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Rudi Kiefer: Climatic change presents host of complex issues
Rudi Kiefer
News about climatic change is met with a great deal of skepticism among the American public and its politicians. It’s not surprising, considering the onslaught of environmental warnings and dire predictions published in the 1990s and beyond.

Remember acid rain? Some articles went as far as envisioning the impending end of our mountainous forests. Acid rain and acid fog are real. On Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, coniferous (pine) forests were deteriorating in the 90s. But now, lush new growth is evident at the mountaintop station. Auto emissions were reduced, and more acid-tolerant species repopulated the forests.

Remember the ozone hole? It’s real. Chlorofluorocarbons from spray cans and air conditioners depleted the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere that shields us from ultraviolet radiation. Perhaps we needed the dire warnings about skin cancer killing us all. But sensible legislation reducing CFC emissions led to NASA’s report this month that the ozone layer is recovering.

Climatic change, often inaccurately titled “global warming,” is real also. But again the fact-oriented, science-based approach has been overshadowed by doomsday predictions. Climate change won’t bring hot conditions everywhere. It results in greater frequency of weather extremes that we’re already familiar with from the past.

This is because the atmosphere is dealing with more uneven heating and cooling than in past centuries. It produces more high-energy storms over tropical oceans, and makes the jet stream and frontal systems “bounce” more over the continents.

Examine a world map and you’ll see that dozens of major cities, even “megacities,” are in risky locations. Tokyo, Bangkok, Shanghai, Kolkata, Lagos, Jakarta, New York, Los Angeles and many more are on or close to ocean coasts. An increased number of ocean-born storms puts millions of people in the path of floods.

On a local scale, this is a good time for governments to check the already available flood hazards maps and devise land-use policies that keep people out of harm’s way. Along the U.S. East Coast, entire subdivisions have been built in floodplains and former wetlands.

International agreements like the Paris Accord don’t do much good if development keeps happening in hazardous locations. This is where more public information and policy work are needed.

Extremes of opinion, with complacency on one end and end-of-the-world predictions on the other, don’t do any good toward lessening the risks of extreme weather.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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