In this divided world, people can fight about a lot of things. So we shy away from certain topics and basically opt to ignore some of the elephants in the room. While in most cases I would accept this “agree to disagree” mantra, I believe that this should never be an option in Science. As Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson beautifully puts it:
“Science is true whether or not you believe in it.”
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Take for instance when it comes to the issue of climate change. It is a well-known fact that at least about 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists are in agreement that the Earth is warming and it is driving climate change. Still, there are a great deal of people who conveniently choose to buy conspiracy theories rather than acknowledge the more robust evidences published in scholarly journals.
Here is the thing: we may deny the science and convince ourselves that it is all a hoax. But regardless of it all, we cannot deny what is actually happening out there.
Acually, we might just be splitting hairs about what climate change is and what it is not. This could just be a petty argument about semantics when the real problem is not properly discussed.
You may or may not believe in climate change but we can all agree that something is not right. At the end of the day, our belief or disbelief in the current state of climate science won't really matter; what we need to accept is the reality that, for one, typhoons are getting stronger and more frequent. We need to also recognize that while some countries have to deal with too much rainfall, other parts of the world have to deal with no rain at all.
Regardless of how you want to call it, frightening things are undeniably happening.
IT COULD BE CLIMATE CHANGE
My professor in graduate school, Dr. Rodel Lasco, used to say that all these extreme and variable weather events may not be climate change in themselves; but they are pretty consistent with what the definition of climate change is. We expect climate change to either bring extreme rainfall events or cause intense droughts. In the case of Auburn and the state of Alabama, it is the latter.
Back when I was a kid, I was quite familiar of my hometown’s climatic pattern. Our summer season has always almost been between April and May and we could anticipate the onset of wet months with ease. But everything seems to have changed now. The timing of the summer has been quite unpredictable in the recent years. We used to have rainy season during a particular time of the year. Seasons have changed, literally, and they have been very irregular. True enough, rainy seasons have been wetter and dry seasons have been much drier. The timing and duration of the seasons have been abnormal.
“We live in a new normal and it can be hard for people to understand that things are different now”.
SUSPECTED IMPACTS OF 'CLIMATE CHANGE' IN Auburn
Since the day we arrived at the city of Auburn, state of Alabama for our YSEALI professional internship, it has never rained. This time of the year should be a rainy in the city. But yes, no signs of it even as I am writing this piece. We were told that it has never rained in Auburn for almost 5 months and still counting. The people would claim that they have never witnessed anything like this.
I would hear my host's mother-in-law saying, “It is supposed to be fall but it feels a lot like summer.” At the city hall, one staff would remark, “Our weather predictions say we do not have a good chance of rain in the following weeks or months.” I would then overhear one local resident saying, “The leaves should have changed their colors by now”.
It is not only the hot temperature and the rainless days that are noticeable.
During the course of our stay in Auburn, we had the opportunity to join a few sessions of water quality monitoring in the lakes and creeks of the City through the guidance of Mr. Dan Ballard, the city’s watershed coordinator. The Lake Ogletree where the city gets its drinking water from was at a very low level. Interestingly, Mr. Ballard would tell us that the current water level was the lowest they ever recorded. The succeeding monitoring activities would later reveal new record low levels for the lake.
Extreme and extended droughts in AUBURN
Local drought conditions in Auburn city have been characterized as extreme since September 2010.
Many times, Mr. Dan Ballard would share some childhood memories of him fishing in the lakes. For every lake that we visit, we would hear him utter, “My whole life, I have never seen it like this” referring to the lake which has either dried up or in its lowest level. A lot of rivers and creeks have also dried up, he would say. One of the famous waterways, the Chewacle creek which is supposed to have flowing water all year round, is unusually dry. The Parkerson Mill Creek is strangely low and the Saugahatchee Creek is abnormally ‘unboatable’.
The incidence of extreme droughts of this scale should happen only once every 20 to 30 years. But the past decade get to witness more than it should ever have. The Lake Ogletree has to pump water from a nearby quarry pond to sustain the water level. Meanwhile, the water resources department had to pump lake water out to the Chewacle Creek just to maintain the stream water flow.
Chewacle creek is currently being fed by water pumped from the Lake Ogletree.
No signs of rainfall plus high temperatures. Drying rivers and dying creeks. Dropping lake water levels. It is a remarkable time to be here in Auburn. The city has been contemplating about raising he alarm and is currently evaluating the possibility of implementing water restrictions or drought water rates should the conditions persist. This has been worrying Mr. Ballard a lot since the citizens never had to deal with being told to save water before. Our host, Mr. Chris Graff, also shares that this has never been an issue in Texas where he used to live since they had been regularly experiencing drought and their citizens are used to it.
The extended dry conditions in Auburn have been negatively affecting water supply and the prolonged drought may even cause greater demand for water. For one, ornamental plants and grasses are dying due to water stress and increased water use is expected when they get replaced.
In the end, we might be better off not debating whether climate change is happening or not. What we need now are workable solutions to the current crises that are possibly climate-related. The science of climate change may be challenged, and it should be, but we also need to learn to accept evidence. While only about 56% of Alabamans believe that global warming is happening, it is good to know that efforts are being done to instill the right kind of information to its future leaders.
With the current trends in climate records, we know that many regions will either become wetter or drier. But we cannot exactly predict where and when they are going to happen. Even the different climate models present varying scenarios. So our future climate is uncertain. But in spite of all these uncertainties, one thing is certain:
uncertainties should never be an excuse for inaction.