Wineke: Climate change is taking its toll

Let’s take a break from Donald Trump’s latest scandal and turn our attention to something lighter: global warming.

Earlier this week, almost 200,000 Californians were rousted from their homes with no notice and told to flee to higher ground. The Oroville Dam had reached capacity, its spillways were eroding and there was a serious chance a 30-foot wall of water might engulf those downstream.

As it turned out, that disaster, which reminds me of what happened in Japan after the tsunami, didn’t happen. At least, not yet. Another round of severe rainstorms is predicted for this week.

All this is surprising, since California has been in the midst of a major drought for the last few years (and a large part of the state is still in a major drought). What’s clear is that what has worked in the past for California is now not working.

But it shouldn’t be surprising, because climate scientists have been predicting for years that one result of global warming will be periods of intense drought and periods of intense rainfall.

Here’s a question for all of us: Before Sunday, had you even heard of the Oroville Dam?

I hadn’t.

But 200,000 people–which is more people than live in Madison–were evacuated with no notice, not because the dam was about to fail but because its emergency spillway was about to fail.

The scientists who study the planet’s climate are not prophets and they are not meteorologists.

They can’t predict what is going to happen to a given dam tomorrow or, for that matter, 10 years from now.

But they are scientists. They can study the material they have gathered and they can make predictions about what should happen if nothing changes.

And the thing they have been predicting is that, in some areas like California, the climate will create longer droughts and heavier rainfall that we have been accustomed to receiving.

They also predict that global warming will lead to an increase in sea levels around the world because of the melting of glaciers and ice caps. The glaciers and ice caps are melting and coastal cities are reporting flooding where flooding was once rare.

It is comforting to think of climate change resulting in a longer growing season for Wisconsin crops and balmy January weather. Some of that will, no doubt, occur.

But if our civilization is going to survive the changes, we will have to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure that is not, as yet, even planned.

I’d feel better if the government officials delegated to deal with things like this even admitted that climate change is happening.

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