by John Berge
Ten years ago, Al Gore came out with his book An Inconvenient Truth, which is as hard to read now as it was then, and as significant. But even earlier (1978) glaciologist Lonnie Thompson’s reported on the melting and disappearing of glaciers in the high Andes apparently due to global warming from the increased use of fossil fuels. Later other scientists reported the shrinking of glaciers in North America, Europe, Asia and Antarctica. Recently, there have been several agreements signed intended to stop or at least slow this threat to our health, livelihood and well-being, but our pollution and the world’s response marches on.
Thompson was quoted in Science News as saying: “The physics and chemistry that we’ve known about for 200 years is bearing out. We’ve learned so much in the last 10 years, but the fact that the unprecedented climate change of the last 40 years is being driven by increased CO2 hasn’t changed.” Last year was globally the warmest on record, and we seem to be seeing that almost every year, despite a very small respite that was probably due to volcanic activity.
Ice covers less and less of the Arctic Ocean in the summer and it is predicted that it will be gone as early as 2052. This is a feedback situation since ice reflects much more solar energy than dark, open water. The less ice present in the Arctic summer, the more energy the open water absorbs and so more ice disappears. The summer ice cover minimum has decreased 7.5 percent per decade or from around 6.5 million square kilometers in the early ‘80s to about 3.5 million square kilometers early in this decade.
On the other end of the globe, the Larsen B Ice Shelf collapsed, shattering 3,250 square kilometers of ice that had been stable for at least 12,000 years. In between those two geographical extremes, we are seeing a small but significant rise in sea level, about 3 mm per year. Some areas, like the eastern coast of the United States, have experienced even more.
Worldwide, approximately 200 million people live within 5 meters of sea level. While scenarios vary, few scientists expect sea levels to rise more than 1 to 2 meters by the end of this century. That is small consolation to those living on islands in the Indian Ocean, much of Bangladesh or along the Florida and Carolina coasts that are within that range. Higher sea levels will be exacerbated by increases in the number and intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms producing larger storm surges and greater flooding.
Gore predicted both increased flooding and drought; we are currently seeing both. He also predicted that these would lead to major conflicts. Syria experienced three years of drought and decades long shifts in rainfall and rising temperatures prior to the current conflict which has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands and displacement of millions. While other causes such as clashes over gas pipelines, religion and a dictatorial government may have been primary, drought and global warming have certainly been contributing factors.
So each of us should be asking ourselves what are we, as individuals and families, doing to reduce our carbon footprint, our use of fossil fuels, our contribution to global warming or climate change. Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church has recently replaced all of its light bulbs with more energy efficient ones. My family has switched to all wind generated electricity. How much energy, or CO2, these changes will save is yet to be determined, but each of us can and should do more.