December 20, 2017
The longed for long hot summer seems to have finally arrived with soaring temperatures sending hordes to the beaches. Some farmers however may not be so keen on the rising temperatures as pastures dry out and crops wither. In other parts of the country record dry spells have brought near disaster to many rural industries and water restrictions to urban dwellers.
Any suggestion that the drought, and intermittent flash floods have anything to do with climate change brings the usual snorts of derision from those who claim it is all a big hoax. It isn’t.
Based on what we know from reliable peer reviewed science Planet Earth is probably not getting any warmer. The earth’s atmosphere, which can be likened to the skin of an apple, however is most certainly increasing in temperature. It is this very thin layer on which all current life forms depend.
Earth sciences show that there have been times of intense cold and other times of very high temperatures going back many millions of years. We don’t know for sure what caused all of these changes but our sun no doubt played a significant part in some of them. We also know that most of these changes have taken place over very long periods of time and most life forms have been able to adapt. Those that couldn’t simply died out. When the changes have been rapid there have been massive extinctions among those species which could not adapt fast enough.
The current warming of earth’s atmosphere appears to be one of the rapid changes, almost three degrees centigrade over something less than 300 years. That is one of the fastest changes scientists have been able to identify. One of the principle causes has been a rapid increase in carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere created by the combustion of high-carbon fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas over the past three centuries. The amount of carbon in the world has not increased. We have just taken it from where it was safely locked up underground, turned it into carbon dioxide and released it into the atmosphere. This layer acts like the windows in a closed car on a sunny day.
Massive deforestation by humans has also played a significant part in warming the atmosphere by taking out too much of the forest cover which would normally absorb carbon dioxide.
As a result ocean surface temperatures are higher than they have been since records began leading to higher rates of evaporation. In summer that creates an increase in the size of rain storms. In winter it creates much larger snow storms and blizzards.
Over land masses the increased temperature have increased severe and fire risk as we now have in California. At both polar ice caps the ice has been melting sooner and forming later each year. In some cases the sea ice has spread out over larger areas than before but it is thinner and breaks up quicker. Terrestrial glaciers have retreated but then began to advance again as increasing amounts of melt water lubricated the valley floor rocks underneath them.
The melting of the polar ice caps won’t increase sea levels but the melting of inland glaciers will and we already have sea levels at some low lying islands in the Pacific high enough to force the evacuation of many long established villages.
Human created accelerated climate change, global warming or whatever else we choose to call it, will not put Planet earth at risk. However coupled with modern pollutants they are putting life as we know it at risk. Many amphibians have disappeared from their former habitats which are now too warm for them and many marine species are dying in the toxic soup we have made of their oceans with plastic trash.
Humans are the only species to have the intellect to understand and assess their impact on the environment they rely on for life. We are also the only species with the technology to manage and mitigate that impact. All that is missing is the collective will to apply that technology.
Two impediments to that collective action are personal greed and political expediency.
Some industries stand to lose fortunes if the required changes are made to avoid catastrophe. Some politicians understand that possibility and have chosen to deny there is any link between human activity and climate change. Humanity and the wild things we share the world with need urgent action now. In twenty years time it may well be too late, if it is not already.