We Need to Pay More Attention to Climate Change Indicators

Here’s an old story that can be an analogy of what we are witnessing with respect to climate change and other environmental issues. An elderly man lived in a small town with a river running through it. All of a sudden the nearby dam that controlled the river’s water level was damaged, and it looked like the water level was going to rise. Consequently, the town’s administration told everyone to vacate their home before it is too late. To make sure everyone had left, the police department drove through the town checking. This elderly man was still there so the police told him he must leave. He said that he would not leave because he is not worried about the water level. He said, “I go to church every Sunday and pray to God. He will save me.”

It wasn’t long before the water level flooded all the streets so the police came by again in a boat and told the elderly man to get in the boat as he has to leave. He said that he is not concerned and would not leave for the same reason. God will save him.

A couple days late the water was so high that the man was on the roof of his house, and again the police came by, but this time in a helicopter. They dropped the ladder within his reach and told him to climb the ladder so they can save him. For the third time, the elderly man said, “Don’t worry about me. God will save me.”

The following day, the elderly man drowned and went to heaven. When he got to heaven, he asked God why He didn’t save him as he was a great church goer and prayed to God all the time. At that point, God said to him, “I tried to save you, but you didn’t listen to Me. I sent you a car, I sent you a boat, and I sent you a helicopter. You should have paid attention to Me.”

This story is very similar to what we are experiencing. In 1988 James Hansen, then head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified before Congress stating that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. For centuries the concentration was 280 parts per million (ppm) but has been increasing since the industrial revolution. He stated that if the concentration goes above 350 ppm, we are going to be in trouble. Today it is at 421 ppm according to NOAA’s Mauna Loa observatory. This increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has been verified many times by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) through their reports.

Two years ago, which was the first full year of the Covid-19 pandemic, almost everyone changed their lifestyle. People traveled less by air and car as many worked from home and shopped more efficiently for groceries as eating out decreased. Water consumption decreased primarily by energy companies and other industrial uses. The Covid pandemic was the cause of many illnesses and deaths, and other negative happenings like reduced educations and reduced social activities. However, there were several really interesting positive activities. What I call the four major environmental issues all improved. Carbon emissions decreased because of the reduced travel and reduced industrial activity. Earth Overshoot Day, the day in the year when we will consume all the natural resources generated in that year, was almost a month later. Water consumption decreased and population growth slowed down. All of this should be taken as an indication that we can still have a good life without destroying the environment.

Now let’s think about what has recently happened on the east coast with hurricane Ian. According to Bill McKibben, the recent Ian Hurricane should have been expected as we have trapped a huge amount of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel. Some of that heat drives mammoth heat waves that we have seen most of this year. But most of that heat, about 93% of it, has gone into the oceans, and that has a direct bearing on storms like Ian. In addition, since warm air can hold more water vapor than cold air can, the high wind speeds of hurricanes are accompanied with plenty of rain.

Just as God had sent signals to the elderly man to be saved from the rising river water, we have been sent signals that climate change is for real and can be devastating. We better start doing something about it, and that something must be done sooner rather than later. Let’s not wait until everyone has an experience like the residents in the path of Ian Hurricane. It will be too late.