Talking about global climate change (GCC) in the NorthWoods often leads to strong and contrary opinions. In my informal reckoning, half reject GCC as caused by humans. A few dismiss it outright as political fabrication. Some people whose faith informs them, say that they’re doubtful, but fatalistic about GCC. Others argue that the Earth’s climate is always changing, caused by variation in the sun’s output, and the Earth’s orbit, tilt angle and wobbles.
It’s true that the many ice age cycles during the past two million years happened without humans. It’s also true, that during the ice ages, atmospheric CO2 (a greenhouse gas) cycled strictly between 180 and 280 ppm. But, this time, CO2 levels aren’t cycling, but steadily rising at about 2 ppm/yr (now at 400 ppm). And, nobody denies that since 1800, populations have grown seven-fold with an unprecedented burning of fossil fuels and damaging of our terrestrial and ocean ecosystems (C storage reservoirs). Moreover, 7.2 billion people need climate stability.
Honestly, how can there not be some confusion about GCC? Weather and climate are generated by a bewildering system of dozens of variables that act, react and feedback to create global patchworks of temperature and moisture. Although we may not understand its inner workings, some of us worry that we are witnessing climate change: extreme weather, lakes staying ice-free longer, more frequent and severe forest fires and runaway melting of sea ice and glaciers. From my window, I wonder if the apparent more than 50 year swing into warming will get worse or be balanced by a swing into cooling. It’s like seeing smoke rising from my house; I am alarmed. And, if it’s the house for our entire humanity, it’s a five-alarm emergency. We adults are merely borrowing this house from our children and grandchildren. So what do climatology experts say about our smoking house? The US and UK National Academies of Science report (in 2014) that GCC is already upon us. Fighting this consensus are the “merchants of doubt”, spokespersons dedicated to delay remedial action, just as has happened with earlier alarms about pesticides, tobacco and acid rain. The science has been undeniable for more than 20 years, only theater continues.
In my opinion, all those in positions of power or influence (media, educators, leaders of government, business and churches) who steadfastly deny the hard science are dangerously irresponsible, if not criminally negligent. Delaying action is denying the global fire. It will take decades for the atmosphere to be purged of the excess greenhouse gases if we immediately rolled back pollution to 1990 levels, and reestablished nature’s greenhouse gas reservoirs. GCC consequences become ever more severe as we increase the blanket. We must be prepared for cascading failures of infrastructure. Will our cities and agriculture have sufficient water? Will violent hurricanes force evacuation of US coasts? Island nations and coastal shelves are already becoming uninhabitable due to oceans rising from thermal expansion and melting ice sheets.
Ongoing CO2 acidification and warming of oceans jeopardize all marine life. What to do with ecological and economic refugees? My plea is that all people of reason come together and demand immediate action; lest we enter uncharted dystopia. We have a moral obligation to protect humankind and our entire biosphere from a greed-fueled, self-destructive madness.
Bill Mattson, Rhinelander