Dear Earth: Part 4
Common Climate Change Denial Arguments
Wherever there is climate change denial, you will find the same conflicting and deceitful arguments regurgitated by the same industries with a vested interest in the deception of climate science and the reality of climate change, and by the same politicians who are susceptible to bribes and corruption in order to advance their own self-centered greed and arrogance. The most common climate change denial arguments propose that:
- Climate change and global warming cannot possibly be occurring because there is still snow outside, the weather is cold, ice continues to form, all events typically referred to by the environmentally observant, as weather. Weather is the immediate and local change of climate temperatures around us on a daily basis; climate refers to the long-term averages over several seasons, years, decades and centuries. When consulting data over many years, evidence shows a steady increase in average global temperature in unison with the general increase in CO2 concentration.
- The fossil fuel industry proposes that the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere is due to an increase in the Sun’s irradiance, which is the amount of energy that it gives off, however, solar satellite evidence over many decades shows that there has been a slight drop in the Sun’s irradiance, meaning that it is not the cause of a warming atmosphere. Further evidence against this hypotheses is found when comparing the upper and lower Earth atmosphere; climate data shows that there has been temperature cooling in the upper Earth atmosphere and a warming in the lower atmosphere, where greenhouse gases are trapped and reflected back towards the Earth’s surface.
- The Earth goes through climate cycles every few thousand years due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis, which alters the seasons and temperature; however, the temperature increase seen in recent decades cannot be accounted for by the rotation on the Earth’s axis alone. There must be an additional factor, like the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to account for the climate change.
- Climate change deniers say that volcanic eruptions are the primary cause of global climate change. While there have been times in Earth’s history where volcanic activity was powerful enough to impact the average global temperature, the past several centuries have been relatively quiet. Climate evidence shows that, since 1750, global greenhouse gas emission from volcanic eruptions is 100 times less the amount of emission from the burning of fossil fuels.
- Many people believe that human beings cannot have an impact on something as large as a planet and its climate, so they think, why bother? Abandoning hope and reason for the sake of self-indulgence, ego, greed and profit are quick ways to destroy a finite resource and complex eco-system like the Earth without caring about or understanding the long-term consequences.
Destruction of the World’s Oceans
Seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean water. The ocean and the animal species that live within it all contribute to the planet’s complex and interconnected ecosystem. As the average global temperature continues to rise from the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere from fossil fuel emission, the world’s oceans, marine life species, coral reefs, coastal cities, and the health and economic security of human beings that depend on the ocean for survival are all under threat from the destructive forces of a warmer and more acidic ocean. Warmer oceans and a warmer atmosphere provide greater fuel for hurricanes and other tropical storms to grow in intensity and frequency; as water molecules heat up, they expand, causing sea levels to rise and flooding to coastal communities.
The world’s oceans act as carbon sinks, absorbing between 33 to 50 percent of all CO2 emissions. When CO2 is absorbed into the ocean it dissolves to form carbonic acid, which results in greater ocean acidity and contributes to the destruction of coral reefs and the shells and skeletons of certain marine life species. Since the start of the industrial revolution in the 1750s, the world’s oceans have become 30 percent more acidic above normal levels. This acidification disrupts the chemical balance of the ocean’s ecosystem and lowers the pH level, which is necessary to maintain equilibrium. Normal ocean water pH level is 8.1; since the 1750s, however, pH levels have dropped by .1 percent, which amounts to a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity. If CO2 emission continues at the current rate, pH levels in the ocean could drop by another .5 percent by 2100, which equates to a 150 percent increase in ocean acidity. This would result in the disruption of the entire animal ecosystem
In the last 30 years the Earth has lost half of its coral reefs, revered as the oceans rainforest, the world’s most biodiverse ecosystem, home to over 25 percent of marine life species, protector of coastlines from flooding and erosion, and provider of $375 billion in goods and services, globally, each year. This massive loss of ocean plant and animal life is a result of coral bleaching, which is caused by an increase in CO2 levels and an increase in ocean temperature. The world’s oceans exist on a small margin of temperature and acidity, if the ecosystem is disrupted by an external force, like CO2 emission, that equilibrium becomes unstable and the plant and animal species that rely on a stable ocean become susceptible to greater damage and death. Coral bleaching is a sign of stress from too-warm waters, lack of oxygen and vital nutrients, unbalanced pH, or pollution due to increased CO2 concentration in the water; a temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal is enough to cause coral bleaching.
Coral reefs form a symbiotic relationship with the tiny algae that live on the reefs skeletal tissue, which allows each organism to survive; the algae provide the reefs with a source of food though carbohydrates that are produced in the process of photosynthesis, and the reefs provide the algae with shelter. It is the algae that live on the reefs skeletal tissue that provide the brilliant and vibrant colors that we all associate with coral. When ocean temperature and acidity fluctuate dramatically, coral reefs become stressed and end up expelling the algae, leaving the coral with only its white skeleton. With these higher water temperatures and greater ocean acidity, coral reefs and other marine organisms like shellfish, clams, crabs, oysters, zooplankton and lobsters will find it increasingly difficult to find the nutrients needed to build the mineral, calcium carbonate, which allows them to form their shells, skeletons and rocky reefs.
Until 1979, only three mass coral bleaching events had been recorded around the world. In 2002 alone, 400 mass bleaching events occurred; by 2008, coral bleaching events had occurred in every coral reef region on the planet. Today, these mass bleaching events occur 5 times as often than they did in 1980 and will continue to increase in intensity and frequency as more CO2 is absorbed into the ocean. Two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef and largest living structure on Earth, has been damaged or destroyed due to coral bleaching. In 2016 alone, half of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef was lost from a mass bleaching event from high ocean temperatures. If current trend of ocean temperature and acidity increases, the Great Barrier Reef could disappear by 2050.
SEA LEVEL RISE
The world’s oceans absorb over 90 percent of the extra heat in the climate. As the Earth continues to burn from the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, glaciers, snow, and permafrost, the ice sheet that surrounds the poles and other cold regions on the planet, will melt and send hundreds of billions of tons of water into the oceans across the planet, as is already happening today. Normally, because of their white pigment, ice and snow from glaciers and permafrost reflect sunlight off of the Earth’s surface and back out into space; as more snow, permafrost and glaciers melt, however, greater amounts of sunlight will be absorbed by the Earth’s darker ocean waters, causing the planet to heat up quicker and with greater damage. Sea levels have already risen 9 inches in the last 100 years from melting polar ice caps, with the melting rate of glaciers and ice sheets tripling in the last decade. In 1850, there were over 150 glaciers in the Glacier National Park, located in Montana; today, there are less than 30.
Scientists and climatologists estimate that if the permafrost and glaciers continue to melt at their current rate, sea levels may rise as much as eight feet by 2100, which would sink low-lying coastal communities like Miami, New York and New Orleans that are already under threat from higher sea levels. Over one-third of the human population, 2.4 billion people, lives within 60 miles of an ocean coastline and relies on the ocean for their food and survival; in the United States, 40 percent of the population, 123 million people, live on the coast. As the oceans continue to rise, these coastal communities will have to spend larger amounts of money on increasingly complex ways to prevent flooding and water erosion from damaging their homes and businesses, or they will be forced to relocate further inland, where they will fight over land and resources from areas that are already established. Whether this mass relocation is within the same country or across international borders, every global citizen will find it more expensive and difficult to survive, as more people fight over less land and resources. Many countries may face social instability and civil unrest as they attempt to navigate their way through warmer climates with less land and resources.
A beautiful process in one stage of our interconnected ecosystem can be found in the world’s forests, rainforests, jungles and other tree and plant bearing regions. As human beings breath in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide, trees and other forms of vegetation breath in carbon dioxide and breath out oxygen. This symbiotic relationship between plants and people allows human beings to survive as complex organisms on the Earth; if not for the trees and the forests of the world, the lungs of the Earth, human beings and other forms of animal life would not exist in their current biological state. These forests cover 31 percent of the Earth’s surface and are vital for our survival, and for the survival of the planet as we know it; yet, each year, 30 million acres of forest are clear cut by humans in order to graze for cattle and other forms of agriculture; for urban housing development; for logging in order to sell wood, soybeans, rubber and palm oil. These and other forms of deforestation contribute to 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emission, which amounts to more carbon emission than the sum total of all of the world’s cars and trucks combined. Half of the world’s forests have already been clear cut, and if we continue at our current rate of deforestation, 100 percent of forests will be gone by 2100.
Not only do trees and forests provide the oxygen that we require to survive and shelter for over 80 percent of the Earth’s plant and animal species, they also act as carbon sinks by absorbing and storing over 300 billion tons of carbon, double the amount of CO2 found in the atmosphere. The forests are vital to balance CO2 levels and prevent ecological damage and climate collapse. As humans chop down forests for palm oil and cattle grazing, this CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Each year, 1.5 billion tons of the stored CO2 is released into the air where it contributes to the increase in global temperatures by trapping sunlight in the atmosphere. By clear cutting the world’s forests, human beings are directly removing the oxygen we require to survive.
The world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest, spans over 670 million hectares across several countries in South America (a hectare is a metric unit of square measurement. 100 hectares is equivalent to 1 square kilometer; 258.999 hectares is equivalent to 1 square mile; 1 hectare is equivalent to 107,639 square feet). 20 percent of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon Rainforest, where trees and vegetation store over 48 billion tons of carbon. To this day, 20 percent of the Amazon Rainforest has been lost to deforestation, and if humans continue at their current pace of deforestation, 55 percent could be destroyed by 2030, leading to a massive loss of biodiversity species loss, with estimates of 4,000 to 6,000 rainforest species going extinct each year.
The United Nations recognizes the threat of deforestation and the impact that it is having on the human population, the damage that it is causing to our climate, to the atmosphere, and on plant and animal species. In 2005, the United Nations Framework on Climate Change established the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Program (REDD). This program works to establish incentives for corporations and countries who benefit financially from forests, to manage them sustainably, while still being able to benefit economically, by allowing them to sell carbon credits to other countries and corporations once they prove that they have lowered their own CO2 emissions from deforestation practices. Because of this program, Brazil, who had already lost 20 percent of their rainforest, reduced 40 percent of their CO2 emissions from deforestation practices by 2008 and is on track to achieve 80 percent carbon emission reduction by 2020.
Though individuals have only a small impact on the climate, it remains extremely important for each person to do their part in protecting the forests and the environment. If every person joins together and takes more responsibility for their actions in their treatment of the environment, then progress can be made before it is too late: Purchasing organic and locally sourced produce and products; minimizing your carbon footprint by driving less; avoiding products that use palm oil; recycling as many items as possible; going paperless; planting more trees; and cutting down on meat consumption are all ways that humans can protect the environment. Taken individually, these are small acts with a powerful message and purpose; taken together, these actions become a global movement by a higher species capable of altering their behavior to protect their environment and prolonging the survival of their species.
Extreme Heat and Forest Fires
Warmer average global temperatures bring longer and hotter heat waves across larger areas of the United States and around the world. The United States, on average, will experience 20 to 30 more extreme heat days annually with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme heat days lead to higher food prices due to food shortage, crop damage and interruptions to the crop cycle; larger medical bills from an increase in the cases of heat stroke; larger economic costs from the damage caused by forest fires; and higher energy bills from air conditioning. Many regions of the country are unprepared for heat waves with proper air conditioning installation, making them more susceptible to heat stroke and death.
Longer and hotter heat waves, coupled with droughts in the Western United States, leads to a greater probability that wildfires will rage for longer and grow more rapidly from the dry soil. Wildfire season, the time period that wildfires are most likely to occur, has grown from five months in the 1970s, to seven months in 2018. The average number of wildfires has increased by more than 75 percent since 1985, with the cost of fire suppression rising from $440 million in 1985 to $1.7 billion in 2013. Nine of the worst wildfires in American history have occurred since 2000. The cost and damage of these wildfires are paid for by the American citizen; the hotter the planet burns, the more money and resources every person will have to pay to repair the damages. The damage thus far is only from a 2 degree Fahrenheit increase in average temperatures. The United States must be prepared to pay more money, suffer more damages to infrastructure, and greater destruction to the environment in the years ahead.
How to Mitigate
Only a dramatic and immediate reduction and elimination of carbon emissions will prevent the Earth from warming more than the 2 degree Celsius threshold set by climate scientists. The IPCCs most recent climate report states that the world has 12 years to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would limit the damage caused by draughts, powerful storms, floods and extreme heat far greater than it would with a 2 degree Celsius global temperature increase. In order for this to occur, the world’s governments would have to cut carbon emission by 45 percent by 2030 and eliminate them completely by 2050. If the 2 degree Celsius threshold is to be reached, then a 20 percent reduction of carbon emission by 2030 and a complete elimination of them by 2075 would reach that target.
The greed of world governments will not allow them to cut carbon emission this quickly. A cap and trade carbon emission program, like the one used in China, may be the most likely approach by governments in order to limit the economic impact, increase flexibility and encourage transition towards renewable energy. High greenhouse gas emitting countries can purchase credits from lower emitting countries. Over 60 countries have implemented a carbon tax, which requires that corporations pay a price for every pound or ton of carbon that they emit. Like the cap and trade program, this represents a market oriented approach, but one that will not prevent a 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temperature.
It is a strange happening that climate change denial became an actual point of contention and disagreement in the United States, fought over with much ignorance, vitriol, and lies; but by looking at the current political and social climate in America, it is easy to understand why and how protecting human health and saving the only planet we know that harbors life could generate such opposing viewpoints, each projecting their own subjective facts and truths. American’s, like all human beings, form their opinions about reality based on the information given to them. Unfortunately, in a country of over 330 million people, the United States only offers two opinions; either you believe in climate change or you do not. The political and social climate leaves no room for obscurity, subtlety or eccentricity.
Centuries and generations of partisan, dogmatic ideology has bred two fundamentally opposed political parties, both of which continue to bleed out into sociocultural life, controlling the way we live, think and observe reality on issues that affect each of us differently as individuals. Framing the dire issue of climate change in terms of belief and non-belief sets the stage for conflict and hatred towards the opposing side, but there are no opposing sides on a planet that cannot sustain intelligent biological life. The manipulation, ingenuity, deceit, narcissism and greed of American politicians over many generations has allowed them to drive a wedge between the middle of the country as a way to stifle protests, uprisings and revolutions against the dominator political and aristocratic class. A united republican and democratic voter base, fighting for the protection of human health and the climate against a corrupt ruling political class, is the greatest threat to the modern politicians that believe that their adopted partisan ideas can prevent a divided society from joining together in pursuit of a common goal of protecting the planet.
Political ideology corrupts the minds of the intellectually confused and the environmentally ignorant. When your social or political party adopts a dogmatic idea and chooses a side to staunchly defend, you abandon hope of maintaining open-mindedness and, instead, force yourself into a rigid form of mental slavery where you are trapped by your idea and lose sight of all other possible realities or truths. If your political party adopts a failing idea, like climate change denial, you stick with that party if your are a true supporter, even if that means enslaving yourself to an ideology with no basis in reality and sacrificing the safety of the planet, the health and safety of others, and of yourself in the process. It is not that climate change deniers do not believe that the planet is heating up with a detrimental threat to animal species and the human race, they surely do, but rather, their political party does not allow them to think in a critical and sincere manner with a perspective and an approach based on rationality, sensibility and logic, because doing so would mean abandoning their entire foundation of beliefs, their entire understanding of reality, and their position in the universe, which is painful and often threatening to the illusory ego that rules over most peoples lives.
Nature cannot speak in a way that human beings comprehend on a literal, rational, logical and concrete level, but if we care enough about nature on a symbolic and personal level, through a direct insight and understanding into the meaning and significance of the environment, then we can open ourselves up to an unspoken communication and connection with nature behind its autonomous functions of behavior. Human beings represent one small aspect of a complex and beautiful ecosystem, which is itself, one small piece of a vast and chaotic universe, and while human beings are the Earth’s greatest threat, we are also its greatest hope. Only humans have the power to alter our destructive and selfish behavior to cut off our path towards planetary destruction. If human beings view themselves as advanced, conscious and intelligent beings, then we must save the planet from ourselves for ourselves. The Earth and its entire ecosystem stand at a precipice that overlooks a vastly altered planet, one view shows a world of climate destruction, the other view shows a sustainable world, powered by renewable energy; the choice is up to us, an enormous mix of selfish and selfless human beings, to decide.