The solitude on the lakes this Fourth of July was eerie. Nary a rocket’s red glare or mortar exploding in air.
Accuweather measured the degree of heat: 101 on July 1, 98 on July 2, 95 on July 3, 101 on the holiday, followed by 103, 104 and 106. Driving between Columbus and Edinburgh a week earlier I watched the thermometer on my Ford Escape flicker between 107 and 108.
Evansville set heat records on nine consecutive days. Indianapolis had the second driest June on record. Bloomberg Businessweek reported “tumbling” corn yields of 35 percent below the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s June 12 forecast, potentially the biggest reduction since 1973. Accuweather is describing a “corn belt catastrophe.”
Last week, NOAA reported that the July 2011-June 2012 period was the warmest 12-month period for the contiguous U.S., narrowly surpassing the record broken last month for the June 2011-May 2012 period by 0.05°F. When you look at the top 10 warmest 12-month periods in U.S. history, there is a cluster beginning in 1999 and 2000, in 2005, 2006 and now these past two years. There were 170 all-time heat records broken last month, and the U.S. Drought Monitor now covers 56 percent of the U.S., a record.
Climate experts from the National Weather Service to Purdue University are now using the phrase the "new normal" to describe a series of extreme weather events ranging from droughts and floods, to catastrophic tornadoes and hurricanes. It comes on the heels of the extreme weather of 2011 that affected millions of people, including 1,600 tornadoes, along with droughts and floods that claimed 1,000 lives, resulted in 8,000 injuries and totaled more than $52 billion in economic losses.
The political question therefore is that while it’s apparent we are experiencing “climate change,” is it man-made? Does man impact the environment?
Well, the Asian carp didn’t swim over from China to find a new home in the Wabash. Anyone who has sailed the oceans finds vast swathes of garbage thousands of miles from nowhere.
In the three days following the Sept. 11 terror attacks when all flights were grounded, temperatures rose. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2002: Because thousands of commercial flights were canceled after the disaster, the researchers said, a thin blanket of cirrus clouds that often forms from water vapor exiting jet engines in high traffic corridors was absent. The lack of clouds allowed daytime temperatures at ground level to rise and nighttime temperatures to fall.
In Indiana's U.S. Senate race, Republican nominee Richard Mourdock is a notable skeptic, toeing the Tea Party line.
In May, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said climate change was a potential national security threat. The Arab Spring is a classic example. The revolts that took place in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria were primarily political, but lengthy droughts and crop failures fueled the public to act in ways they wouldn't have before. The catalyst for the Tunisia revolt was a self-immolation and food riots, lending credence to the old adage: When the water hole shrinks, the animals act differently.
As the climate changes, humans are facing adaptation to increasingly more frequent and severe weather events. Hoosier farmers will tell you that weather events are becoming more extreme.
Mourdock reacted to the Panetta comments, saying, "The irony here is that our energy policy is in fact a threat to our national security. We are basing our energy policy on the greatest hoax of all time, which is that mankind is changing the climate."
Those who believe that man is having an impact on the climate cite a steady rise in CO2 levels since the Industrial Revolution began in 1800 to now historic levels. Scientists have been able to take air samples from drilled ice cores that reveal what was in the atmosphere tens of millions of years ago. The most dramatic increase has occurred in the past 60 years.
Mourdock noted that a monument near his home in Vanderburgh County marks the spot where the glacial ice made its furthest southern advance prior to the warming of the climate 10,000 years ago, allowing mankind to begin to cultivate crops and form communities. The climate has changed and will always change, but he dispels the notion that mankind is even partially responsible.
His opponent, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, takes a different approach that ties energy and environmental policy together. "While I believe that climate change is real and should be addressed as part of a comprehensive reform of our nation's energy policy, I do not believe an approach that asks Indiana's economy to bear undue high costs to cut our nation's carbon emissions is the right way to go," Donnelly explained.
Last year, Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman observed, “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.”
In a December 2011 Pew poll, 63 percent of Americans say there is “solid evidence” that Earth’s temperature has increased in the past decades, but only 30 percent of conservative Republicans believe that.
On the Fourth of July, I sat immersed in Big Otter Lake with cold beer and a White Sox hat atop ... for hours, my man-made answer to climate change.
Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's.