It’s Getting Hot in Here
In June 2016, I witnessed firsthand the fury of Mother Nature. I was in West Virginia on a backpacking trip at Monongahela National Park. The second morning of the trip, a couple of park rangers told our group that we should head for higher ground because the river might crest due to the continued rains. We took the park rangers’ advice and headed to a local mountainside ski lodge. Later that same day, I witnessed two small creeks right outside the ski lodge merge together and turn into a raging whitewater river in just a couple of hours. A day and a half later, as the skies cleared and the last raindrop fell, it turned out to be one of the most deadly floods in West Virginia history. Billions of dollars of property damage, land destroyed, and more importantly 23 people lost their lives due to the floodwaters.
A month and a half later, Louisiana suffered the same fate as West Virginia, as floodwaters destroyed property, homes, and lives. It was a huge blow to a state still recovering from the aftermath of the tragic and historic Hurricane Katrina that struck over ten years ago. At the time of this writing, Georgia and Alabama have declared a state of emergency due to a massive spill in Shelby County, AL. This is happening in the shadow of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill that hit the Gulf Coast 5 year ago. It seems we’re all on a cliff and approaching the precipice while throwing caution to the wind.
“Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.”
Meanwhile, full-time human troll and one of the major candidates for president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, believes climate change is a ruse. He lets us know this every day on his Twitter feed. In fact, in the United States, the “climate change is real versus climate change is fake” battle is treated as a valid debate in the spineless mainstream media. One argument is validated by thousands of scientists, years of rigorous research and data points. The climate change denier camp, on the other hand, is funded by the fossil fuel industry and extreme right-wing think tanks with no scientific evidence to back up their claims. Their claims are only backed by speculation and opinions. The United States at one time was the leader in scientific innovation, but it has devolved into a nation where scientific facts are trumped by baseless opinions. It’s a sad day for humankind because the warmer climate spells trouble for the some of the
The United States at one time was the leader in scientific innovation, but it has devolved into a nation where scientific facts are trumped by baseless opinions. It’s a sad day for humankind because the warmer climate spells trouble for the some of the world most vulnerable people, and eventually all the rest of us. The impact of a warmer planet isn’t in some far off distant future. As I stated in the beginning, we’re witnessing firsthand the aftermath of climate change now.
There is a scientific debate going on about the appropriate name for the new era we have entered. Only true nerds and science geeks care about this debate at the moment, but it is one we’re all directly linked to. We appear to have entered the Anthropocene epoch. We are in the midst of shrinking arctic sea ice, the rise of mega-cities, air pollution on a global scale, bleaching of ocean’s coral reefs, mass deforestation, the sixth great mass extinction, and more extreme weather events becoming the norm. Humankind’s influence on the planet’s climate cannot be denied.
“The first signs of warming from the rise in greenhouse gases which came hand-in-hand with the Industrial Revolution appear as early as 1830 in the tropical oceans and the Arctic, meaning that climate change witnessed today began about 180 years ago.”
Humans have effectively changed the chemistry of earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, and oceans by the burning of fossil fuels and introducing plastic into every niche of the ecosystem. There’s no doubt about it: we humans are the sole reason for the earth’s rising temperature. Many uninformed folks and tools, like Donald Trump, argue that it snowed in Chicago and New York this past winter, “so climate change isn’t real.” This line of thinking is very dangerous and only kicks the can further down the road. A warmer and hotter planet will have severe consequences for the world’s poorest and most desperate people.
Food Insecurity and Water Wars
Changing weather patterns and temperature fluctuations could eventually lead to massive crop failures, decrease the supply of crops, and thus increase the cost of food. By 2030, some of the world’s poorest people could be spending upward to 60% of their annual income on food alone. As more and more people move to cities and leave the countryside this will be a major point of contention in future global conflicts. In addition, the global population is set to rise to about 9 billion people by 2050, meaning there will be more people to feed with fewer resources to go around thanks to global market trends and a changing climate.
Rising sea levels over the next 80 years could mean that some of the world’s most iconic coastal cities will be threatened. Cities like Hong Kong, Bombay, New York City, and Miami are only a few. On top of that, many countries could find themselves under the sea at the start of the next century (e.g. Bangladesh, Trinidad, Rwanda, and Maldives, to name a few). Rising sea waters threaten to wash away these countries and many others.
Armed conflict and protest in various African countries and India have already sparked due lack of clean water and food for all. Some experts have concluded that a major drought was the final piece of the puzzle in fueling the deadly civil war in Syria that has dominated international news.
The future could see more civil unrest and war due to rising food cost, the disappearance of land, and access to clean water. The poorest countries will no doubt bear this burden, but wealthier nations are not immune from the impact of a changing climate. In America, California is in the midst of a once a century drought. Environmental racism has impacted communities like Flint, Michigan, where residents are dealing with lead-tainted water. Fracking has poisoned clean water aquifers throughout the country, and poor rural communities have had to bear the burden of this issue. There are poor black communities in London, England where activists are combating the expansion of an airport that will only increase air pollution in that community and further disenfranchise people.
In North Dakota, we’re seeing the largest Native American protest in recent history against the Dakota Access Pipeline. First nations people and their allies are against this proposed pipeline for various reasons. There are sacred lands and burial grounds being threatened by the pipeline. In addition, there is a possible negative environmental impact if there’s an oil spill. We’ve seen how deadly and environmentally destructive spills like the Gulf War of 1991, or the Atlantic Empress/Aegean Captain have been. We can’t risk that happening again. All these things are connected to the larger issue of climate change.
Are we doomed? With every problem, there is always a solution that can prevent the worse case scenario for humankind. Actions are being taken, but humans need to realize the gravity of this situation. The first and hardest solution is to cut our oil and gas usage tremendously. The 2015 United Nations Climate Conference saw 174 countries come together to promise to cut CO2 emissions by 2050. This is a great first step, but more needs to be done. Currently, our modern world, from cars to plastic to air travel, is all powered by oil. Most of our electricity, meanwhile, comes from coal combustion or natural gas.
First world countries’ level of consumption and waste needs to be drastically curtailed. This is easier said than done. Even those who try to reduce their carbon footprint are still plugged into the larger energy grid, which relies on coal and gas to power it. A stronger push towards renewable energy like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro should be further developed and utilized. Yet, these renewable energy sources will mean nothing if Westerners don’t learn how to simplify their lives and not consume so much. Even new, cleaner technology brings with it new problems of how to dispose of waste and recycling the materials.
Finally, the last solution comes straight out of science fiction: fusion energy, or the same force that powers the sun, could be our saving grace. It’s an energy source that could provide countless amounts of energy with little to no waste, unlike our current nuclear power plants. The problem is this technology is far off and currently only in its infancy.
In the meantime, we humans should take heed and realize there’s a heat wave on the horizon. The impact of climate change will alter the way we all live, and no one will be spared from its shock. As our population human grows and climate grows warmer, we’ll collectively have to put aside our differences to ensure humankind lives on. At any rate, Mother Nature will find a balance eventually, but humankind might not be around to see that change if we don’t change our relationship with nature. There’s a man who paraphrased this much better than I can:
The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are! –George Carlin