I participated in the world-wide Youth Climate Strike on Friday, September 20 and will continue to be active, bringing the challenge of Climate Change into the public arena. We are demanding immediate action to prevent increases in the earth’s temperature. Why are we concerned?
The U.N. sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported last fall that the earth’s temperature has risen about 1 degree Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-20th Century levels. As we continue to burn fossil fuels and add carbon to the atmosphere, we are heading for a 1.5 degree Celsius (2.850 F) increase by 2030. Without big reductions in fossil fuel use, that rate projects to a 20 C (3.80 F) rise by 2050.
The Impacts of Climate Changes
Here are just a few examples of the extreme weather events which are occurring already, because of the 10 Celsius increase in the earth’s temperature:
Heat Waves, Drought, Wildfires
*In 2015, a heat wave in India killed more than 2,300 people.
*In 2016, a wildfire burned 2,400 buildings in the town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The fire burned nearly 1.5 million acres – more than the combined acreage of northeastern Massachusetts.
*In 2018, a wildfire destroyed the town of Paradise, California. Paradise had 27,000 residents, approximately the size of Burlington, Massachusetts. 19,000 buildings – homes, stores, offices, schools – were gutted, and 85 people died. 90% of the residents still live out of town and Paradise has been certified as a rural area, eligible for state and federal rural development grants.
Extreme Storms and Flooding
For each degree Celsius of temperature rise, the air holds 7% more water. In addition, 90% of the heat that is being generated by warming is held in ocean waters. This combination has meant big, more rain-filled hurricanes and typhoons.
* Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017. It caused $125 billion in damages; at the peak of the storm one third of Houston was under water. There were 38 fatalities related to the flooding.
* That same fall, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, killing 3,057 people, and wrecking most of the island.
* A few weeks ago, Hurricane Dorian turned everything into match sticks on several islands in the Bahamas and flooded coastal areas. 50 people were killed, more than 1,000 are still missing.
Melting Glaciers and Sea Level Rise
For the last 40 years, the Arctic has been losing almost 4% of its ice mass each decade. For the first time, in 2016, the ice continued to melt during the winter. The Greenland ice cap is also melting rapidly. Together they will contribute at least 3 feet of global sea rise by 2100 if the temperature rises 20 C by 2050.
As the temperature increase hits 1.50 C in 2030, large parts of Cambridge and downtown Boston will become vulnerable to storm/high tide situations that create a five-foot or larger storm surge. Salt water will cover Back Bay, the South End, South Boston, the waterfront, and much of East Cambridge – wetlands filled in since the Puritans settled here 400 years ago.
Already several large coastal cities, such as Jakarta, Indonesia and Venice, Italy, are regularly flooded at high tides. The Indonesian government announced in July that it is moving the national capital to another island. They are leaving the city’s 20 million residents, most of whom live in slums, behind.
The Antarctic ice cap is melting more slowly than the Arctic. However, if we reach 20 C increase by 2050, then the ice will melt rapidly because of the warming sea water under it. This will contribute another 4 feet of water to global sea rise by 2100. The areas of Boston named above will be permanently under water. Provincetown will become a tiny island. Venice and Miami will disappear.
Fewer but Larger Winter Storms
Snowstorms in New England will be fewer as temperatures rise. However, since warmer weather allows air to hold more water, when conditions for winter storms are right, the storms will be bigger. In addition, warming air in the Arctic is causing the jet stream in North America to fall out of its orbit around the north pole during the winter months. When it does, it dips south into the central and eastern U.S. and causes multi-week-long temperature drops that go down below 10 degrees.
An example of these effects occurred in the Boston area during the Winter of 2014-2015, fondly remembered as Snowmageddon. That winter, there was little snow until January 27 of 2015. Between then and February 15, over 80 inches of snow fell. The city finished with a record 110 inches with more in the suburbs to the west and north. That February was also one of the coldest on record as the jet stream blasted Massachusetts with cold air. The mass transit system, known as the T, broke down frequently, making getting to work a nightmare.
We are Heading for Worse
The distressing thing is, these current weather impacts will get worse over the coming decade as we march toward a 1.50 C world temperature increase since 1900. That cannot be prevented. What we can stop is the heat rising to a 20 C level by 2050. If we do not prevent that change from a 1.5 to a 20 C increase, then the climate impacts will be both catastrophic and unpredictable.
An 18-year-old high school student in 2019 will be just 49 in 2050 – they have good reason to march and shout.
Scientists United vs. United States Climate Deniers
These dangerous, rising temperatures are being caused by the human production of CO2. The actual process is complicated, but essentially CO2 in the atmosphere traps the sun’s heat. To prevent further increases in the earth’s temperature we need to reduce the CO2 ratio to 350 parts per million. Unfortunately, since 2007, when the level was 387 parts per million, the ratio has rapidly gone the wrong way, up to 415 parts per million and it continues to increase.
There is widespread agreement that rising temperatures are caused by humans burning fossil fuels and putting CO2 in the atmosphere. In fact, 175 nations, including the U.S., signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, pledging to prevent the earth’s temperature rise from surpassing the 1.50 C level.
All significant scientific organizations agree that Climate Change is caused by humans. For example, the American Meteorological Society stated in 2007, “It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2).”
Dozens of other organizations making similar statements include the American Geophysical Association, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the National Academy of the Sciences, the American Medical Society, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the American Public Health Association, the American Institute of Physics, and the Royal Astronomical Society of the United Kingdom.
Why is there a debate in the U.S.? After many years of obfuscation, between 2015 and 2017 the top five oil companies spent $1 billion on misleading climate related branding and lobbying. This included funding scientists who deny human caused climate changes are occurring.
What We Can Do
We know exactly what we must do — keep fossil fuels in the ground and quickly transition to 100% renewable energy. The science says it’s still possible to stop at 1.5˚C of temperature increase – but we need to halve emissions by 2030, and increase the share of solar, wind and hydro energy dramatically in that time. To do that, we need to work together to change laws and rules about energy use in our towns and in our states. Will the national government help?