Global warming expert: Flooding caused by climate change
August 4th, 2011
Omaha, NE – This summer has seen its fair share of drastic conditions around the country, including record flooding along the Missouri River. The reason may lie in a controversial theory that addresses climate change.
Overlooking the swollen banks of the Missouri river at Omahaâ€™s riverfront landing, one scientist has an important explanation for the past three months of flooding. While many consider the flood man-made, a result of water releases by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers upriver, this theory aims to look deeper into the root of the problem.
â€œThe Missouri River is flooding,â€ said Dr. James Hansen, Director of NASAâ€™s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, during a visit to Omaha on Tuesday. â€œWeâ€™ve had 100 years floods now a couple of times on the Missouri River recently. Thatâ€™s one of the expected consequences of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.â€
Hansen, who is considered by many to be one of the worldâ€™s leading experts on global warming, said the Missouri river is a prime example of how global warming is affecting the earth.
â€œThis is a problem which is not easy for the person in the street to see,â€ he said. â€œUnless you do statistics, and you see that the frequency of these events is changing. Itâ€™s not so easy to see that changes are occurring because the climate system has tremendous inertia.â€
Hansen explained, â€œThe ocean is four kilometers deep, the ice sheets are two or three kilometers thick, so they donâ€™t respond immediately as we begin to change the atmospheric composition. What that means is that weâ€™ve only experienced about half of the warming that will be cause by the gases already in the atmosphere.â€
According to Hansen, that presents a major problem for several generations to come, as long as we continue to sweep the problem under the rug.
â€œThe full effect is going to be felt by our children and grandchildren,â€ he said. â€œAnd if we continue to increase the amount of CO2, the effect will be even larger.â€
Hansen drew a comparison to the handling of the national debt. â€œIf we spend more money than what weâ€™re taking in, weâ€™re leaving a debt for our children and grandchildren to deal with,â€ he said. â€œParents do not naturally treat their children and grandchildren that way, and they donâ€™t want the government to treat their children and grandchildren that way.â€
So whatâ€™s the answer? According to Hansen, the responsibility lies in effective policy making to combat global warming. That includes a gradual reduction in carbon emissions. Hansen proposes a rising price be placed on carbon emissions, which should be collected from the fossil fuel companies at the first sale.
Without comparable measures taken by the government, Hansen said the public can expect more of the extreme weather patterns that much of the country has experienced lately, including more severe droughts and floods in the decades ahead.