Solutions 10/18: Climate Crisis – A global catastrophe

Trees in Millstone Park in Cranbury, on May 15.

By Huck Fairman

While a majority in this country are rightly focused on investigating our corrupt President and his unprincipled associates, and other citizens are understandably focused on crucial local matters and elections, a connected series of changes to environments around the world threaten the well being of pretty much all nations.

As another majority in this country now knows, and has experienced, 2019 saw record rains and floods, and then record heat in June and July. And while the impacts of these changes are largely evident to all living through them, there is another series of less visible changes that may be having deeper impacts. These are the warming of the oceans and the repercussions.

The oceans are not only warming and rising, but their chemistry is being altered, as they absorb roughly a quarter of the CO2 emitted. Acidification is a second impact that accompanies the warming. Together these changes threaten not only human communities but fish stocks, coral reefs and food webs. Those living in coastal areas, whether in New Jersey, Maine, Florida, Alaska, or many Pacific and Asian nations have experienced not only ocean level rise but more powerful storms, and diminishing, or changing, fish stocks, on which they depend, for food and economically. 17% of the world’s animal protein comes from fish and seafood.

Unknown to most of us, there are marine heat waves, which kill fish, seabirds, coral reefs and sea grasses. Those fish that survive often migrate, like their human counterparts, to other, cooler environments. The warming oceans reduce sea ice and coastal glaciers, adding further to the warming.

In addition, the warming sea temperatures permit the spread of pathogens such as vibrio, a bacteria that kills shell fish and sickens humans that eat them, even miles from the oceans.

Toxic algae also increases, making swimming, let alone fishing in the effected seas, such as Florida’s west coast, prohibitively unhealthy. These ocean heat waves are predicted to increase 20-50 times through our century.

What can we do to stop these catastrophic trends? Greta Thunberg and others have said it; the concept is fairly simple: stop emissions.

But while most of us know of the necessary steps, actually taking them appears to be the challenge.

A recent article in “The Guardian” reveals that more than one-third of all greenhouse gases emitted in our time are linked to just 20 fossil fuels companies. They have “relentlessly” exploited the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves for their profit – despite knowing since the ‘50s and ‘60s the impacts on our environments.

And 12 of those 20 companies are state-owned, led by Saudi Aramco and Gazprom, but the “investor-owned” companies on that list include Chevron, Exxon, BP, and Shell. These four companies are responsible for “more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.”

In that same year, the American Petroleum Institute told its members “that carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas at such rate by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate …”

Despite this warning, “The Guardian” reveals that currently the five largest “stock-market-listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m each year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.”

Underlying the climate crisis, it is now clear, we have a huge moral failing on the part of those companies, and on the part of those politicians who are complicit. We citizens and consumers need to do our parts in reducing emissions, but the scope of the problem is so vast that only governments and international organizations can institute effective solutions.

But what we can do, and what conditions make absolutely clear as being necessary, is, in addition to personally reducing emissions, to vote in those leaders who will act to stave off this existential threat. And retire those who deny.