May 9th, 2014 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Climate Change is Real and Happening Now!
On Tuesday, the White House released its extensive new report on climate change. It is a compilation of findings by 300 leading climate scientists and experts and was reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. It’s the most comprehensive climate assessment the U.S. government has ever produced and it paints a pretty stark picture of what’s coming over the next few decades; including drought conditions in the southwest, flooding in the northeast, more heat waves, more hurricanes, rising ocean levels… and all due to rising temperatures.
According to the report, “Americans face choices” – and our choices will determine how devastating the impact of climate change becomes. It’s really about what we’re willing to do to decrease our carbon emissions. The report is very clear:
“The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. Researchers from around the world have compiled this evidence using satellites, weather balloons, thermometers at surface stations, and many other types of observing systems that monitor the Earth’s weather and climate. The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.”
Here are some key highlights from the report:
• Temperatures at Earth’s surface and in the oceans have all increased over recent decades. The largest increases in temperature are occurring closer to the poles, especially in the Arctic. This warming has triggered many other changes to the Earth’s climate. Snow and ice cover have decreased in most areas. Atmospheric water vapor is increasing in the lower atmosphere because a warmer atmosphere can hold more water. Sea level is increasing because water expands as it warms and because melting ice on land adds water to the oceans. Sea ice in the Arctic has decreased dramatically since the satellite record began in 1978. Minimum Arctic sea ice extent (which occurs in early to mid-September) has decreased by more than 40%. This decline is unprecedented in the historical record, and the reduction of ice volume and thickness is even greater. Ice thickness decreased by more than 50% from 1958-1976 to 2003-2008.
• U.S. average temperature has increased by nearly 2°F since record keeping began in 1895; most of this increase has occurred since about 1970. The most recent decade was the nation’s warmest on record. While surface air temperature is the most widely cited measure of climate change, other results of the climate change are more directly relevant to both human society and the natural environment. Examples include shorter duration of ice on lakes and rivers, reduced glacier extent, earlier melting of snowpack, reduced lake levels due to increased evaporation, lengthening of the growing season, changes in plant hardiness zones, increased humidity, rising ocean temperatures, rising sea level, and changes in some types of extreme weather.
• Climate has changed naturally throughout Earth’s history. However, natural factors cannot explain the recent observed warming. In the past, climate change was driven exclusively by natural factors: explosive volcanic eruptions that injected reflective particles into the upper atmosphere, changes in energy from the sun, periodic variations in the Earth’s orbit, natural cycles that transfer heat between the ocean and the atmosphere, and slowly changing natural variations in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Natural factors are still affecting the planet’s climate today. The difference is that, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humans have been increasingly affecting global climate, to the point where we are now the primary cause of recent and projected future change. The majority of the warming at the global scale over the past 50 years can only be explained by the effects of human influences, especially the emissions from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and from deforestation.
• Carbon dioxide has been building up in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era in the mid-1700s, primarily due to burning coal, oil, and gas, and secondarily due to the clearing of forests. Atmospheric levels have increased by about 40% relative to pre-industrial levels. Methane levels in the atmosphere have increased due to human activities including agriculture (livestock produces methane in its digestive tracts and rice farming produces it via bacteria that live in the flooded fields), mining coal, extraction and transport of natural gas, and other fossil fuel-related activities, and waste disposal including sewage and decomposing garbage in landfills. Since pre-industrial times, methane levels have increased by 250%.
Other heat-trapping gases produced by human activities include nitrous oxide, halocarbons, and ozone. Nitrous oxide levels are increasing, primarily as a result of fertilizer use and fossil fuel burning. The concentration of nitrous oxide has increased by about 20% relative to pre-industrial times.
Halocarbons are mostly man-made gases consisting of both carbon and at least one of the halogens (fluorine, chlorine, iodine, and bromine). The majority of them fall into the category of Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. These gases are most well known for their ability to destroy stratospheric ozone, but they are also very strong greenhouse gases. On average they are thousands of times more efficient at warming than CO2. Fortunately, their concentrations are very small, so their powerful greenhouse effect is limited. They are more under control than most greenhouse gases, but they are still having an impact on climate. The sources included refrigerants and propellants.
While none of this information is new or even ground breaking, it’s a serious report by serious and knowledgeable people that should, once and for all, put to rest the idea that the earth is not warming, or that humans are not responsible for climate change. We have allowed politicians, who know nothing at all about the science of climate change (and who take money from oil and coal companies), to be leading voices on climate change. It’s time for this to end. If we are going to effectively battle and mitigate the impact of these changes, then science must win the day. We will need serious legislation coming out of Washington if we expect to slow down what’s already moving forward.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this report is that climate change is no longer a distant threat, but a real and present danger in the United States. The report is very clear: climate change – caused predominantly by the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases – is already being felt across the country. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report says in its introduction.
We can no longer push the issue of climate change down the road. It’s very much a “here and now” issue. As a national community, we’re about to find out what we’re truly about, and whether or not we really have concern and compassion for future generations. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is about the soul of our country – what kind of people are we and do we care about those who will come after us? If we do, then the time to act is now.
Call your Congressional Representative and Senators and let them know that you vote, and in the upcoming 2014 mid term elections, you will not vote for anyone who isn’t willing to act on the issue of climate change. We do have a voice. We can make change. Let’s make a difference!