Chapter Three Excerpt: Planetary Purgatory

From Hell and High Water (paperback now available on Amazon):

Obviously, if you get drought indices like these, there’s no adaptation that’s possible. — David Rind, NASA climate scientist, 2005

We’re showing warming and earlier springs tying in with large forest fire frequencies. Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away. But it’s not 50 to 100 years away — it’s happening now in forest ecosystems through fire. — Thomas Swetnam, University of Arizona climate scientist, 2006

Imagine if the climate changed and extreme weather became so constant that it was no longer considered extreme. Mammoth heat waves like the one that killed 35,000 Europeans in 2003 would occur every other year. Mega- droughts and widespread wildfires, like those of the record- breaking 2005 wildfire season, which ravaged 8.5 million acres, would be the norm. This new climate would wipe out whole forests, including virtually every pine tree in British Columbia. The Arctic would have little or no summer ice, and the Greenland ice cap would melt, eventually raising sea levels by 20 feet.


If we permit this Planetary Purgatory to occur, the nation and the world would be forced to begin a desperate race against time — a race against the vicious cycles in which an initial warming causes changes to the climate system that lead to more warming, which makes adapting to climate change a never- ending, ever- changing, expensive, exhausting struggle for our children, and their children, and on and on for generations.

This chapter will focus on (1) the impacts of accelerated warming, especially drought and wildfires, and (2) the fatal feedbacks that will probably start to kick into overdrive during this era and complicate any effort to stop the Greenland Ice Sheet from melting….