By Barbara Kessler

If global warming wasn’t so devastatingly tangible, it would sound like part of a doomsday cult. Consider these projections of the future for a swath of the U.S.

First up: Kansas, the American heartland, breadbasket to the world, a place of amber waves of grain…a place we might not recognize by century’s end.

Under projected global warming scenarios, Kansas will become hotter and drier, with more insects and more storms during the next several decades. By century’s end, western Kansas will be so arid, it will need 8 more inches of water to sustain crops there. Eastern Kansas will be wetter, but so warm that evaporation will claim the extra rainfall and southwestern Kansas will be a virtual desert. All this according to a report released last week by University of Kansas scientists Nathaniel Brunsell and Johannes Feddema for the Climate Change and Energy Project based in Salina, Kansas.

But wait, Dorothy, there’s more.

Public health experts speaking in Tuscon Arizona over the weekend projected that climate change could bring a rash of asthma, Nile virus, malaria and dengue fever to the desert Southwest.

How does climate change unleash this cloud of locusts? Warmer weather drives disease-bearing mosquitoes north from Mexico; higher temperatures aggravate respiratory ailments and sudden heavy rainstorms (the erratic weather predicted with climate change) nurture a set of waterborne illnesses. So say scientists speaking at a health conference and quoted in the Arizona Daily Star.

To be fair, these climate projections are just projections. The Tuscon speakers acknowledged that trying to pinpoint where the heavy rains and droughts will occur is tricky science. The Kansas scientists say we could turn it all around, by working very hard to reduce carbon emissions.

Discouraging as all this is, the reaction of some people reading the Daily Star story on the conference was nearly as disheartening. Dozens of comments derided the experts for even trying to project the future, accusing them of being alarmists. “The sky is falling!!!” cracked one.  An astroid could hit the earth, noted another.

People do have enough troubles, without adding global warming. As one Arizona reader pointed out, he’s more concerned about his job security and ability to get health insurance than whether the oceans rise in 50 years and California drops into the Pacific.

Speaking of California. We don’t need projections to outline the effects of global warming there. Extreme drought and high winds have led to some of the worst wildfires seen in Southern California. Hundreds have lost their homes and thousands have been displaced over the past several days as rapid walls of flame descended on their neighborhoods. Firefighters have been fighting fires across four counties, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and Santa Barbara. (See the Los Angeles Times map of the affected areas.)

Are these fires climate change related? We can’t know for sure. Is this the sort of thing that climate change models predict? Most certainly.

At least Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t dithering about it.

“I think that everyone has recognized that this is a different situation now than we had in the past. I think the last two years or so we have seen that this is not anymore a fire season in the fall, like we usually have had but there is fire season all year round,” he told news reporters.

“We have seen the fire(s) starting in February. We have fires in March, in April, in June. We have them now. They will continue. I think it is because of the weather change, the climate change.”

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