Mother nature isn’t happy

Jenn Hanson

In areas of Iowa, record-breaking storms dumped nearly 20 inches of rain during the month of August. The state average of 9.73 inches ranked August 2007 as Iowa’s third-wettest month, just behind July 1993 and June 1947. Is the Earth trying to send a message?

The rains came from a stationary front hovering over the Midwest. The front was created when cool Canadian air collided with warm winds from Tropical Storm Erin and Hurricane Dean, which were hitting the southern United States and Mexico in mid-August.

The powerful Category 5 Hurricane Dean was succeeded exactly two weeks later by Hurricane Felix, which hit Central America also with Category 5 intensity – the first time in history two storms of that magnitude hit land in the same season.

Eight Category 5 storms have been named in the past five years, more than the past three decades combined.

William Gutowski, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, said the recent weather is “not all that unusual,” and is statistically explainable.

“Extreme events happen somewhere all the time,” he said. “Sometimes, it happens closer to us.”

Richard Cruse, professor of agronomy, agrees.

“You can’t look at a single set of events and say it’s connected,” he said. “It’s very difficult to ignore what’s happening because it fits the trends.”

Scientists and the general public are catching on to those trends, and most attribute them to global warming.

“People are beginning to believe that we actually have a role in creating it,” said Peter Korsching, professor of sociology.

However, others give alternative explanations.

Mary Sawyer, professor of religious studies, said there are a growing number of people vocalizing that recent weather phenomena are fulfilling Biblical prophecy and other apocalyptic literature, which describe the tragic events and signs that come with the end of the world and godly judgment. These people, she said, are mainly fundamentalist Christians, whose power has been growing in politics and media.

Sawyer defined fundamentalist Christian as anyone who interprets the Bible literally and said their explanations are a sort of evangelical tool.

“More emphasis on hell helps create a sense of urgency and a climate that’s anxiety-filled,” she said.

But that shouldn’t make students anxious, Sawyer said.

“They need to understand this is one perspective of one segment of one religion of people who call themselves Christians, who believe they’re correct and everyone else is wrong,” she said.

Regardless of differences between scientific and religious viewpoints, people can see the climate is changing.

According to the World Heath Organization, in 25 years, global warming will cause 300,000 human deaths per year. A study by the science journal Nature found that up to 37 percent of plant and animal species could be wiped off the planet by 2050.

“It’s critical,” Cruse said. “In my mind, it’s the most serious challenge facing human civilization at this time.”

Korsching said the United States will likely be able to adjust when its infrastructures become displaced by rising sea levels and increased storm activity.

“We may have to tighten our belts, but we have the resources to make those adjustments,” he said.

But he cannot predict what poorer countries without resources will do.

“We [as a government] talk about having an environmental ethic, but we don’t demonstrate it. Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to,” he said.

Korsching also predicts that when massive changes start happening, there will be incomparable civil unrest and growing disputes. He said people must think in a global sense.

“Life is going to become much more complicated than it is now,” he said.