Historic Mid-West Flooding Is A Harbinger Of Things To Come (Video)

There is no going back now.

Climate change is here, bearing its teeth.

We’d better learn to adapt–or perish.

Recent floods in the Mid-west are causing climate scientists to warn of an ominous future, as 350.org co-founder, Bill McKibben, told ThinkProgress:

“Increased flooding is one of the clearest signals of a changing climate.”

John Hickey, director of the Sierra Club’s Missouri chapter, added:

“This level of flooding is becoming the new normal.”

As of last week, nine million people in 14 states are living under flood warnings.

Nebraska, for example, is experiencing the worst flooding in 50 years.

At least three people have died after the Missouri, Platte, and Elkhorn rivers crested to record levels when a “bomb cyclone”—a massive weather cell producing high winds, snow, and heavy rain–touched down.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said:

 “Nebraska has experienced historic flooding and extreme weather in nearly every region of the state.”

Contributing to flooding was 30 inches of snow200% above normal–and already above-average river levels in the eastern part of the state, leading to the fifth wettest season in 124 years.

2019 is not even half over yet, and already floods are expected to exceed $1.3 billion in Nebraska alone.

As of last week, floodwaters were still flowing downstream toward St. Louis.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), almost two-thirds of the lower 48 states will experience an increased flooding risk until May.

Climate-change deniers are likely to argue winter always brings snow; we’ve always experienced aberrant weather.

And that’s true.

Although we can’t reasonably link climate change to individual weather events, scientists confirm climate change’s contribution to their severity.

The report, State of the Climate in 2017, released last summer, states carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere climbed to the highest levels “in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.”

According to a US National Climate Assessment released in November, “impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country,” and “climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well being are rising.”

It adds:

“Winter and spring precipitation are important to flood risk in the Midwest and are projected to increase by up to 30% by the end of this century. Heavy precipitation events in the Midwest have increased in frequency and intensity since 1901 and are projected to increase through this century.”

Nowhere is immune to climate change’s ravages.

NOAA coastal flood expert William Sweet warned:

“The flooding isn’t only a factor in the Midwest; it’s also on the coasts. There’s a clear climate change signal from the rising seas and the mid-Atlantic area in particular is in the cross-hairs. Climate change is here, it’s clear and communities are being flooded far more than they used to be.”

The mid-Atlantic region, New Jersey to Virginia, is predicted to experience a significant increase in flooding days by 2050, up from around 10 to as many as 130 days per year.

Sweet said:

“The numbers are staggering, some places will be flooding almost every other day.

Last year’s US National Climate Assessment breaks down how much man-made climate change is already not only affecting the environment in the United States but also the economy.

For example, fisheries, tourism, human health, and public safety are being “transformed, degraded or lost due in part to climate change impacts, particularly sea level rise and higher numbers of extreme weather events.”

Climate change costs could climb into the billions annually.

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), central Louisiana experienced  $10.6 billion in losses in 2016; Texas and Oklahoma, $2.7 billion in 2015; Texas and Louisiana, $2.4 billion in 2016; South Carolina $2.2 billion in 2015.

Recent hurricanes, Harvey and Florence in particular, presented historic levels of rain and caused more inland damage from storm surge and coastal high winds.

We’re looking at acidic oceans dissolving coral reefs, cities like Manhattan and Miami inundated, extreme and persistent heat wavesfood shortages, threats to governments’ stability, more frequent and larger wildfires, growing risks to property and life, mounting air pollution levels, increases in diseases, hunger, and mass migrations.

In terms of health:

“The Midwest alone, which is predicted to have the largest increase in extreme temperature, will see an additional 2,000 premature deaths per year by 2090.”

Moreover, according to a new study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, a proliferation of disease-carrying mosquitoes is another risk we face.

Zika virus, dengue fever, chikungunya, and West Nile cases are expected to more than double by 2050.

About it, Sadie Ryan, a co-author from the University of Florida, said:

“You might not think to look across the Midwest at this point for potential mosquitoes, but what if people are landing in Chicago? Every year we see little bits of malaria showing up in the [U.S.], we see little bits of dengue popping up.”

So what do we do?

We have already passed so many tipping points, dragged our feet too long, reversing climate is no longer feasible.

But the NRDC suggests the nation act on the following measures:

  • Reinstate Federal Flood Protection Standards which Donald Trump rescinded days before Hurricane Harvey.
  • Help People Move to Higher Ground. This will be expensive, but not as expensive as doing nothing, in economic cost and lives.
  • Reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which includes the aforementioned helping people relocate to less flood-prone areas, increasing transparency about flood risks, and producing flood maps that accurately document flooding risks in susceptible areas.
  • Implement Resilience Provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Most of all, we need to take the fossil fuel industry head-on.

As long as there is a profit motive, there will never be sufficient action to curb carbon emissions.

A complete transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy is the only practical strategy.

We need to mobilize as we did when we confronted fascism during World War Two.

We must and we can upgrade buildings for energy efficiency, achieve zero carbon emissions within 10 years, and guarantee union green energy jobs with living wages.

If we fail to enact the immediate, logical action necessary to prevent the atmosphere from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius–-2.7 degrees Fahrenheit-–over pre-industrial levels, further effects are, according to Michael Oppenheimer, climate scientist at Princeton University, “indescribable.”

Image credit: AF.mil

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.