Sundin column: Climate action a matter of personal choice
As I See It
Nearly universal scientific consensus has confirmed that the increasing amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we are adding to the earth’s atmosphere is the primary cause of global warming.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 content was 280 parts per billion (ppb). By 2000 it had increased 31% to 368 ppb. It is now 412 ppb — up nearly 1% per year. This has caused an abrupt rise in global temperature: 17 of the last 18 years have been abnormally hot, with 2018 the hottest and 2019 likely to surpass it.
This warming is causing permafrost, which holds twice as much CO2 as the atmosphere, to melt, emitting much of it into the atmosphere. Permafrost also holds large amounts of methane, which has 25 times the warming effect of CO2 and is responsible for 20-25% of global warming.
Global warming feeds on itself, shrinking the Arctic Ocean’s snow-covered ice sheet, reducing the amount of solar heat reflected back into space and increasing the amount absorbed by the earth.
Warming of the oceans causes sea levels to rise — about half due to melting of the ice caps that cover Antarctica and Greenland, and half due to thermal expansion. Warming sea water produces larger, more intense and more frequent hurricanes than ever before. The increased amount of water hurricanes absorb from warmer oceans produces rainfalls measured in feet, not inches, and spread over hundreds of square miles, causing flooding on a scale never seen before.
Rising sea levels will eventually inundate coastal cities like New York and Miami, the world’s seaports and low-lying areas around the world, such as Florida, southern Louisiana, Venice, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, and thousands of islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans — displacing hundreds of millions of people and disrupting industry, utilities, businesses and transportation.
Global warming is also producing widespread heat waves and droughts in Australia, India, South America and the American Southwest, that will make many parts of the world uninhabitable and will cause grazing and crop failures and collapse of water resources.
Human activities are threatening the extinction of over a million species of animals and plants with unknown consequences for mankind. Many land and sea animals and plants will be unable to adapt or migrate rapidly enough to keep up with the speed with which air and water temperatures are escalating, disrupting long-established food chains, resulting in mass extinctions. CO2-caused ocean acidification is a major cause of sea-life extinctions.
Not only are we failing to take action to diminish or reverse global warming, but much of what we are doing seems designed to accelerate it. Relaxing automobile fuel-consumption standards will increase the amount of CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere.
Brazil, Indonesia, Russia and Canada are engaged in massive deforestation for timber harvesting (much of it illegal) and burning millions of acres of forests to raise corn to feed cattle and raise soy beans and palm oil.
Instead, we should be expanding our forests, which absorb CO2 and exhale oxygen. The United States, led by its head-in-the-sand president, has a global-warming denial rate of 15 percent, exceeded only by Saudi Arabia and Indonesia — both of whose economies are heavily dependent on petroleum.
Some claim the damage we are doing to our planet is irreversible and that humanity will have to live with it. But we can take actions to reduce CO2 emissions by conserving on the energy we use — not air conditioning below 75-76 degrees, putting on a sweater and heating to only 66-67 degrees, reducing water consumption (especially hot water) by taking shorter showers instead of baths, turning off lights in spaces where they are not being used (especially outdoor lighting) and minimizing our automobile use.
The easiest way we can reduce global warming is right under our noses — greatly reducing the amount of meat we eat, especially beef, because of the huge amount of methane cattle exhale.
Totally eliminating meat consumption would reduce greenhouse gasses by an amount equal to the exhaust emissions of all of our automobiles and pickup trucks. It would also free up the one-third of the world’s arable land now used to feed and raise cattle, making room for the people displaced by rising sea level.
Will we give up our steaks and hamburgers to preserve the livability of our planet for our children and grandchildren? As one commentator observed, “Fat chance!”
Over-population is the cause of our environmental crisis. Mother Nature will solve that problem.
Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. “As I See It” appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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