Megadrought in the American Southwest


Mario Tama/Getty

When the NASA climatologist James Hansen testified before Congress in June 1988 about a warming planet, the temperature in Washington DC hit a record 100F. It was a summer of unprecedented heatwaves, and 40 states were grappling with drought.

His warning was seen as a historic wake-up call – but instead of heeding the existential smoke alarm, the US removed the batteries and kept on cooking.

Nearly four decades later, the consequences of a sweltering Earth are hitting home in the US south-west and mountain west – comprising states from California to Colorado. Over the past two decades, extreme heat and dwindling moisture levels have converged to create a “megadrought” deemed the driest period in 1,200 years…

The west is now in uncharted territory, as once singular conditions become the norm. Its mightiest reservoirs – Lake Mead and Lake Powell – are at record low levels and steadily shriveling. Prolonged, triple-digit heatwaves are making cities like Phoenix, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada, almost unlivable during summers. And wildfires now spark year-round as parched forests and grasslands are more primed than ever to burn…

“We were given an excellent warning by climate scientists,” says Bill McKibben, the journalist turned climate activist. “And, yet, instead of mustering the will to do something about it, our political and economic systems rallied to do nothing.”

This is the beginning of a series by THE GUARDIAN. Dunno if the hacks in DC and Congress will be any more responsive (or unresponsive) than they have been to date. It is another opportunity to stick a fist in their collective faces and make rude noises along with suggestions for action. Again.

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