by Lawrence Petersen
We recognize oil as the main fossil fuel that is causing the most damage to the planet. But are we seeing this issue as the biggest life-or-death problem we as a civilization face? Even if we manage to slow our population growth and to not blow ourselves up with nuclear weapons, climate change is well on its way to creating a planet that is hostile to much of the life in the biosphere.
Human-caused climate change is real and exceptionally dangerous to life on Earth. It is mostly a result of the burning of fossil fuels including petroleum, natural gas and coal. While humans have been aggressively extracting and burning these fuels for almost two centuries, their use went up exponentially with WWII and the new cold war economy that arose in the war’s wake seventy years ago. Greenhouse gasses that cause the Earth and its oceans to warm, most notably carbon dioxide (CO2), are filling the atmosphere at a faster rate than they have for millions of years, leading to a representation of our situation being called the “hockey stick graph (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/05/the-hockey-stick-the-most-controversial-chart-in-science-explained/275753/.)”
CO2 reading in 2016. As of May 2017 CO2 counts at Mona Loa are at about 409 ppm. (http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/03/10/co2-levels-make-largest-annual-leap-in-56-years-noaa/)
At this point, because of global warming and climate change we are seeing the loss of almost all of the multi-year ice in the Arctic ocean and the breakup of large sections of sea ice in the Antarctic. There has been dramatic retreat in glaciers all over the world but particularly of tropical glaciers such as in the Andes and the Himalayas. The world’s coral reefs are bleaching and disappearing and droughts, floods and major storms are disrupting economies and taking lives especially in developing countries. Furthermore, sea level rise is threatening highly populated areas with constant flooding and salinification of farm land and ground water.
Now the world is experiencing a refugee crisis as people try to escape wars and collapsed economies that are partially caused by climate issues such as drought and lack of safe water. This will become much worse as people have to leave the coastal areas because of sea level rise and will severely exacerbate current political problems. When tropical glaciers are gone, and they are close to that point now, the water supply will dry up for entire seasons in South America and Central Asia crippling hydroelectric power and irrigation water supplies.
The loss of coral reefs will cut huge links from the food chain in the oceans. The heat and acidification of the seawater also causes shellfish and other invertebrates to be unable to build strong shells and carapaces threatening their survival. These animals constitute a fundamental place in ocean food supplies.
There is no real argument against taking action on climate change. Only the voices of ignorance and of those who place power and wealth in the short run at a higher priority than the future of all life are blocking international efforts. These are not good enough reasons to continue killing the biosphere and possibly ourselves through our continued use of fossil fuels. We cannot allow these voices to continue swaying us away from immediate action to save ourselves and life as we know it on Earth. (To Be Continued)