Wednesday, May 27, 2020

SELLING SUNSET

According to NASA scientists, in the past 650,000 years the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has never exceeded 300 ppm (parts per million). At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon levels were about 280 ppm. Since then, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen, slowly at first, but at an increasing rate as we burned more and more fossil fuels. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the country’s premier atmospheric research facility, the carbon dioxide level crossed the 400 ppm threshold for the first time in 2013 and continues to rise by an average of 2.6 ppm every year. So what does this mean?

Carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas” that traps heat from the sun and earth in the atmosphere. The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the stronger the greenhouse effect, and the more the atmosphere and the oceans warm. This is hardly a new idea. Nor is it, as some would have you believe, a theory. In fact, scientists started connecting fuel emissions to the climate in the mid-1800s, and in 1917 Alexander Graham Bell used the now-popular term when he reasoned that with air pollution “we would gain some of the earth’s heat which is normally radiated into space.… We would have a sort of greenhouse effect,” turning the atmosphere into “a sort of hot-house.”

And while carbon dioxide accounts for 81 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, it is not the only problem. Methane, which is released during the extraction, transportation, and combustion of natural gas, oil, and coal, accounts for 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. But while it is a smaller slice of the overall greenhouse gas emissions pie, methane traps eighty-four times more heat, pound for pound over twenty years, than carbon dioxide does. Similarly, while nitrous oxide—also a by-product of fossil fuel combustion—accounts for just 6 percent of all greenhouse gas emission, it traps 289 times more heat than carbon dioxide. And certain synthetic fluorinated gases like hydrofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons account for just 3 percent of the pie, but pound for pound, they trap tens of thousands of times more heat than carbon dioxide. The results of dumping these heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere year after year are frighteningly clear. We are experiencing the hottest years on record. In 2016, July and August tied as the hottest months ever recorded on the planet. Sixteen of the seventeen hottest years have occurred since 2001.

Extreme heat waves have gripped large swaths of the planet, often with catastrophic results, especially for the elderly, the sick, and the poor. The deadliest heat wave ever recorded killed 72,210 people in Europe in 2003. A 2010 heat wave in Russia killed 55,700 people. In 2015, temperatures in India and Pakistan topped 117.7 degrees Fahrenheit and killed more than 3,477 people. In July 2016, the city of Basra, Iraq, reached 129 degrees—one of the highest temperatures ever recorded on the planet.

As temperatures rise, we’re seeing significant shrinking of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. In Antarctica alone, NASA estimates that 118 billion tonnes of ice is permanently lost each year, which is equivalent to a quarter of all the water in massive Lake Erie. But that is nothing compared with Greenland, which is losing 281 billion tonnes of ice a year. Alaska and Canada are each losing another seventy-five billion tonnes a year from melting glaciers. Where is all the water from that melted ice going?

The oceans have already risen by about eight inches since the beginning of the twentieth century. That might not sound like much, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts they could rise by as much as 6.6 feet by the end of this century. About 150 million Americans live along the coasts, and eleven of the world’s fifteen largest cities are in coastal areas. An August 2016 report by the online real estate database company Zillow said that rising sea levels by 2100 could claim up to 1.9 million homes, worth a total of $882 billion.

Rising oceans are already creating the world’s first “climate refugees.” Residents of the Maldives, a tiny nation made up of more than a thousand islands southeast of India, are abandoning some of the lower-lying islands as the ocean rises. Closer to home, residents of Isle de Jean Charles in southeastern Louisiana, most of whom are Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Native Americans, are preparing to leave the only place they have ever called home as their land disappears. In August 2016, the six hundred Inupiat villagers of Shishmaref voted to relocate their four-hundred-year-old Native Alaskan village, one of thirty-one Alaskan villages facing an imminent threat of destruction from erosion and flooding caused by climate change, according to the Arctic Institute.

Meanwhile, the oceans themselves are warming and becoming more acidified as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These changes are disrupting important fisheries, threatening the food supply for about a billion people, and endangering fragile and important ecosystems like coral reefs, which are becoming bleached in the warm, acidic waters.

And all across the world, extreme weather disturbances are becoming more common, including hurricanes, torrential rainfalls, and severe flooding. In October 2015, Hurricane Patricia became the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere, with maximum sustained winds of 215 miles per hour and gusts up to 247 miles per hour. This was just a few years after Hurricane Sandy killed 186 people and caused more than $68 billion in damages and lost economic output. Sandy was such an intense storm that NOAA had to come up with a new term: “superstorm.” And it is clear: warmer air means we can expect more superstorms.

The past five years have been the driest on record in California, forcing many towns to reduce water consumption by more than 30 percent. In 2015, more than half a million acres, or more than 5 percent of the state’s agricultural land, was left uncultivated because of the drought, robbing the state of $1.8 billion in economic activity and more than ten thousand jobs. Historic wildfires scorched 118,000 acres of land last year, more than double the five-year average. Extreme heat has sent dozens of people, mostly in low-income communities without air-conditioning, to an early death. And along their 840-mile coastline, Californians watch cautiously as the ocean rises, threatening communities and businesses.

Meanwhile, there is another aspect to climate change that should concern us all. I believe that climate change is our nation’s greatest national security threat. It is also the opinion of a growing number of leading national security experts, including many in the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Of course, there is no shortage of national security concerns, including international terrorism, ISIS, global poverty, health pandemics, and the belligerent actions of countries like Russia, North Korea, and China. But unlike these other threats, climate change cannot be thwarted with good intelligence work or stopped at a border or negotiated with or contained by economic sanctions. It cannot be beaten on a battlefield or bombed from the air. It has no vaccine or treatment. And yet, unless we act boldly, and within this very short window of opportunity, it will likely wreak havoc and destabilize whole nations and regions, with serious security ramifications for many countries, including the United States.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes more than thirteen hundred scientists from around the world, says that unless we drastically change course in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures will continue to rise by as much as five or ten degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. Some scientists believe that number is on the low side.

What will this mean? What this significant temperature increase will mean is more drought, more crop failures, and more famine. Drinking water, already a precious commodity in many areas, will become even scarcer. Millions of people will be displaced by rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and flooding. Tropical diseases like malaria, dengue, and yellow fever will spread into parts of the world where they don’t currently exist. All of this will likely lead to increased human suffering and death, but the situation will be even more dire.

The growing scarcity of basic human needs could well lead to perpetual warfare in regions around the world, as people fight over limited supplies of water, farmland, and other natural resources. A world in which we see mass migrations of people in search of food, water, and other basic needs is not going to be a safe or stable world. That’s not just my opinion—that is the opinion of leading national security experts in our country and throughout the world. Yes, climate change is our nation’s great national security threat.

And the sad truth is that the effects of climate change will fall especially hard upon the most vulnerable people in our country and throughout the world—the people who have the fewest resources to protect themselves and the fewest options when disaster strikes. According to the United Nations’ Institute for Environment and Human Security and the International Organization for Migration, up to 200 million people could be displaced by 2050 as a result of droughts, floods, and sea-level rise brought on by climate change. That is more than three times the total number of refugees in the world in 2016 who have fled for any reason, including dire poverty, war, and famine. Think about it. We have a major refugee crisis today. That crisis could become much, much worse in coming decades as a result of climate change.

I do not mean to paint a hopeless picture of a dystopian future over which we have no control, but Pope Francis was absolutely right when he said that the world is on a suicidal course with regard to climate change. Of course, we must not, we cannot, and we will not allow that to happen. We have to address this global crisis before it’s too late.
The above has again been lifted, wholly, from the climate change chapter of Bernie Sanders' Guide to Political Revolution. I used to ask the people I date, what they would wanna change in the world, or which world issue they thought was most pressing. I would tell them mine was gender inequality, and I do still want to close that gap, yet I also recognize that climate change is the most pressing issue that the entire human population is facing. I read articles written by therapists that they don't have an answer for the younger generations facing existential crises posed by climate change. There is no answer for it. You could solve for poverty, sanitation and even gender inequality yet not assuage any of their mounting anxiety over the catastrophes that will occur because of climate change.

I think that's why I still want to engage in both the feminist and mental health field. For one, if the entire global youth population is gripped by fear of climate change, their mental health will be stricken and that in turn disables them from making any real and important change for the climate. If they barely have a will to live, the will to change what's happening in the world is even less likely.

Second, women reinvest 90% of their income into community, as opposed to men reinvesting 40%. I will not say women are born to be nurturers but in this generation, women have still been conditioned to care and protect, and that is the kind of mindset that we need moving forward with tackling climate change. As a woman, I perhaps care more about the ailing planet than the average man, although who knows. Of course as I work to improve gender equality, I would also want to impart that men can and should reinvest their incomes, their efforts and all their grey matter, into caring for the Earth as much as women do.