Guest Editorial by Paula DiPerna: September 7, 2023
Clouds and Climate Change: Reading the Future
It’s been an odd summer, with lots of cloud cover folding in and out each day, sometimes fully taking over the sky and sometimes made to give way to the sun. At times the clouds are blue-black and menacing, filled with the fury of storms. At other times, billowing white puffs take on shapes of whales and islands, truly heavenly. The sky above is breathtaking.
As we dreamily consider the clouds, however, it’s important perhaps to realize that the atmospheric layer they occupy, the zone that protects us from the otherwise incinerating heat of the sun, is only 60 miles, a thin and rare wafer. And, as climate change crowds that wafer with greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, clouds crowd each other, a major reason for extreme weather.
As I wrote in my recent book, “Pricing the Priceless: The financial transformation to value the planet…,” published by Wiley this summer, “the more tons of fossil fuel burned, the more tons of CO2e emitted to the atmosphere, where they cannot escape. As the gases accumulate, they in turn hold in the intense solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, preventing that heat from bouncing back off the planet and safely away into space. Once called the ‘greenhouse effect,’ this transforms our protective atmosphere into a heat blanket the earth cannot kick off.
This also entirely disrupts the earth’s critical water cycle. Warmer oceans mean more evaporation and moisture in the clouds, a key cause of torrential bursts of rain and ensuing flooding for which almost no human communities are prepared.
The trapped heat must make itself room in the tight space of the atmosphere, so it shoves wind, water vapor, and clouds around the earth like a bag of rags, wreaking havoc with established weather patterns, triggering wild storms, drought, extreme weather swings, and other frightful, unpredictable breakdowns of the seasons. The worst of climate change remains unknown, but meanwhile the first of climate change impacts are already underway worldwide, raising the odds that catastrophic events will occur more frequently.”
Even the best prepared localities are underprepared for the extreme weather ahead. Locally, we’d be well advised to take full advantage of the federal Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, both of which provide for billions of dollars to improve resilience to climate change.
We’ve always considered the sky our protective dome, but now it’s also a billboard on our future.
Paula DiPerna is a widely published author, strategic policy consultant and executive. In her new book, she looks to de-mystify and unveil today’s most fascinating financial disruption―pricing the priceless to flip conventional ideas of how we value natural assets and why.