It’s springtime in America and as farmers do the annual dance of planting crops between rainstorms, Mother Nature is assaulting the west with more severe weather.
A powerful storm dumped more than 3 feet of snow in parts of the Rockies this week, while Santa Ana winds fanned the flames of early-season wildfires in California.
A blaze near San Diego prompted more than 18,000 evacuation notices Thursday as a fire raced through brush on hillsides. That blaze was only 10 percent contained early Friday.
Some evacuation orders were lifted near the most intense of the wildfires. But so far, the flames have shut down schools, driven tens of thousands from their homes, and caused more than $20 million in damage.
Authorities say arson may have played a role in the fires. But others say persistent drought and tinder-dry brush stoking the flames is caused by global warming. And that was the topic in the Heartland, this week where a White House Task Force convened to consider the impact of climate change.
Following a weekend of violent storms culminating in a nearby tornado, efforts to prepare for extreme weather and other events blamed on climate change took center stage in Des Moines, Iowa this week. The Hawkeye state’s capitol city is the third of four communities to host a White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.
Frank Cownie/Mayor of Des Moines, Iowa: “The future of food and resources is really front and center in the discussion. So I think that certainly, while we don’t have as large a population base as some of the coastal areas, we are really a significant source of food.”
Last November, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the Task Force. The team is comprised of eight governors, and a handful of local officials and tribal leaders. The committee will inform the Obama Administration how various federal and local governments can better respond to natural disasters and minimize the human contribution to ongoing climactic shift.
Dr. John Holdren/Science Advisor to the President: “While climate change is a global phenomenon, the impacts are all local.”
Over 300 scientists and government officials identified greenhouse gas emissions as the root cause of global warming in last week’s peer-reviewed National Climate Assessment. The report alleges that industrial pollution and heavy use of fossil fuels, among other contributors, have led all regions of the country to experience radical environmental fluctuations. Droughts, flooding and wildfires are all said to be on the rise in recent years, threatening lives and livelihoods in America and the rest of the world.
Sec. Sally Jewell/U.S. Department of the Interior: “If we’re going to chart a course for our planet that is better for our children than the one we have given them, we must act now and we must act as a team.”
While so called ‘green’ power sources, like wind and solar, have been hailed by environmentalists as the remedy for both climate change and energy insecurity, critics insist such measures are not ready for prime time. Several conservative voices caution that a move away from coal and oil – long the backbone of the U.S. energy portfolio -- would cripple the economy. And with the advent of hydraulic fracturing, previously unreachable sources of oil and natural gas have been extracted from American soil, putting the U.S. on pace to become energy independent by 2020.
Frank Cownie/ Mayor of Des Moines, Iowa: “We need to look at the tax structure, because an awful lot of the fossil fuels have been given tax incentives through the last hundred years or more to keep doing what they're doing.”
Bill Stowe/CEO and General Manager – Des Moines Water Works: “The long and short of it really comes down to this; It involves principled and informed regulation, a word that we don’t want to hear but I’m really glad that my doctor is regulated. I’m really glad that there are speed limits.”
This week’s summit took place at World Food Prize headquarters, on the banks of the Des Moines River. And last spring the city of Des Moines found itself at the crossroads of agricultural bounty and environmental degradation, as record nitrate levels in the city’s primary water supply exceeded EPA standards. Officials pointed to farm runoff as the culprit, but say proper enforcement of environmental mandates at the federal level would allow for appropriate balance between water quality and agricultural prosperity.
Governor Pat Quinn/D – Illinois: “We really respect the men and women in agriculture, they've already shown us they are stewards of the land and the water, more and more sustainable ag, no till ag…It’s very important that all of our water we take good care of. And a fellow who used to live along the Mississippi River, more than 100 years ago, Mark Twain, he said: ‘Whiskey’s for drinkin’ and water’s worth fightin’ for.'"