as climate scientists have warned, the “new norm.” The global spread of increasingly devastating heatwaves, massive flooding and violent episodes like tornados is occurring nonstop in a climate that is still under 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels. Global temperatures are continuing to rise and the prospects of what could come if temperatures surpass the 1.5 or 2 degrees set out in the Paris climate agreement are frightening.

The circumstances are such that policy makers around the world recognize the growing threat and are putting a greater emphasis on strategies and practices that promote adaptive management – the process of strong decision-making in the face of the uncertainty generated by a changing climate, monitoring the environment with an aim toward reducing uncertainty over time.

Sadly, there remains an unnecessary partisan political divide in this country over the causes of climate change and the threats it poses. Yet only nine months ago, a report from the General Accountability Office (GAO) – an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress as a “watchdog” over how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars – placed a fiscally responsible focus on the costs the federal government is incurring due to a changing climate.

The GAO says the White House should take action to address climate change, making the case that without implementing measures that mitigate the impacts of climate change, which has already resulted in the spending of billions of disaster assistance dollars, the federal government will have no choice but to respond with even more spending in the future.

The plea from the GAO should be universal – applicable not only to U.S. officials, but to other national, regional, state and local leaders as well. It is imperative that those who expect to guide this world further into the 21st century should use the information that is available to help them identify risks posed by climate change and craft appropriate responses, including policies that support adaptive management strategies and practices.

Solutions from the Land (SfL) is contributing in this arena by facilitating farmer-led, multi-stakeholder adaptive management planning initiatives at the continental level via the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance and also at the state level in North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri. We are also engaged globally helping farmer-leaders advance their priorities and solutions through the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. Among other strategies, SfL promotes the use of advanced farming practices to capture carbon in soil and, as a result, improve soil health and crop resilience, all while ultimately lowering the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

Policymakers at all levels are called upon to give impetus to the work that needs to be done to meet the challenges of a changing climate. Stakeholders are urged to call on national, state and community leaders and promote one of the more readily available tools to meet the challenge of climate change: policies that make agricultural landscapes more resilient in sustainably producing food, feed, fiber, energy and ecosystem services, all while simultaneously reducing and sequestering greenhouse gases.

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