Changing the World’s Climate
The world is changing and not in a good way. For people of my age its a familiar whine: kids are getting smarter or dumber; parents work too much, or not enough; politicians won’t solve the nation’s problems or… politicians won’t solve the nation’s problems. But when a conservationist says the world is changing in a bad way, she means it literally. Every day the world’s climate grows ever more dangerous and catastrophic. Alarming evidence grows.
Stephen Hanson, the retired NASA climate expert first to bring the world’s attention to the danger of climate change, just published a new paper warning of a catastrophic Antarctic/Arctic ice melt. The papers’s 16 authors suggest the vast ice sheets are melting faster than currently believed and the rush of cold fresh water into the world oceans will not only raise water levels far higher than estimated now but alter ocean currents as well. In the north Atlantic, the Gulf Steam might stop. The effect on world climate from this one change is practically inestimable: it unpins much of the Atlantic’s productivity and on-shore temperatures for much of Europe as far north as Norway.. Looking at the world map of water temperature below, they fear the change is already underway. You might want to rethink next years beach vacation plans, it so disturbing.
Most sane people recognize the danger we face even if our politicians do not. Most have suffered some terrifying expression of this danger – a storm with lighting in winter, a locomotive like burst of destructive wind, a catastrophic flooding with virtually no warning. My memory of change is tinged less with fright than melancholy.
Climate Change at Home
As a boy of 12 my father took me ice fishing every Thanksgiving. Leaving the ever-expanding suburbs north of Philadelphia in 1963, he would drive me an hour north to Lake Tohee in northern Bucks county, Pa, where we would trudge across the frozen lake to set our fishing lines. As wind and snow swirled around the us we cut 6 inch holes in the ice through which we threaded lines baited with very cold and pissed-off minnows. We spooled line into the icy depth from our tip-ups, ingenious wooden contraptions that fly a small red flag whenever a barely active and unfortunate fish mouths the bait. Sometimes we caught pickerel or yellow perch. More likely than that we caught nothing but cold toes and fingers.
It became a minor tradition, going fishing in the morning than home to my mother’s warm and satisfying holiday dinner. We would return cold, toes and fingers burning as they gradually come back to life in the comfort of warm home in winter’s icy grip. Now my father and I would have to use a boat to catch fish and if we caught nothing we could at least come home with a good tan.
The point of course is the world is changing fast. As a citizen of this world, I want our politicians to act as parents or grandparents and solve this problem for our children and grandchildren. As a scientist I know that we can do this without harm to our economy because we done it before.
In the same politically charged environment of today we created bold solutions to the water quality problems in the 1970’s ( remember Love Canal), the acid rain problem in the 80’s and the ozone hole in the 1990’s. We didn’t solve these problems of course, thorny issues remain as is always the case with any systemic environmental maladies. But we accomplished the relatively simple task of demanding our politicians and businesses to chart a new course that led us away from the brink of environmental castatrophe and on to a path towards a more responsible future. It could have ended up much differently.
The simulation below developed by NASA scientists demonstrates this. They visualized what would happened if the Montreal Protocols, the international agreement adopted in 1993 that banned hydrochlorofluorocarbons was not adopted and compared that to what actually happened with the protocols. Then projected the likely consequences into the future. hydrochlorofluorocarbons were the ozone gobbling wonder chemical that keep air conditioners and refrigerators cold until they were replace with the more ozone friendly hydrofluorocarbon. No action would have ultimately made the earth unlivable. We’d would all end up looking 90 year-old hollywood celebrities desperate to stay young.
I want to know why climate skeptics and captains of industry (the latter drives the other) see that all the prognostications of doom in these past environmental crisis were wrong. The shift from CFC’s to HCFC’s didn’t even cause a blip in economic output and the costs were quickly absorbed. Than as now industry disputed the science. The then CEO of Dupont testified to Congress in the late 80’s saying “There is no available measure of the contribution of CFCs to any observed ozone change”. Why won’t the current CEO of Dupont fend off the Koch Brothers Industries when they do their best to disparage climate science.
But as a conservationist I am thrilled at the prospects of the new world of conservation before us. If we choose to solve the problem of climate change than we will have to mange our land as though nature’s ways mattered. Part of any menu of solutions will include creating sustainable coastal ecosystems or stable watersheds with the restoration of damaged habitat.
This blog is about the smart and sustainable ways of using natural wealth so it continues to provide for wildlife and rural communities indefinitely. It is about a new face of conservation that is not divided by left/right distinctions, but always about solutions that will benefit generations to come.