It’s become almost commonplace to hear elected officials dodge environmental issues with a jaunty apology: I’m not a scientist. Mitch McConnell used the excuse late last year when a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer asked him about if he agrees with climatologists who point out that our carbon emissions are responsible for global warming. House Speaker John Boehner has made a habit of avoiding the subject by pointing out his lack of scientific credentials; so too have Governors Bobby Jindal and Rick Scott.
Last night, President Barack Obama called out this practice during his State of the Union Address. “I’m not a scientist, either,” he told Congress. “But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.” These scientists, he continued, have been telling us that the climate is changing. And with that change is coming an entirely new environmental paradigm that will affect every aspect of our lives.
One of the most profound effects we are witnessing is the change in our weather. Climate change doesn’t just affect long-term considerations like annual temperatures and sea level rise; it also impacts our day-to-day conditions as well. Meteorologists tell us that with climate change also comes bigger hurricanes capable of travelling further north and bringing with them heightened surge. It means typhoons in places like Hawaii and well beyond the season normally reserved for those types of storms. It results in deadly snowfalls like the one that paralyzed Buffalo late last year and the kind of flooding that plagued the Northwest that same month.
We need a national weather program than can keep up with these kinds of changes and work to keep us all safe. Much has been written about our current meteorological crisis, which is marked by outmoded technology, NOAA employee shortages, and a satellite gap that may last 17 months or more. Climate change only makes this crisis more severe. Weather models, like the one that predicted Superstorm Sandy would slam into New York, use past precedent in their predictions. A changing climate makes those past events increasingly irrelevant. We need to invest in new model technology that accommodates these changes. We also need a secure weather network that deters would-be hackers and terrorists.
Last night, President Obama called for a 21st century infrastructure – one that includes “modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet.” He didn’t mention a new weather infrastructure, but he should have. Natural disasters like floods and hurricanes don’t just cause millions of dollars in damage; they are responsible for increased medical events like cardiac arrest, and they cause immense psychological damage to those who experience them – sometimes resulting in PTSD that can last for decades.
Good weather is about personal safety and a sense of well being. It’s about national security. And, really, what better investment is there than that?