I’m used to the cold. I’m used to snow. I was a kid in Wisconsin in the 70s and 80s, and would be woken up by my mom early mornings to scrape ice inches thick off the car windows. I reveled in snow days and more than once thought about wearing snowshoes to get from the front door to the school bus waiting at the end of our drive. Winter doesn’t bother me. Snow and ice do not frighten me. As a teenager, in the snowiest months my sister and I would try to find a semi-truck to drive behind both to save on gas (less driving against the wind) and to clear the road ahead of us as we drove away from our home out in the country for a big night out on the town (in the nearby metropolis which boasted about 35,000 residents – a Mecca to us then). As uncomfortable as some of those winter-life adjustments may have been, they were normal and nearly painfully predictable.
So what has me and others calling this the winter of our discontent should come as no surprise. It’s the fact (no longer question or issue) of climate *change*. I wondered as I watched the State of the Union address last week whether it was the first time a President has referred to climate change in such a nonchalant way, like talking about oil and gas prices, education, unemployment, and other standard areas of common concern. My worry is that now that it’s a given, there seems to be a resigned acceptance. It’s like those fighting the battle to stem the tide of global warming had the wind taken out of their sails defending its existence and what they called it (global warming vs. climate change as if that makes any difference to the birds and seas, or to you and me). So wrapped up in the political fight(s), they got little done in time. And no one, it seems, really knows if it’s too late. And if it’s not, how to reverse the damage.
Here we are with summer in January in the should-be coldest parts of the world and winter sitting in the lap of the normally mildest. In January, it got colder in Chicago than in the South Pole. In Juneau, Alaska, flowers bloomed out of season. Water in the North Pacific is up to seven degrees warmer than most years. Meanwhile, more than 36,000 flights were cancelled due to extreme weather conditions, three times more than in the past two Januarys. An early count shows more than a thousand local records were set for snowfall in January in the United States, while California is shutting down ski resorts for lack of snow. A recent survey found that the water content of California’s snowpack is at just 12% of average, the lowest it’s been since record-keeping of the measure began in 1960. As a result, the state has announced it will not distribute state water supplies to its 25 million customers and nearly a million acres of irrigated farmland unless there is an abundance of wet weather by May 1. These cities and farms that normally rely on state supplied water will have to look elsewhere. They will have to tap underground reservoirs, if they have any, and ask other districts to buy or borrow some. No doubt there will be significant costs involved, something municipalities in cash-strapped California and already facing the economic blows of drought can ill afford. Mandatory rationing of water has already commenced in some areas. If one thing is predictable, it’s that the painful effects of California’s drought, and I’m sure other consequences of aberrant weather, will be far reaching this year.
Welcome, I’m afraid, to the new normal.