Tuesday, July 10, 2012

That hot spell, long-term

A week of 100-degree temperatures has left lawns in this area brittle and dusty. Shrubs and trees show the stress of lack of rain. A promised cool front seemed to fizzle out last night with barely enough rain to moisten a tissue, despite some threatening thunder.

The worry, after this second record-breaking hot spell in as many years, is that this is not an anomaly but a trend toward hotter, drier summers and warmer weather year-round. Call it climate change, call it global warming, call it whatever you want; there seems to be a warming trend enveloping North America and much of the world. If this trend holds, it will mean vast changes in the way we live, the way we grow crops, the way we landscape our yards and the way we view the world.

If this warming trend continues, winter snows, already a rarity, might disappear from eastern North Carolina. Spring will arrive earlier, and pesky insects might winter over to harass us worse than ever. Water-dependent crops (think corn and watermelons and cantaloupes) will no longer be able to thrive here. Vegetables will require more irrigation, straining the water resources that are available, even as new rules forbid new dams and other measures to store water. Aquifers will shrink and dry up. The Sunbelt, which benefited from mild winters and the invention of air conditioning throughout the latter half of the 20th century, will become less attractive. Triple-digit temperatures and higher energy costs as more air conditioning battles the hotter summers will make the Sunbelt less inviting. The old Rust Belt north of the Mason-Dixon Line might see a revival as formerly forbidding winters turn less icy, less forbidding and milder.

If this trend continues, we will see a transformation of society over the next century, and a migration of people to once-colder climates that gradually become milder and more accommodating.

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