Saturday, September 28, 2019
Climate Change: Real or Not?
The little sixteen year old has shown some moxie though. After all, she is facing off against Congressmen and Senators who could otherwise be busy "dialing for dollars", playing golf, or enjoying some corporate paid junket somewhere. Of course, they have gotten use to playing the part of a piñata or the "public crusader", at least while the cameras are rolling. In truth, they couldn't begin to care less as long as their corporate owners are happy.
Of course, the topic of climate change isn't new. I remember it from the early 1970's, when President Nixon signed off a variety of bills calling for reducing water and air pollution, imposing fines for littering in public parks and on highways, reducing the use of fossil fuels, ending lead gas, and recycling (including the introduction of biodegradable plastics). Who could ever forget the famous TV commercial featuring Chief Iron Eyes Cody with that single tear rolling down his cheek as someone throws a bag of garbage at this feet? We created "Earth Day" (April 22, 1970). Heck, it was even called the "Ecology Movement" and had its very own flag!
Students from elementary school all the way to high school were expected to do their part by picking up trash, reporting offenders, "adopting" stretches of highways, and, of course, writing their Congressmen and Senators, not to mention local businesses. There were even field trips out to streams to help pick up plastic bottles, papers, check the water quality content and discuss endangered native wildlife (being teenagers, the only "endangered wildlife" most of us were concerned about was our own).
So is climate change for real? Of course it is! Otherwise, we would be living on a dead planet, which means that we would be well on our way to becoming just a part of another mass extinction event on this planet along with every other living organism. In its 4.5 billion or so year history, our planet has been everything from a "water world" to being pockmarked marked by constant meteor shows and erupting volcanoes filling the caustic air which hot ash. We've gone from being this floating ball of fire to being a frozen ball of ice countless times.
This planet has experienced approximately five global mass extinctions thanks to a host of natural disasters. The worse one was about 250 million years ago. It killed off 96% of all aquatic life and approximately 70% of all life on land. It took millions of years to recover (the last major extinction event was about 66 million years ago, which killed off the dinosaurs, not to mention much of the plant and marine life). This was due to a combination of meteor strikes, triggering dramatic climatic changes thanks in large part to volcanoes eruptions which released massive amounts of Co2 gas into the air.
It just so happens that Mankind has existed within a relatively calm window of time; where the climate has stable and enabled life on this nondescript rock to flourish. Now you can call that divine intervention or just a happy coincidence. The fact is that Mankind has been pretty lucky, at least up to now. Of course, there's been several events which have nearly wiped out Mankind over the millennia (called "bottlenecks"). Perhaps the worse was about 77,000 (which was a few days ago in geological time). This is referred to as the "Toba Super Eruption" and it took place at Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia. It's effect was global and it nearly wiped all life on this planet, including us.
So, there's no doubt that climate change does happen, often brought on by non-human events such as volcanoes, meteors, shifts in the tectonic plates which cause earthquakes and can trigger tsunamis among other things, changes in weather patterns, and even naturally occurring shifts in the planet's axis---called a "true polar wander"--- affecting the growth or decline of ice sheets at the opposing polar poles (the earth wobbles on its axis at a rate of roughly 1 degree per 1000 years). But what about now? Are we facing another mass extermination event as those like Greta Thunberg would claim?
Species have been vanishing from the earth from the get go. Over the past 100 hundred years, approximately 500 species have gone extinct. That means they're gone forever. There are currently over 3000 species on the endangered list (the Endangered Species Act was passed into law in 1973 under President Nixon). The majority simply couldn't adapt to the ever changing environment which affected their habitat. However, many have vanished as a direct or indirect result of Man, be it over hunting or deforestation, water pollution, or destruction of their ecosystem which impacted their food supply or breeding grounds.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says we lose some 18 million acres of forests every year (that's about the size of Panama, or to put it another way, 27 soccer field per minute per day). Much of this never replaced; just land stripped of it trees and much of its vegetation, leaving unprotected topsoil. Much is done illegally and on land belonging to indigenous tribes. According to the World Wildlife Federation, 15% of all greenhouse gas (which leads to the warming of the upper layers of the atmosphere and helps increase global temperatures) is a direct result of deforestation. As a result, trees, which absorbs up to 80% of the Co2 emitted, are eliminated from the equation (trees and other vegetation taken in the Co2 animals (including us) give off. In turn, they emit oxygen which we need to breath in a symbiotic relationship between Earth and Man). Without trees (which can store 3000 billion tons of Co2), the buildup of greenhouse gases increases, destroys the protective ozone layer which in turn causes a temperature rise (not to mention decreases the amount of breathable oxygen).
The United States alone produces some 34 billion gallons of wastewater (which includes raw sewage) every day! As an aside, while wastewater is typically treated at various plants in and near cities and towns, the EPA estimates that 850 billion gallons still enter the water systems untreated; treatment facilities are overwhelmed. The world's largest polluter of water is, by the way, China.
The UN estimates that around 930 million of China's 1.3 billion population consume at least partly polluted water every day while 20 million ingest water that's radiated; half of the population lacks safe drinking water. 1/3 of all industrial waste and 90% of household sewage enters the waterways completely untreated. India isn't much better. 63% of household waste enters its waterways completely untreated. The result, like in China, is a massive die off of its rivers, stream, ponds, and wells used for drinking water (while India does have laws on the books to prevent its water pollution, corruption has proven to be a major problem).
Air pollution is another serious contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases, as well as health problems which affect not just human life, but animal and plant as well. 91% of the world's population live in or near to an area which exceeds the UN's minimum guidelines for air quality. According to the World Health Organization, the worst offender is China which produces 30% of world's pollution. The United States is second with 15% of world's air pollution, followed by India which contributes 7%. Russia is fourth with 5%.
Lastly, arable land; the land which is capable of growing our food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, demand for food (especially wheat, barley, oats, and rice) has outpaced production 9 of the last 10 years. Approximately 50,000 acres are being lost annually due to overuse, erosion, changes in weather patterns (too much or not enough rain for instance), and development. Too much of what was once farmland has now become subdivisions and shopping centers. The result has been over use of the remaining land, including the increased dependence on man-made chemicals, which create their own toxicity over time. Meanwhile, erosion is occurring at 27 times the natural rate according to the USDA (to put it another way, that's a loss of 11,000 pounds of fertile topsoil per acre compared to the natural rate of 400 pounds per acre).
Globally it's even worse. Scientists have estimated that the world has lost 1/3 of its arable land over the last 40 years. Erosion, globally, is happening at a rate of 100 times the natural rate. Iceland for example is losing 38,800 acres of formerly productive land each year. 30% of available land worldwide is now used to support livestock---cattle, chicken, pigs, etc instead of crops. Meanwhile, with a global population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, scientists say we need to increase food production by at least 50% before then, otherwise we can expect worldwide starvation and famine.
However, Man's consumption of natural resources is accelerating at a faster rate than Mother Nature can replenish them, such as deforestation. This could result in an increase in greenhouse gases and eventually in a rise in the earth's temperature which potentially could cause a cascading effect. Regardless, we can expect species to vanish at an increasing rate as their habitats and food sources disappear.
Our pollution of the water and air, as well as the loss of arable farming land will make life harder to sustain for the majority of us (the wealthy will do just fine thank you). The oceans will increasingly be less and less able to support us as we overfish and kill off large areas while the polluted air will increase greenhouse gas eat away at the protective ozone layer, trigger rising temperatures, cause all sorts of lung damage and even various forms of cancers. Of course, how quickly this will occur is open to debate. Lastly, we can expect to see more and more wars over access to decreasing natural resources, especially sources of fresh water, and arable land.
Deforestation: Facts, Causes, and Effects
Water Pollution in China
50 most polluted cities in the world, ranked
World running out of farmland