As former Vice President Al Gore told me via email: "I think it’s already clear that the climate crisis has very real and serious implications for middle Tennessee and the United States as a whole. Although scientists warn us that no single weather event can be solely blamed on climate change because there is a lot of variability in weather, including the occurrence of extreme events — it’s clear that long-familiar patterns are being disrupted and the extreme events are becoming both more extreme and more frequent. Moreover, the changes — like larger downpours — are absolutely consistent with what the scientists have long warned us would accompany global warming."
Efforts to deal with the effects of warming regionally and locally are, in the words of a recent report prepared for the EPA on climate change adaptation in the Southeast — grab the PDF here — "nascent." But if we prepare for the worst, we just might make life better for ourselves anyway — even if all the scientists are wrong, and a three decades-long trend of increasing temperatures just stops all on its own.
Among the others I talked to for the story include Mayor Karl Dean, Thomas C. Wilbanks of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who has worked for the IPCC (Nobel Laureates in 2007 along with Gore), Stanford researcher Noah Diffenbaugh, who recently discussed his climate modeling work on NPR's On Point, Eric Pooley, author of The Climate War (reviewed in last week's Scene) and faculty from Tennessee State University's School of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences.
Special thanks are due to Jonathan Gilligan, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt, who was as helpful as he was generous with his time. In this addendum to the cover story, Gilligan discusses climate models, the science behind them, and how confident we can feel in their predictions — including a useful and succinct summary of the difference between weather and climate.
The heat is on, folks.