Out of Bounds

Drought is the New Normal

Increasingly, Earth, the only home we earthlings will ever know, is telling us the climate scientists have it right

By Rob Breeding

Some years back I had a long discussion with a writer/mentor friend of mine about global warming, or “global climate change,” a phrase which maybe better reflects what happens when you overheat your planet.

Our debate went something like this:

Me: There’s an overwhelming consensus among climate scientists …

My foil: I’m not so sure. There’s this oil-industry dude on the internet …

We were hunting mountain quail in Southern California, in a chaparral-choked canyon that would burn a few years later. The only quail of note were a never-seen male singing “QUEE-ar” wistfully, somewhere up a rocky slope where the box canyon succumbed to mountain. Then later, as we walked a two-track sheltered on either side by head-high manzanita, a lone bird scurried across our path.

We’d been down this point-counterpoint road before so I moved to change the subject. 

“The things we are told we should do to prevent global warming are things we should be doing, anyway,” I suggested.

He didn’t agree with me, but he didn’t argue either, accepting the neutral terms I’d offered. 

Increasingly, Earth, the only home we earthlings will ever know, is telling us the climate scientists have it right.

The day that I wrote this the temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, topped out at 119 degrees, making it the 22nd in a row in which the city exceeded 110. And the heatwave wasn’t limited to Arizona, also reaching across the American South and the Atlantic. The water off the Florida Keys warmed nearly to poaching levels and the North Atlantic is setting records as temperatures rise so fast the Y axis on the chart measuring ocean anomalies had to be extended, we’ve moved that far from normal. 

So should come as no surprise that we’ve entered the season of angling restrictions on Montana rivers. Hoot owl regulations (no fishing from 2 p.m. to midnight) are in place on some of the usual southwestern riverine suspects— the Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Jefferson, Lower Madison, and Sun rivers. How the Big Hole managed to avoid this list of infamy I don’t know, but it’s surely just a matter of time.

What’s remarkable is that Fish, Wildlife and Parks is warning hoot owl restrictions might soon come to the forks of the Flathead River. Even when water levels are low the Flathead is usually cold enough that it remains safe to catch and release trout.

It’s a chaos of extremes out there. California was slammed by record precipitation last winter, filling Lake Shasta and rising Tulare Lake from its dry, Central Valley lakebed for the first time since 1983. Rivers draining the Sierra are dangerously high with snowmelt and Mammoth Mountain, a ski area on the eastern face of the Sierra, announced the lifts will run for a few more weeks. It’s only the second time in the resort’s 69-year history it has stayed open until August.

Yet even as the region was slammed by wet weather last winter there were warnings. That rainfall stimulates the growth of brush and grass and when things dry out and the summer furnace is turned on high, it all turns to fuel. So of course wildfires broke out in Southern California just as a heat dome settled over the region.

It’s almost as if we’ve been applying the “move fast and break things” business philosophy to the planet’s climate. And things are breaking everywhere you look.

Maybe there’s a fix out there. We’ll soon learn the judge’s decision in Held vs. Montana, the first of what may be many climate trials in the U.S. It’s not that I expect miracles, that if the 18 young plaintiffs win their case we’ll suddenly reverse our reckless stewardship of the only known inhabitable planet in the universe.

But we’ll at least get a taste of hope, hope that our children may manage this planet better than we have.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.