This summer, we've seen a continuation of the record-breaking heat and drought in the Southwest that began several years ago. In parts of Texas and Oklahoma, it's as bad as it was during the "Dust Bowl" years of the 1930s. Crops have withered, water restrictions are in place, and air conditioning costs are going through the roof. None of this is good for people, livestock or the local economy.
Is this just a natural variation, or is it connected to global warming? Certainly, there have been unusual episodes of drought in the past that were unrelated to global warming. But we also know that because of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, temperatures have been steadily shifting to higher levels. This means that when we get unusually hot, dry conditions, it starts out from a higher base, which makes things a lot worse. Even minor fluctuations push us into more and more extreme territory.
Across the globe, we've loaded the atmosphere with so much pollution from burning fossil fuel that the climate is warming up everywhere, and our weather and climate is changing to a "new normal." The conditions we were used to are a thing of the past, and this is especially true for Oklahoma, Texas and the southwestern states.
Almost every study of what the future has in store for us shows that this region is Ground Zero for climate change, as carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. People living there will experience higher temperatures, less rainfall and more extreme weather in the years ahead. In other words, the "unusual conditions" that the region has experienced over the last few summers will be more like normal conditions in the future. So the message is pretty clear -- get used to it.
Remarkably, congressional leaders from the region -- led by Senator James Inhofe and Texas Congressman Joe Barton -- have refused to accept what almost every climate scientist who has studied this problem can see as plain as day. They insist that global warming is a myth, that the climate isn't changing and that carbon dioxide pollution has nothing to do with the changes we have all experienced. You have to wonder who they are really representing on this matter. Is it the farmers who are losing their shirts to the increasingly common droughts? Or those blasted by tornadoes and severe storms? Or the hard-working families of the region who face ever higher electricity bills as they try to stay cool in the sweltering heat? If that's who they represent, they have a strange way of showing it.
Senator Inhofe and Congressman Barton have blocked legislation that would help turn down the temperature dial by controlling heat-trapping pollutants. Only big oil and gas companies benefit from this, and they don't seem to need all that much help right now. It's time to apply some pressure to those in Congress who can help put the brakes on the rate of climate change. That's not a lot to ask -- for them it's all indoor work and no heavy lifting.