Climate Change Will Make You Sneeze! (Are we scared yet?)

By Lisa Margonelli

As the debate over Waxman Markey Climate Legislation heats up, something big and scary from experts at 13 government science agencies has appeared: The Authoritative Assessment of National, Regional Impacts of Global Climate Change.

As the name implies, this is an enormous, authoritative report, but it's certainly not the first. What is remarkable about the report is how it reflects a growing trend towards personalizing the impact of climate change. Hence slide five in this powerpoint showing that pollen levels will double by 2075. Message: You (or your kids) will sneeze! Another alarming slide shows that the climate of Illinois could become more like that of East Texas. And the South? Hot.

I'm sure that some will accuse the report of politicizing the science, but I don't think that's the case. Instead, I think climate scientists have decided to abandon the dry statistics (which were driven by political considerations) and talk about what they actually see in the future. One of the problems with climate change science is that much of the discussion has been confined to probabilities and scenarios, and translation of what this actually means has largely occurred among the climate cognoscenti. (I wrote last month about high level discussions of the potential necessity of eating jellyfish. We really aren't getting that on the evening news.) This report brings makes some of these conversations more accessible. But after a decade of confusing reports--and even disasters like Katrina-- will the economy-logged public demand action now?

Side note: I find this historical graph of how weather has dramatically increased grid outages since 1992 to be almost more shocking than the future trends. The Obama administration is putting together a cyber-warfare agency in part to protect the grid from attack. But who needs terrorists when you've got squirrels and the weather to do the job for you? Add in the Gulf Coast's oil infrastructure's vulnerability to hurricanes (and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is located there too) and you have... uh... the perfect storm.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2009/06/climate-change-will-make-you-sneeze-are-we-scared-yet/19530/