16 April 2007

Drought, Global Warming, and Self Delusion

"Data observed at some of the long-term inflow gaging stations indicate a successive decline in summer and fall base flows over the past nine years, indicating the persistence of cumulative drought conditions." So reads a report by a Montana state hydrologist to the Big Hole Watershed Committee. The Montana Department of Natural Resources, in referring to our now-chronic drought conditions, frequently uses euphemisms such as "persistent drought," "cumulative drought," and "prolonged drought."

Scientific "advice" like this promotes the delusion that the drought in Montana is somehow a temporary condition. Any year now, it will break, and we will return to a climate of long, snow winters and cool summers. Sadly, that is not likely.

Last I knew, something like 99% of scientists accepted the fact of Global Warming. Here in the northern Rockies, that means less total winter snowpack, earlier spring snowmelt/river runoff, hotter summers, and later onset of fall snows. And that means less water for fish, and less water for ranchers.

At what point will Montanans quit deluding themselves about the "prolonged drought" and face up to the fact that we are experiencing a shifting baseline--and a new reality?

Until we face that reality, we will continue to think in terms of emergency response measures rather than measures that respond to the situation in an authentic and long-term way.

When I first started hunting (and missing) grouse as a kid, Mr. Dutka told me, "You've got to lead a bird, son." In this era of global warming, hitting environmental targets is like wingshooting. If we aren't leading the target, we will shoot far behind it. We can wish and hope for slower birds (and a respite from the "temporary" drought) all we want, but we'll just keep on missing our targets.

For more on how Global Warming is likely to affect the West, see http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_5655073

1 comment:

iswimfast said...

Nice pictures, Papa!
I agree and I like the bird imagery. It seems that people in general really have become accustomed to emergency procedures and think it easier to act on emergencies than put up the effort to ensure long-term success/sustainability. Example: cheap lightbulbs in my 13 story dorm and classrooms @ BU.