The Climate It is A-Changin'

Earth Day, part 1

One of my sayings is: Reality is never depressing.

Reality can certainly be challenging. What’s depressing is trying to turn away from reality – trying not to know, not to think about it. That can be exhausting – depressing. Face reality squarely, and it cannot be depressing. We might grieve; we might mourn – that’s part of a healthy human response to loss – but that’s different from being depressed.

So let us face squarely what there is to be faced: climate change. The sun warms the earth and much of that warmth is reflected back out into space. But CO2 in the atmosphere holds the heat in so that less of it escapes. More CO2 in the atmosphere means more heat is trapped.

High levels of atmospheric CO2 are a problem.

Number One, disruption of weather patterns. While the overall heat of the planet increases, some places might get colder. There is more extreme weather: more droughts and more floods, more heat waves, more hurricanes and superstorms.

Number Two, rising sea levels. For two reasons: (A) melting of land-based ice, which then runs into the ocean, and (B), things expand when they get warmer. Warmer oceans are bigger oceans.

Number Three, ocean acidification. CO2 in the air mixes with the world’s oceans, forming carbonic acid and making the world’s oceans more acidic.

For these three reasons, atmospheric CO2 levels above 350ppm are not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted. Remember that key number: 350. Since the beginning of human civilization, we’ve had 275 ppm.
Then, with the industrial revolution it began to rise. In 1960, it was still under 320 ppm. About 1987, 30 years ago, we surpassed the crucial 350 ppm line. And it’s still going up about 2 more ppm every year. Scientific American reported that on Tue Apr 18 the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million – pretty much right on the predicted schedule.

We’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century. 50 million years! Hominids have only been around for about 6 million years.

I checked the data right here in White Plains, this year. I made a spreadsheet, and I looked up, for every day of 2017 so far, what was the normal high and normal low in White Plains for that date, and what were the actual temperatures for each day in 2017. You probably remember we had an unusually mild winter. Averaging the numbers myself, I found that January and February temperatures averaged about 7 and a half degrees above the White Plains normal this year. March was right at normal for a White Plains March. April is up again. Overall, for the first 112 days of 2017, the average daily high and daily low are both about 5 degrees above normal.

That’s kind of interesting. By itself, this doesn’t tell us anything. Weather always fluctuates – some cold winters, some mild winters. We have to look at a lot more data than just 112 days of White Plains highs and lows. People with much, much bigger spreadsheets have done that.

Over the whole Earth, 2016 was the hottest year on record, and it’s the third consecutive record-breaking year. No less an authority than Bill Nye the Science Guy has personally guaranteed that the 2010 – 2020 decade will be the hottest decade ever, since our records began.

The planet has already warmed 1° C over mid-20th-century average temperatures. Heat extremes that previously occurred once every 1,000 days are already happening four to five times every thousand days.

Extreme rain events are already occurring 25% more times per year than they did prior to the industrial revolution.

Sea levels have already risen about a foot, with the best estimates of the Global Mean sea level rise by the end of the century ranging from another one to eight feet.

Oceans are already about 30% more acidic than they were 30 years ago, threatening marine life, killing coral reefs, and reducing fish populations that penguins and seals and some human communities depend on for survival.

As governments are destabilized by these events, and competition for resources intensifies, the “us versus them” mindset expands, as it already has begun doing, hatred and violence grows, resource wars break out, eventually drawing in the nuclear powers, who will refrain from using their nuclear arsenals – for a little while.

As Lester Brown put it,
“We’ve been saying we need to save the planet. The planet’s going to be around for some time to come. What’s at stake now is civilization itself.”
The situation can be frightening. I understand the fear reaction, but we need not let fear govern us. We can instead be governed by compassion for all the life affected by climate change. (As Cindy Davidson illustrates HERE)

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This is part 1 of 2 of "Earth Day"
See also
Part 2: Our Body

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