July 6, 2012

Feeling The Heat

Gestalt: a structure, arrangement, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts.

One of my favorite writers is Ross Macdonald, who crafted elegant explorations of the warping effect of time on human frailty under the guise of hard-boiled detective stories. His detective, Lew Archer, would often say "the gestalt clicked," a phrase he used to describe that feeling when the clues came together to point towards a solution. Today we would call it connecting the dots.

For a lot of folks, the gestalt is starting to click about global warming. The incredibly hot weather, the violent storms, the wide swaths of drought affecting pretty much the entire southern half of the country, the firestorms destroying millions of acres of forests, the new temperature records being set seemingly every month now ... put it all together and folks are beginning to get an uneasy feeling that this may be the new normal.

Climate and weather are far to complicated for simple explanations. Global warming alone is not responsible for the weather we see out our window. But it can act as a multiplier, a phenomenon that interacts with other weather makers to increase the overall scale or intensity of a given weather event. So it's not just hot ... it's really hot, in lots of places, more often than not.

Here's the thing I don't think most folks are locking in on, although you begin to hear it in some news commentaries. If ... and I say if ... climate change from global warming due to burning fossil fuels in indeed happening, the added costs to local and state governments to cope with its consequences are going to be another area where the effects of climate change will be felt.

Think about how much all this is all going to cost ... restoring electricity and removing fallen trees in Virginia and Maryland, fighting the Colorado forest fires, holding back a rising sea all along the East Coast. Got to be in the millions of dollars. Who pays for all that? Oh yeah, you and I do. And in a country where debt is the new big thing to worry about, how do we not acquire more debt, because these are things you have to do? You can't go without electricity in the middle of a heat wave. You can't just let houses burn to the ground no matter how stupid it was to build them in the first place. You can't give stretches of New York City or Miami Beach back to the sea. Houston, we have a problem. 

Again, if global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is real, it can no longer be turned off any time soon, even if we wanted to ... and no one seems really willing to do that anyway. Hell, we are champing at the bit to get the global economy fired up again. So, this new normal is going to be with us for a very, very, long time: extreme weather imposing unexpected costs on already strained governmental budgets. Forget connecting the dots. What we are seeing is the dominoes starting to fall.

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