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The Siberia of the South 

Or, you may be surprised some day after tomorrow

February 28, 2004: The National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, posted a record weather event on the NOAA website. Charlotte Douglas International Airport reported a total snowfall of 13.2 inches, which ties the number 3 ranking for the greatest snowstorm amounts in the Charlotte area, the highest being recorded in 1902 and the runner up in 1969. My buddies in Charlotte's SouthPark area were staring at 17 inches of snow. I was struggling through a paltry 12 inches of accumulation a few miles north of Charlotte, which, frankly, was nothing for a girl who once lived in Cripple Creek, Colorado. Southern wussies. By March the first, it was sunny and seventy degrees outside. I had started the weekend in my cold weather gear and ended it in a Jimmy Buffett T-shirt. Is it my imagination or is the weather getting as unstable as my Aunt Geneva after four Bloody Marys at a family picnic? Most will agree...it is not my imagination. It is, quite possibly, Thermohaline Circulation Collapse.

Thermohaline circulation collapse. A heart condition? A hose leading to the engine of your SUV has given out? The new heating system on the house has self-destructed? If only. Then it would only affect one unfortunate individual. Thermohaline circulation collapse is everyone's problem and everyone should be worried about it. Well, the Pentagon is worried. And so are the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and a plethora of reputable scientists, paleontologists, futurists...and of course the regular selection of kooks who add just enough weirdness to keep the subject teetering on the border between legitimacy and paranoia.

As the Bush administration consistently defends the rights of big business to pollute and only in 2002 admitted that Global Warming wasn't the product of the overactive imaginations of the liberal scientific community, the man at the Pentagon known as Yoda, Andrew Marshall (actually, a very influential defense advisor) commissioned a report to examine the challenges to US security in the event of an abrupt climate change (otherwise known as Thermohaline Circulation Collapse).

The actual Pentagon report ("An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security" by Peter Swartz and Doug Randall) nicely explains the what, where and why of a collapse:

"There is substantial evidence to indicate that significant global warming will occur during the 21st century...recent research suggests that there is a possibility that this global warming could lead to a relatively abrupt slowing of the ocean's Thermohaline conveyor, which could lead to harsher winter weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more significant winds in certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world's food production...the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth's environment."

In other words...the freshwater melt provided by the warming of the ice cap could conceivably slow up the lifeline of the northern world -- the conveyor -- by mixing with the saltwater of the Atlantic. The annual average temperature of the Carolinas could drop up to 5 degrees, our coastal lands could become inundated by fierce storms and massive drought could cripple the region. Refugees from harder hit regions in the Caribbean could overwhelm what coast is left. The actual report goes on to outline these facts, plus the global conflicts that usually arise between the haves and the have-nots when supplies, water and habitable land is in short supply. And remember that what thin-blooded Southerners consider "habitable" is rather narrow...we could be living in a climate close to what the climate is now in North Dakota. Can you imagine the whining? "Food Lion is out of bread and milk....FOREVER! And where do I buy a snow blower in the South? Huh?" Or course the skiing might be rocking...if we get enough precipitation.

"But," you say, "Aletha...the doomsday scenarios these days are getting a little old. And I just returned my generator I bought from Home Depot for Y2K." Which is exactly what I thought when I first read about this. But then I read the actual report, commissioned by a conservative advisor to be written by two conservative futurists. Then I spent three hours on the Woods Hole Institute's Abrupt Climate Change page. Then I read the article in the UK's Observer about how the present administration tried to keep the report under wraps. After about 10 more articles by reputable sources and one stellar piece from MSN Money about what stocks to pick to prepare for the Big Chill, I decided against giving away my parka from my days in Colorado to Goodwill.

If you want to get a look at what your weather future could be, check out the new flick The Day After Tomorrow, a Dennis Quaid vehicle that addresses abrupt climate change in a Hollywood blockbuster manner (i.e., take with a large grain of salt).

What can we do? Most sources claim this change is coming -- either quickly or semi-quickly -- no matter what humans do. But preparation is vital. Mr. Swartz and Mr. Randall suggest -- in gentler terms -- getting our government's head out of the hole in the sand prepared for it by big business and taking the weather and our environment seriously for a change. Or the planet just might develop a serious fever to fight the virus that is the human race.

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