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THOMPSON: The reality of climate change

October 23, 2017 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


A friend of mine recently said he didn’t believe in global warming, suggesting that it was “a hoax” perpetrated by scientists worldwide. I thought about what he said for awhile and wondered how someone of obvious intelligence could get something so wrong.

It’s not like the jury is still out on this one…global warming is as sure a thing as tobacco causing cancer. Forget for a moment the preposterous thought that tens of thousands of climate scientists would secretly gather - online? - and collude to fool the rest of the world.

So, I’m writing this about what we know…and what we don’t know about global warming.

I’ve read about this issue for years and researched the most authoritative articles on the subject before offering this summary in as plain English as possible.

First of all…is it global warming or climate change? Climate change encompasses global warming…a broader term that includes shifting precipitation patterns as well as temperatures. You can think of global warming as one type of climate change.

What does it matter if temperatures around the world rise a few degrees? Well, it matters a lot.

We’ve been noting temperatures globally since 1880, and as of this year, the average temperature around the world has gone up two degrees Fahrenheit…or a little more than one degree Celsius. If you’re thinking that sounds low…think again. Land ice is already melting and oceans are rising at an accelerating pace in recent years.

Now that we know there’s something called the greenhouse gas effect, we’re acting quickly to control certain gases, right? Not exactly, scientists found more than 150 years ago that certain gases - like carbon dioxide - trap heat in our earth’s atmosphere…and in 1896, scientists predicted that earth’s temperatures would rise. By the way, atmospheric gases like carbon dioxide have increased 43 per cent since the industrial revolution…and scientists’ predictions 121 years ago about world temperatures are spot on.

Are we the problem? Yes, we are. Absolutely conclusive evidence from multiple studies using radioactivity to determine whether carbon dioxide was from natural or industrial emissions proves we are pumping gases into our atmosphere at an alarming rate. Earth has been emitting carbon dioxide since it was formed…sometimes more sometimes less…but never at the manmade levels of the past century.

Other scientists have looked at whether our sun is pumping out more radiation…which theoretically could raise temperatures on earth. The sun hasn’t changed and neither have any other natural phenomena that might affect climate change.

So, why do some people…like my friend…deny scientists’ claims about global warming and climate change? It’s politics, primarily. Ideology - chiefly conservative - guides those who deny climate change and that humans bear the responsibility. Theories about worldwide hoaxes and colluding scientists are obtuse, at best, as is President Donald Trump’s claim that it is a plot by China to undermine American industry.

Are we in trouble? Yes. Scientists predict that the next 30 years will bring gradually warming temperatures and more severe weather. Coral reefs around the world that thrived for millions of years are starting to die. Left unchecked, carbon dioxide emissions could cause climate extremes that could result in massive refugee issues and eventually cause the world’s sixth mass extinction of plants and animals. Polar ice caps - already melting - could flood coastal cities. Even if we take immediate action, scientists say we could see a 15-foot to 20-foot rise in oceans based on what has happened in recent decades.

Ultimately, we are going to have to answer to succeeding generations…there’s a moral component to the issue of climate change and global warming. Every nation except Syria, Nicaragua and the United States adhere to the Paris Agreement of 2015. President Trump and a conservative-controlled Republican Party will be held accountable at some point. It will be hard to lie their way out of this issue.

Is climate change and global warming too big of an issue for each of us to have any effect?

Absolutely not. Support governmental policies for better fuel-economy standards for cars, stricter building codes and laws that limit power plant emissions. Support alternative energy programs…solar, wind and geothermal. We need to speed up these transitions and use cleaner fuels…gas over coal or oil. There are no quick fixes once temperatures rise to even more harmful levels.

The point is we all need to act. As nations, we have to clean up energy systems…and quickly…like we mean it. Become more of a citizen…speak up…demand change. Of course, we can all watch our own carbon footprints…better insulate our homes, use more efficient light bulbs, consolidate those errands and drive fewer miles. Consider a hybrid or electric car…take one less plane trip a year…get some solar panels for some of your energy needs.

Even some good moves bring with them some potentially bad results. Hydraulic fracturing - fracking - produces a new supply of natural gas…but this too is a fossil fuel and eventually must go. Still, today, burning gas rather than coal reduces emissions. Also, fracking can create local pollution. However, it is a myth that fracking causes earthquakes…wastewater injection which increases pressures below the earth’s surface is the culprit.

Yes, these seem like small things…but collectively our actions help. What doesn’t help is denying the problem exists…and that we are responsible. I don’t want to shame my friend…but we simply have to act like we care about those who come after us. Even if we didn’t have a mountain of evidence to prove climate change and global warming - which we do - isn’t it smart to first do no harm?

– Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.  His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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