Scrooge and the Southeast’s Best Climate Report

Climate Change

Marley was dead, to begin with … This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

What if one ghost had visited Scrooge? Would he have changed? Bah Humbug. I doubt it. Scrooge needed the shock of Marley and three apparitions to show him the past, present, and future, to change.

You can tell I am reading A Christmas Carol with the kids now. I also read last week the most comprehensive report written about climate in the Southeast. The report is one of a series of technical inputs to the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA). At 371 pages, it is more than five times the length of original Christmas Carol, but buried in this text are images of the past, present and future.

I spoke with Kirstin Dow, one of the four editors of the report and a University of South Carolina geography professor. She was originally taken aback by the complexity of producing this report with more than 100 scientists and researchers in less than a year. However, she believed this report provided a good foundation to the state of climate science here in the southeast. I agree.

This morning I thought I would categorize and edit a few of my highlights of the report into the past, present and future in honor of Mr. Dickens.

Past

  • Historical records of precipitation and temperature show much variability across the Southeast, with no long-term trends since the end of the 19th century.
  • The Southeast is one of the few regions globally that did not show an overall warming trend in surface temperature during the 20th century.
  • One past example of adaptive capacity in the Southeast was how the citrus industry relocated southward from Charleston, SC, to its current place in Florida, following a series of disastrous freezes starting in the late 19th century.
  • Tropical storms and hurricanes have contributed to more billion-dollar weather disasters in the region than any other hazard.
  • The Southeast has the highest aquatic diversity of any temperate system; however the ecological relationships and life histories of many Southeast species are not yet well understood within the constraints of climate variability.

Present

  • The Southeast consumes more energy as a region and per person than any other NCA region.
  • The Southeast’s population is increasing at one of the fastest rates in the USA.
  • The Southeast is a major exporter of energy to other regions now, though future increases in competition for water resources might diminish the region’s energy projection capacity.
  • Droughts in the Southeast typically display a relatively shorter duration (i.e. one to three years) as compared to the muli-decadal droughts experienced in the western and central parts of the USA. Hurricanes are the cause.
  • Snowstorms exceeding 6 inches occur only once every 100 years on average across the Gulf Coast region.

Future

  • Mean annual precipitation is expected to decrease across the southern tier of the Southeast and increase across the northern tier through the first half of the 21st century.
  • Mean sea level across the Southeast is generally consistent with the global trend and is expected to increase between 20 and 200 cm by the end of the 21st century.
  • Savannafication of the Southeast in which forests are converted into more open woodlands due to a combination of hotter and drier conditions, could be one of the most profound potential climate change impacts in the USA.
  • Overall, there is much uncertainty in precipitation projections because of inadequacies in model resolution, which is often too coarse to resolve regional and local-scale processes (e.g. sea-breeze circulation), and internal variability in the climate system which is also less successfully simulated by climate models.
  • Mean annual temperatures are projected to increase across the Southeast through the 21st century. By 2050, the largest increases (3 F to 5 F) are projected over the interior of the region.
  • Declining runoff and increasing demands of water resources are likely to increase the pressure on the existing reservoirs, leading to deeper and longer lasting drawdowns.

Facing bankruptcy and thinking about giving up on writing fiction,Charles Dickens sat down to write a Christmas Carol in early October of 1864. Charles finished in six short weeks. It was edited, illustrated, typeset, printed, bound, and distributed to shops several days before Christmas. The first edition of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve.  This story helped transform a then minor Holiday into a significant celebration in the Christian calendar from this one story. A timely story with ghosts changed the world.

Unfortunately, we often need a Marley as a catalyst for change in our water world: a drought, a flood, a loss, an epicenter, or a supreme court case.  Many times we need more than a Marley. We need to be able to interlock the past with the present in order to project the future.

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

2 Comments

  1. Nice job Robert. Interesting report. In keeping with the season, I will raise a glass of drinking water and toast the venerable Mr. Scrooge.

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