Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Climate Change

When the news broke a few months ago, that one of my reading staples, National Geographic, had been purchased by Rupert Murdoch, an avid climate change denier, I was concerned that the integrity of the magazine may be harmed, and its message influenced.  A bit more research caused further anxiety as it seems that the impetus for the deal was an influx of cash to enable the magazine to continue its work, especially as carried out via its cable TV station.  At this point, it bears watching.  National Geographic, through its magazines and TV shows, is a wonderful outlet for information about the natural world, and man's influence on the environment and our planet.  Unfortunately, to provide those services it takes money.  Let's hope that, unlike our current political system, money does not corrupt the message or the players.

In the meantime, this month's edition, labeled Cool It, is an amazing presentation of the facts about climate change, some of the signs already present, a look at how nature (the animals and plants we share the Earth with) is being and may be affected, how we can eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels, and the incredible tools that are being developed and applied by scientists world wide to measure, map and define the changes as they occur.

As an eternal optimist, one who is hopeful not just for the future of humanity, but for the continued evolution of our spiritual selves, I found Cool It to be sobering, yet full of hope.  Clearly, our climate is changing.  Even the most ardent deniers generally accept this fact.  But even more clearly, change is occurring at a rate totally unlike what has occurred in the past.  And, based on the detailed work of the environmental scientific community in the past few decades, this accelerated rate appears to be linked to human actions, both active via the burning of fossil fuels, and as a byproduct of other actions such as the clear cutting of our forests for agriculture and manufacturing which releases methane gases.

One of the more alarming aspects of climate change, is it effect on water on our planet.  On one hand, as glaciers melt, water levels rise placing those who live in coastal areas at risk for loss of home and livelihood.  Depending on your definition of proximity to the sea, upwards of 40% of the world's population lives by a coast.  One recent study claims that about 10% (over 600 million people) live close enough to an ocean to be effected (meaning will have to move) by rising sea levels in the next few decades.  

Yet on the other hand, as temperatures rise, access to fresh water will decline.  Again, depending on your definition of access to potable water, currently upwards of 16% of the world's population does not have running water in their homes for drinking or sanitation.  That's close to a billion people folks!  Less access to fresh water, in addition to the obvious problems of dehydration and death, also increases the likelihood of disease, and the spread of infectious diseases (pandemics).

Water, and access to its benefits, already generates local and regional conflicts as those harnessing water upstream effects the access of those living downstream to those same benefits.  And, when there is no fresh water, through prolonged drought or manipulation, people have no choice but to leave their homes.  It is easy enough to see how mass migrations of people leads to all sorts of problems by watching news coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe.  Imagine if climate change caused a portion of Central America to be uninhabitable, and the United States was faced with millions of refugees looking for new homes?  Or if the shoe was on the other foot, and our southern states became so hot that a large portion of people needed to move to the northern states or to Canada?        

The good news?

There are many brilliant people with innovative and detailed plans for us to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels to provide our energy.  One man, Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson, has developed a plan which could make America carbon free by 2050.  This plan, specific for each state, uses wind, solar, water and geothermal energy to replace that provided by coal, natural gas and nuclear.  Is it ambitious?  Certainly.  But it is no more ambitious than the plan developed and in process by Germany which already generates 27% of its energy from renewables (12% in America) and is about on pace to attain an 80% rate by 2050. 

Of course, there is a HUGE difference between the German effort and that in America.  In Germany, roughly 90% of the population supports the move away from fossil fuels, while in America upwards of 30% of the people don't even believe in climate change, not to mention that ZERO of the GOP candidates for president acknowledges the need to address climate change. 

For this reason alone, we need to continue the wonderful work of our scientists who, in conjunction with our government, has deployed many new satellites in space to monitor and help predict the effects of climate change on our water tables, crop yields, and potential drought susceptible areas.  By continue, I mean voting for people, generally liberals and progressives, who acknowledge this serious issue and will continue to provide money and resources to those who will keep the United States on the forefront of this research.  Perhaps, when Americans finally understand the gravity of the situation, we will have established the ground work which is providing information and solutions to those who are already listening.

In the meantime, perhaps the words of a woman living in a Pacific island chain that is among the many such locations that may be underwater within a generation or two may be appropriate to hear.  While the carbon emissions of her country is very low compared to that of the industrialized nations, she acknowledges that there is a role for her and those of her nation to play in decreasing their carbon footprint.  It is a role we can all take part in, by walking, biking or taking mass transit more often.  By purchasing vehicles with better miles per gallon rates or which do not use gasoline at all.  By investing in solar panels, and other ways of generating electricity for one's own use.  By holding accountable those companies who do not use resources responsibly by shopping elsewhere, or by changing one's investment strategy to not include fossil fuel companies, or to actively include those businesses and individuals who are developing the technologies we need to be more green. 

Each of us needs to acknowledge our role in the stewardship of our planet and its environment.  Once we open our eyes to this responsibility, once we create the individual and community will to confront the challenges of climate change, I truly believe that we can succeed. 

No comments:

Post a Comment