Solutions 1/10: The year of climate change


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By Huck Fairman

The year 2019 has seen both dire warnings of drastic climate change and a number of the predicted extreme weather events.

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Satellite images of those events recall the views seen by the astronauts from the Moon, photographs of our strikingly beautiful home floating in black space. But what moved those astronauts was not only the beauty of our planet but its fragility.

The powerful storms, wildfires, draughts and floods over the last year have produced vivid evidence of our changing climates, and yet, judging from the limited responses to the climate crisis around the world, too many people seem indifferent about the crisis.

This is despite the fact that the 2019 was the second or third warmest year on record, and the last six years have been the warmest on record.

Australia saw in December its warmest day ever, 107 degrees F. Numerous wildfires have ravaged that country – while the prime minister was vacationing in Hawaii.

The PBS Network deemed these changes and events important enough to broadcast a summary of them and our predicted future.

In this country, the California wildfires have received wide coverage, but a number of other events seem to have been quickly forgotten outside the stricken areas.

In Texas, Tropical Storm Imelda flooded parts of the state with 43 inches of rain – ranking it as the seventh wettest cyclone ever.

Hurricane Dorian, feeding on warm ocean waters, inundated and ravaged several islands in the Bahamas with storm surges of 20 feet. Over 13,000 homes were demolished or washed away.

In Venice, the rising sea level flooded the city, restricting its growing tourism. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is melting faster than in recent years, and if it continues, it will raise sea levels by 10 feet, affecting coastlines around the world.

Because the planet’s oceans absorb so much of the heat increasingly trapped by emissions, they are changing rapidly. Already a quarter of the oceans’ coral reefs have been lost over the last 30 years.

The Gulf of Maine’s temperature is increasing faster than other comparable bodies, so that its temperature is now at the level found along the New Jersey coast. The Gulf’s fish populations are changing with that temperature rise, reducing fish stocks and fishermen’s livelihoods.

In May, the CO2 levels for the planet surpassed 415 parts per million (ppm) and they continue to rise. A few years ago, the hoped-for-level was 350 ppm.

If we are to limit temperature rises, we must limit emissions by 30 million tons over the next decade.

That will require a reduction of 7.6% per year, but the current state of geopolitics would seem to make achieving that unlikely. The Trump Administration has withdrawn from the global climate accord, and the recent Madrid climate conference saw the United States, Brazil and Saudi Arabia block implementation of the accord.

Teenager Greta Thunberg spoke for many scientists when she warned that we are not “acting quickly enough. We are out of time.” She did encourage us, however, not to underestimate what lots of people acting together can accomplish – “almost anything.”

But the hard question is: are enough people ready to make the difficult decisions? How will we provide and pay for the clean power that our civilization needs?

A recent Gallup poll reported that two thirds of Americans believe global warming is manmade.

However, only 44% worry about it. This is despite the fact that in 2019 more people experienced climate-driven catastrophes close to home.

One final example the report mentioned was the California algae bloom that threatens livelihoods, lives and recreation in an economy that is the fifth largest in the world.

The report warns that the world needs to act in a number of concerted ways to slow and halt climate change, and we need to do it now.

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