Four weeks later: The immediate post super-storm Sandy debate placed ultimate blame on either increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere or a divine intervention. Either option ignores the obvious. There is a link between the extreme heat experienced this summer and the extreme amount of water vapor in the air which condensed to wreak such havoc on New York. Current scientific opinion would have us believe that extreme rainfall events and rising sea levels are solely due to the increasing CO2 industrial emissions into the atmosphere. This, however, is misleading. While it is true that CO2 emissions are climbing, that intense rainfall events are more common, that american continental land masses are drying up, that global temperatures are heating up and that sea levels are rising, what is at question is: which of these observable facts are cause and effect of each other?
Did you notice I inserted a variable that most scientists are not talking about? I will repeat it. Our continental land masses are drying out at the same time that the earth is heating up and the sea levels are rising. With all due respect to Bill McKibben and Al Gore, rather than focus on limiting Co2 levels, it might be time to do something radical and re-consider the water cycle.
That's right the water cycle. We all drew pictures of it in grade school. Starting with a cloud raining gently down on a tree. The rain soaked into the porous soil, and was taken up by the tree roots or seeped deeper down to accumulate as groundwater (giving rise to rivers and streams). Back in the leaves of the tree, photosynthesis combined C02 and sunlight with water to make more plant growth (often in the form of food) and release Oxygen and H2O back into the air to form clouds...
Higher in the sky, heat locked in the water vapor from evaporation and transpiration was released in the upper layers of the atmosphere to warm the earth's upper atmosphere (the greenhouse effect). The water cycle not only provides all living things an essential necessity for survival, it also forms the basis for the planet's heat regulation system. It cools the surface level of our planet while warming the upper layers of our atmosphere.
Sadly, it might be time to redraw the diagram we learned in school. Mankind has inflicted significant harm to the water cycle. Now, rain often falls onto damaged eco-systems or urban areas covered in concrete, which lack the porous soil provided by healthy vegetation. When water hits these hard-baked surfaces instead of soaking into the earth, rainwater is more likely to be repelled by the surface in flash floods or be channeled through man-made drainage systems back towards the sea.
A damaged ecosystem or a concrete jungle is robbed of the cooling effects of transpiration through vegetation or of evaporation. Research tells us \ it takes 700 KWh of solar energy to evaporate a cubic meter of water. So now, instead of allowing evaporation to transmute that heat into water vapor to be released in the upper atmosphere, the sun's rays are beating down on an increasingly dried out landscapes or urban-scape creating more and more sensible heat under our feet.
Further troubling is the fact that when damage occurs to an eco-system over vast areas of a landscape, that land gradually dries out and transforms into a steppe or depending on the severity and duration of drought into a desert. This drying out process is what is happening right now in the mid-western plains of the USA where a yearly increase of 140 million GWh of sensible heat into the atmosphere has a major impact on the weather patterns.
In the drought-ridden regions of the American Plains, there is little water to evaporate and precipitation does not form easily. The heat from the dry baking of the landscape results in a high-pressure weather system that prevents the entrance of moist low-pressure weather fronts from the Atlantic to gain access to the skies above the interior of the continent. This is one of the main reasons why the coastal zones of the United States receive the bulk of the precipitation while drought persists in the interior of the continent.
Last summer, Lakota Native activists invited me to visit their dry, erosion-damaged Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. It was disheartening to see a landscape so barren and lifeless. The temperature during the day exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit (42 Degrees Celsius). Many neighboring states in the US interior were being similarly ravaged by unprecedented droughts. If this trend of a desertification of the landscape in the interior is not rectified, we can expect to see increasingly stormy times ahead for the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Indeed, the extensive drought in Central US could very likely have played a significant part in the formation of extreme concentrations of vertical clouds that resulted in Super-storm Sandy. Taking a look at satellite images of the cloud formation and location during Hurricane Sandy reveals that the central US region was completely free of cloud cover. My research and experience convinces me that it is the dehydration and damaging of eco-systems, not increased CO2 emissions that causes the growth of intense precipitation events and contributes to the rising of the ocean levels.
How do we solve this problem? Keep the rainwater on the land and redirect it back into the soil to recharge the ground waters/aquifers and rehydrate the ecosystems. I met with the Lakota of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation to discuss the details of how an effort to mobilize the construction of many small rainwater catchment basins could re-greening their territory, recharging their aquifers and turn down the thermostat on sensible heat production. Currently they are seeking funding with which to mobilize this rehabilitation effort.
If Governor Cuomo or President Obama really wanted to do something to mitigate against the increasing frequency of storms like Sandy, they would do well to consider funding the Lakota in their environmental stewardship plans. It's a win/ win/win solution. Not only would it help heal the hydrological cycle of the mid-west, and thereby cool the American interior, it could provide a low cost solution to many human-induced climatic problems. Given the effective lobby of the fossil fuel industry, it may be difficult for an American President to limit CO2 emissions. There are, however, precedents for mobilizing populations around water.
In the 1930's, US president Franklin D Roosevelt reacted to the double disasters of the dustbowl conditions and massive unemployment of the Great Depression by employing the unemployed to solve the environmental crisis in "the New Deal" Program. A part of the program saw the establishment of conservation areas which provided job opportunities for more than 3 million people who working on retention of rainwater on land and reviving areas that were previously affected by drought and dust storms.
If the current administration of the United States decided to implement a program based on the above principles, within 10 years we would be witnesses a noticeable decline in natural disasters. However, most likely this is not going to happen. The most likely reason behind this? The proposed solutions do not directly contribute to the monetary wealth of the ruling class; instead it is a solution for long-term sustainable living and harmony. Perhaps this is why many "climate alarmists" are subconsciously toying with the thought of the inevitable reduction of a chunk of the earth's population in order to avoid global collapse.