By George P. Nassos
In 1988, James Hansen, then head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, gave a testimony before Congress depicting an increase in global temperature due to an increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere. He indicated that the concentration of CO2 was around 280 parts per million (ppm) for several centuries prior to the industrial revolution and was now over 300 ppm. He warned us that if the concentration exceeded 350 ppm we’d be in trouble. It is currently around 422 ppm. And what has happened since this testimony?
Records are being broken with excessively high air temperatures. July 6 has been recorded as the hottest day ever but could easily be broken soon. Phoenix Arizona has had a record of four consecutive weeks with temperatures over 110°F and associated daily low temperatures remaining above 90°F during the evening of most of those days. These extremely hot days are being recorded all over the world.
Over the past couple of years there have been many droughts around the world which are negatively affecting millions of people, primarily because of water shortages and associated crop shortages. A global water meeting earlier this year, the first of its kind in over 40 years, resulted in a report stating that by 2030 the demand for water will exceed the supply by 40%.
Not only have the air temperatures increased but also the ocean water temperature is at a record high. The ocean surface temperature by the coast of Florida is approaching 100°F but has been consistently in the mid-90s. The warming of the ocean is also responsible for one-third to one-half of the global sea level rise. The increase in sea level rise is also caused by the melting ice caps. In the Antarctic the sea-ice is 10% lower than its previous lowest level.
Another water indication of the climate change problem is the large number of storms around the world that along with the droughts have caused major flooding. This happens when the water has nowhere to go in the soil and flows down slopes and creates pools of water. With an increase in the atmospheric temperature there is an increase in the moisture content. Consequently, when a cold front hits and results in rain precipitation, the quantity of rain greatly increases because of this higher moisture content.
Last year there were many forest fires in California, and this year we are experiencing them in Canada and many other parts of the world. Recently, two very popular islands in Greece, Rhodes and Corfu, have had major forest fires, and this could easily happen on other islands. The World Resources Institute has clearly explained the reason for forest fires and their impact on the environment actually perpetuating an entire cycle. Rising temperatures create drier conditions in forests, milder winters that lead to lower snowpack, higher pest populations, and longer fire seasons. Larger burned areas from fires result from more dried out and dead vegetation, which acts as a tinderbox of fuel that is easily sparked by lightning or by people. The likelihood of lightning increases by 10% for every 1°C increase in temperature. Emissions from fires increase as they burn over expanded areas, longer, and more frequently. Now more carbon in the atmosphere accelerates warming and leads to the temperature rise. This results in a climate feedback loop of the wildfire process.
Scientific data are out there telling us that climate change is real and caused by human activity, and we must take the necessary action to mitigate it. An IPCC report in March stated “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”
How much more evidence do we need to take the necessary action to protect our planet for all animal-kind now and for the future generations? I have said this before, but it is very appropriate for this situation. Let’s everybody agree that climate change is real, caused by increased human activity, and we will all do what is necessary to minimize the increase in temperature. But say 30 years from now, if we learn that climate change was not human induced and nothing needed to be done, what would be the consequences? We changed our lifestyle, restricted our activities, spent more money than necessary, travelled less, etc.
On the other hand, let’s take the other side and all assume that climate change is not real, not caused by human activity, and there is nothing we need to do. Just sit back and enjoy the environment. But 30 years from now, if we learn that climate change was real and human induced, what would be the consequences? Catastrophic. It seems to me that today we have no choice but to take the necessary action.