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Keeping Both Eyes Open to Climate Change

Beach_strewn

The new Trump White House website doesn’t mention human-caused climate change. It shows the new president’s energy plan, but there’s no mention of anything having to do with climate, aside from Trump’s commitment to eliminating “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.” Now the new director of the Environmental Protection Agency says he doesn’t think carbon dioxide produced by human activity drives global climate change. Meanwhile, his subordinates continue to do their work, but are banned from speaking to the press, granting contracts, or posting their studies on social media. “The entire agency is under lockdown,” one EPA employee stated. Apparently, out of sight, out of mind. If we don’t say it exists, it doesn’t.

The problem, however, does not go away because the administration muzzles agencies charged to deal with it. Whether you think humans cause it, climate change continues to fester. I’ve seen Chicago when the peaking waves from the lake were frozen solid. Not this year. As of early March, Chicago saw 77 days without at least an inch of snow, and temperatures in the balmy 60s–in mid-winter. Ice continues to melt in Greenland and Antarctica – annually about 303 gigatons from the former, 118 gigatons from the latter. A chunk 1,930 square miles is about to break off Antarctica. Researchers know that these melts raise the sea level, but we now also know that the sea-rise is faster than at any time in the past 3,000 years.

So Rio de Janeiro suffers lost beaches, not just from rising seas, but also from unusually powerful storms, with 12-foot waves dumping sand onto adjacent roadways. In August last year, Louisiana got hit by a storm ranked as one-in-500-year event – except it was the eighth such storm in 12 months to hit this continent, (These storms included Georgia’s deadly January tornado.)  And, last year was the hottest year ever – tracking on 14 months in a row of record-breaking temperatures. We are suffering a period of extreme weather patterns that a German insurance company says could only happen because of climate change. Nearly half of Trump supporters recognize global warming, according to a Yale/George Mason poll, and a quarter of Trump supporters acknowledge climate change is caused by us humans, according to a University of New Hampshire survey.

The evidence proving a human toll on the environment has been clear for some time:

  • Each year people dump eight million tons of plastic into the ocean. Much of the debris gathers in convergence areas in the Pacific Ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Human manufactured pesticides are killing pollinators, the bees, butterflies, and other tiny creatures that crucially spread pollen for more than 75 percent of the crops which we depend on for food and fiber.
  • Larger animals face mass extinction because people farm, hunt, mine and otherwise disrupt the ecology of vast portions of the planet. From Madagascar to the Congo to Brazil to Indonesia, human activity threatens as much as 60 percent of some 504 species tracked by researchers.
  • Our impact reaches the ocean’s deepest depths – places like the Mariana Trench, over six miles down. At the trench’s bottom, scientists have discovered toxic chemical concentrations in tiny creatures that are 50 times the rate found in fish from China’s most polluted rivers.

These studies facts provide evidence that whether or not you think human activity changes climate, it certainly impacts even the most isolated reaches of the planet.

People who don’t think climate change is human caused have to ignore all that impact. They have to think that fracking in Oklahoma hasn’t led to a dramatic increase in earthquakes – from fewer than 250 over a century, to more than that just last year. They have to ignore evidence that pesticides affect the health of children in agricultural areas. They have to think that greenhouse-gas emissions don’t endanger people’s health.

They also must ignore the positive results when the world does understand a problem and makes changes to fix it. The hole in the ozone caused by CFCs was discovered in the 1980s, and nations agreed to ban them. Between 2000 and now, the ozone hole has shrunk by 1.5 million square miles. When people act they can heal the ruptures.

So our human impact is unmistakable. Whether for good or for ill, we affect every other entity in our world. If we continue to live the way we do, the results will be dire – for humans, even rich ones, and for many animals, for plants and the vast seas. We can, certainly, change our course. But not if out-of-sight means out-of-mind. Ignoring climate change won’t make it go away. Denying human involvement won’t get us to fix it, if we still can.


Image by Dolovis via Wikimedia.

 

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  • stargene

    HI, Jim…
    Several things. First, commenters J & G, like so many, assume that the great snow storms in
    the US northeast contradict AGW. Just like Tea Party regulars did a few years back when it
    snowed and froze like hell back east. “This look like global warming to you?!” their leader
    asked gleefully. What most otherwise well informed citizens find difficult is that the entire
    AGW process taking place across the world’s oceans and atmosphere is strongly stochastic.
    By stochastic, I mean ALL local, sub-continental and even continental regions will experience
    relatively unpredictable fluctuations away, up or down, from the “mean” values for any given
    climate index (temperature, wind, wind direction, moisture, cloud cover, salinity, etc.) over
    any given time interval…as each region is forced to accommodate its share of the rapidly
    increasing heat content of the world system. Each region has its own peculiarities, including
    what are called ‘sinks’ (eg: heat sink..capacity to absorb heat). The entire process, both
    globally and locally, is very nonlinear, which, among other things, it is dependent on what
    is happening right next door, so to speak. Whether one is familiar with climatology or
    complex dynamic systems or not, this aspect is intuitively clear.

    Yes, all such different regions can show behaviors counter to a classic, well-behaved
    Newtonian system. But over time, all of these excursions away from the local mean
    will tend toward some stability, as the planet struggles to reach a new and different
    dynamic equilibrium.

    Perhaps an example of a much smaller complex system will help in understanding this
    stochastic “wrinkle in the ointment”. Take a very large molecule, having tens of thousands
    of atoms arranged in various linkages. Let it be at some state of lower energy overall.
    Then zap the thing with a dose of energy (heat photons, say). Yes, this huge molecule
    will arrive at a final state and configuration, fully accommodating that heat input. BUT
    it can’t do this instantaneously. If we could observe it “slowed down”, we’d see (over a
    fraction of a second, say) different links and substructures having now higher, now lower
    energies and vibrations, as the waves of energy sweep around and through the giant
    molecule, in a kind of quantum vibration. Finally, it would settle down, in its new, higher
    energy state. But some parts of it would have energy somewhat higher than before,
    and others somewhat lower than before. And if you could hear them ‘talk’ along the
    way, you’d hear some say, ‘whoa heatwave’s coming on’… others would say, ‘damn,
    it’s getting colder!’ Now transpose that same nonlinear process to an almost infinitely
    more massive and complicated system… our Earth.

    My greatest fear is that by the time most people wakeup to the reality of AGW, it won’t
    be from better explanations by experts, but because it is literally staring them in the face,
    in all its massive ugliness. If even the more conservative scientific scenarios are right,
    there will be true disaster…many more wars, famine worldwide, desperate mass migrations.
    I believe that most people suspect that AGW is real, but they are so oppressed by their
    current economic and social woes, feeling their backs against the wall, rightly demanding
    they get their factories back and running… they don’t have anything left for seeing further
    down the longer road.

    Gene

  • Jond01

    Plastics in the ocean, pesticides, etc are real problems that can be acted on. And don’t forget about that ever increasing population that needs to be reigned in. But that Co2 bit, not so much. You attribute storms to carbon, and no snow in Chicago to it as well. Check the snow forecast for Chicago now! Just because these weather events happen does not mean they are due to Co2!

  • Gallilao

    It sure will be great when we can put an end to the AGW fraud!
    Thank you DT!

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