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More Truth and Consequences

I may have gotten in a bit deep last week when discussing the continual and unrelenting global warming joust that permeates the Internet. While impact and consequence remain my focus, there are those who take issue with both data and their interpretation. I continually encourage the investigation of outcome- the actual changes that have occurred and are occurring this year. Of course, causation remains essential if we are to intervene with any hope for mitigation. But it appears to be a separate debate.

Continuing my review, I again read Singer and Avery’s 2007 bestselling book, Unstoppable Global Warming, which is a very thoughtful and insightful repudiation of many myths and overstatements associated with climate change (Rowman & Littlefield, updated in 2008). I also reviewed various reports from 2011, especially those addressing patterns of drought and desertification.

I first look for what is actually occurring before I seek causative data because it would appear that confronting reality begins with actual affect. For instance, in early December the Associated Press reported that most of Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and much of Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Arizona experienced lengthy patterns of exceptional, extreme, or severe drought during 2011 and that the pattern would likely continue through much of 2012, depending on what happens during the rainy season, beginning in June. The article, by Francisco Salazar and Olga Rodriguez, reported that farms that typically harvest 10 tons of corn and beans from Mexican fields were getting only one ton. The hardest hit Mexican states had received only 12 inches of rainfall, resulting in 2.2 million acres of crops lost and the deaths of 1.7 million farm animals directly related to heat and drought. Among the poorest, starvation and malnutrition are constant companions. The agricultural impact to U.S. states is just as distressing, especially when coupled with huge wildfires across windswept prairies made tinder dry by the relentless heat.

This is but one example of reviewing what is, rather than debating causation, natural cycles, and the value of policy remedies that may or may not drive up business costs. Singer and Avery cite the 1,500-year cycle that seems to occur regardless of what else is happening on Earth. Gerard C. Bond of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, was the lead author of the paper published in 1997 that postulated the theory of 1,470-year climate cycles in the Holocene, mainly based on petrologic tracers of drift ice in the North Atlantic. Interestingly Singer and Avery cited Willi Dansgaard of Denmark, Hans Oeschger of Switzerland, and Claude Lorius of France, who also postulated that the Earth’s climate has naturally fluctuated for millions of years and that overlaying anthropogenic causation is foolish. The book cites considerable data and is well-annotated. I like this book. What I don’t like is the disregard for what is occurring and how it is impacting countries, economies and cultures. Whatever the causation, things are happening and they are happening fast.

Another little conundrum is why annotated and well-sourced data found in this book is different than data found in other books and papers…all with reputable scientific citations. As my friend Mike said in a recent comment, who and what can we believe? My answer? Begin with what is actually occurring and how it impacts the community, state, region and country, and sort out causation later. It is what it is.

Can interpretation of data vary? Certainly. But outcomes are events or conditions that can be witnessed. More and more frequent snow- or rainfall, more violent weather, increasing drought, melting glaciers, and warming oceans are all measureable events or conditions. In the Arctic, there is either more sea ice, less sea ice or an equal amount of sea ice. Once this is determined, we can determine the impact, whether positive, negative or neutral. As future thinkers, government officials and managers need more data about what IS and to consider various highly probable outcomes that might prove harmful to their communities. To haggle about who said what and what caused what may be entertaining, but erodes public confidence, wastes resources, and distracts decision makers from their most essential work – planning the future.

Wise people will ultimately address causation and prevention. But they must first recognize impact and consequence and work collaboratively to mitigate affect. Who is right is not important, but what is right is critical at a time when every resource and every minute counts.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). His new book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Public Administrators and Community Leaders, was released in October 2010. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

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One Response

  1. Hi John,
    I couldn’t agree more. During a recent class at the Cal. Academy of Sciences where I am a volunteer docent, we were presented charts by several universities around the world that showed the atmospheric carbon has exceeded levels (from ice core samples) going back to when the Greenland and Antartic ice sheets were formed. In the past carbon was locked within the earth below the surface and was not released to the atmosphere. With coal being mined that carbon was extracted, burned and now released to the atmosphere.

    To just stop coal mining might be the best solution for the environment but it’s not going to happen. We do need to start a more energetic program to develop alternative sources of energy including solar, wind, nuclear e.t.c. There are promissing developments for the future with “nano-technology. We cannot fear science BUT we need to monitor how it is used. Anything can be turned into a weapon.

    Tom

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