The recent tornado in Joplin, Missouri, my home state, was a sobering reminder that, despite advance warnings and fancy Doppler radar, there is little anyone can do if a massive tornado delivers a direct strike — except hide and hope.
Last weekend, an article by the Associated Press called "Questions and Answers About Tornadoes" ran in newspapers around the country, including The Commercial Appeal. The article noted that this year was "extraordinarily bad," with the highest tornado death toll of any year on record.
The next question the AP addressed was: "Can the intensity of this year's tornadoes be blamed on climate change?" According to the AP: "Probably not." No sources were given for that absurd claim.
The earth is indisputably getting warmer. Nine of the last 10 years have been the hottest on record. Glaciers and Arctic ice fields are melting. Sea levels are rising. The world's climate scientists say that a warmer earth means more moisture in the air, which means more dramatic weather swings, more drought, more flooding, bigger storms.
Consider: Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico are experiencing drought conditions worse than those of the Dust Bowl years. There were record snowfall and rainfall amounts across much of the upper Midwest, which brought record flooding to the South. The Amazon basin has just gone through its second "100-year drought" in the last five years. A heat wave last summer destroyed much of Russia's grain crops. There have been record mega-floods in Australia, New Zealand, and Pakistan this year. And, of course, April's wave of tornadoes in the U.S. was the worst on record. That's just a partial list of weather anomalies cited by the Global Climate Campaign's Bill McKibben in a recent Washington Post article.
There are those, of course, who argue that the earth has always gone through cycles of warming and cooling. Glaciers once covered much of North America. Skeptics say that modern man's loading of the atmosphere with carbon from fossil fuels has nothing to do with the fact that the planet is getting warmer. They say it's natural, and there is nothing we can do but try to adapt.
If so, we'd better get used to more floods, more frequent and powerful tornadoes and hurricanes, record annual snowfalls, long droughts, withering heat waves — and less beachfront property. We can't do anything about it, so we just need to watch the Doppler and hope for the best and take what we've got coming to us. Science is for sissies, right?
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."
The lady doth protest too much, methinks. — William Shakespeare
Is there such a thing as "bad activism"? I'm asking because I'm seeing a lot of criticism of the folks who are protesting the Memphis Zoo's encroachment onto the Greensward at Overton Park.