Climate Change, Its Past And Present, And What We Can Do About Our Future

Published on 12 August 2018, © 2018 — Tom Hart

Background

Climate Change, aka Global Warming, has been a known problem for at least 60 years, and yet the effects have been allowed to snowball, so to speak, out of control due to inaction by many governments to regulate greenhouse gas emissions partly because of political pressure from businesses, such as those in the fossil fuel industry, and others who simply do not want to be regulated, and because of confusion or mistrust over the science behind the issue. In fact, the knowledge of human activity causing global warming has been talked about in the scientific and industrial (energy) communities since the 1950’s (Srinivasan, pbs.org/newshour). However, the issue became politicized in the late 1980’s and a division was created that caused a paralysis, preventing government action on the global warming problem, due to a great deal of misinformation aimed at the general public about the threat of global warming and it’s scientific validity, or at the very least, downplaying it as “a threat to global security” (Srinivasan) in spite of an agreement on the science behind it and the evidence of it between the energy industry, independent researchers in the scientific community, and warnings by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960’s and the CIA in the 1970’s on the seriousness of the problem. As freelance writer Nathaniel Rich stated in a recent PBS News Hour interview: “There’s still a basic discomfort with trying to propose a drastic transformation or immediate transformation of the whole energy economy which is to say our economy. And so even folks who agree on every aspect of the issue, the science, and the politics still were not able to negotiate even the most basic statement of purpose. And I think that we still see that problem today frankly.” (Srinivasan).

Present

It doesn’t help that our current POTUS, the so-called “Leader of the Free World” has continually repeated that “Climate change is a hoax” (snopes.com) in speeches and in Tweets both before and after his election, in spite of a tidal wave of evidence, and the consensus of the rest of the world, that it is real. Such reckless, even extremist (Investors.com) statements seem to be political in nature and designed to appeal to his base supporters, many of which believe in conspiracy theories touted by extremely conservative (pro business, anti government) news pundits, which amount to propaganda targeted at individuals whose votes are needed to, in my opinion—shore up a dying, elite industrial-age class, heavily invested in fossil fuels, that is making a final grab for control of a planet whose life-sustaining ecosystem is on its last legs—a remarkably liberal point of view, I admit. In June, 2017, the President of the United States, announced that “The United States, will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord” (Rucker & Johnson, washingtonpost.com) garnering applause from his White House staff in attendance. Nations around the world condemned (Rucker & Johnson) the President’s withdrawal but vowed to lead the fight against climate change in the absence of America’s guidance, and to insure their peoples’ collective future against the threat of global warming. For some Americans, however, this withdrawal was a major win as the previous president was considered too liberal and/or too sympathetic toward liberal values and because of their lack of a sense of urgency about global warming, in spite of increasing signs from nature that we are headed down a dangerous path, such as, sea level rise forcing evacuation and permanent relocation of island nations and inundation of coastal cities during high tides and storm surges from more intense tropical storms, as well as prolonged droughts, extreme flooding, and year-round wildfire seasons.

Whether or not human activity has directly caused global warming, or merely influenced it, or has had no effect at all, my personal concern for the 2016 election that resulted in the current lack of American leadership on the issue of climate change (and many other environmental concerns) was mostly centered around protecting the natural environment and electing a president that would ensure environmental protection over materialism, industrialism, and other selfish human interests, so, the election portended a bleaker future for me in relation to the values that I hold dear. Climate change is just one aspect of that, though it may turn out to be the biggest problem, if proponents of the human causes are correct. It is within this personal context that I am writing this essay about climate change and how we got here and where we might be headed if we don’t make drastic changes to enforce a more eco-friendly human civilization. The fact is that in the past several years, extreme weather events have been on the rise and wildfires have set records across the western United States. We in Santa Rosa are currently suffering from the smoke of the largest ever-recorded wildfire in California. The previous record being set just last year right here in Sonoma County! We are seeing sea level rise around the world due to the warming of the oceans and the melting of polar ice caps. The jet stream is slowing down and creating erratic weather patterns, which are disrupting the natural cycle. Scientists recently warned that once we hit a tipping point of global mean temperature rise of 2°C over the preindustrial levels, there may be nothing that we can do to stop a domino effect that could result in a “Hothouse Earth” making a third of the planet uninhabitable for humans due to extreme heat (Betts, washingtonpost.com), though the effect could take centuries or even longer to fully kick in (Betts).

There are those who are, more reasonably some would say, against the idea of human activity being directly responsible for global warming, and though they agree that global warming and its likely cause (greenhouse gases) is real, they attribute it to a natural cycle, and say that human activity is not a major factor in its cause. Many scientists do not agree that human activity is primarily responsible for global climate change, but that it is a combination of human activity and natural cycles. That the warming and cooling of the earth’s climate always happens over millennia and that rising CO2 levels do not necessarily cause global warming, sometimes warming precedes a rise in CO2 levels. In fact, according to this alternative viewpoint, a rise in CO2 levels can actually trigger further glaciation, or an “ice age.” They argue that “human-produced CO2 is re-absorbed by oceans, forests, and other “carbon sinks,” negating any climate changes.” (climatechange.procon.org).

The United States government is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China (Friedrich, Ge & Pickens, wri.org), and our inaction for the past few decades, in spite of scientific and industrial consensus on Climate Change’s cause and remedy, and the consensus of other nations, who would have followed our lead had we not withdrawn from the Paris Treaty, has brought us to the brink of a great worldwide tragedy. As I previously stated, we are already seeing extreme weather events around the world such as great floods, devastating droughts, deadly firestorms, heat waves, sea-level rise to the point where island nations are at risk, and more frequent and larger hurricanes… and yet until recently, climate change was rarely cited as a cause of such events, so even the media seemed afraid to go out on a limb, therefore the public was continually left in the dark about the urgency of the situation. Largely, it has been left to individuals recovering from the path of destruction of global warming-related events, to connect the dots. And while there are those who don’t believe that humans are directly responsible for this drastic climate change or who believe that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by China, the problem remains that the Earth’s climate is changing, and people are suffering and dying as a result of those changes.

The world seems to slowly be waking up to the problem and there are daily stories in mainstream news media about climate change, mostly related to the natural disasters that are said to be caused by to the problem. There are also usually several movies released every year with apocalyptic themes around climate change, such as Geostorm (2017) and Downsizing (2017). Even some major players in the fossil fuel industry seem to be taking action (British Petroleum, bp.com) or are at least preparing to, regardless of the government’s inaction and resistance to the science behind climate change, while other companies seem to be conservative in their position (Exxon Mobil, exxonmobil.com) admitting that there is a problem, but seemingly entrenched in their outdated business model. Though these players may give lip service to climate change as a real threat and though they are making efforts to limit their own emissions, they are not taking full responsibility for their products being a direct cause of global warming by moving toward sustainable energy products such as solar and wind (Lorenz, Rabinsky, Wurtzel, ClimateKnowledge.org).

The fossil fuel industry is only one component of the cause of climate change. Another is the modern agriculture industry (Wikipedia.org), which accounts for a large generation of the methane gas in our atmosphere, which has a greenhouse effect, and which also causes the massive destruction of forests worldwide, to create pastures for grazing livestock and to open fields for planting. In fact, our current agricultural model in general requires this deforestation, removing a substantial vehicle for the sequestration of carbon, i.e., trees, and which causes the release of more greenhouse gases by turning up soil (releasing CO2) by plowing and disking for planting annual crops, rather than using the forests themselves as the main source of our food, which would preserve the ecosystem, providing habitat for all species. The problem is that we can’t return to our ancient hunter/gatherer ways and continue to support a planetary population that exceeds 7 billion humans, let alone give up many of our first-world modern conveniences, living off the land in a sustainable way. There just isn’t enough food available with our current urban and rural living imbalance…much of which was caused by a migration from rural farmers giving up on that lifestyle and moving into city centers to pursue economic advancement, due to family farms inability to compete with industrialized agriculture (Saunders), along with drought and wars forcing people to give up their ancestral farmlands and migrate to cities.

Future

On the plus side, there is a movement toward Permaculture (Barth), which incorporates humane sustenance needs without destroying the natural landscape and ecosystems. This is one thing that we can do about climate change…support alternative methods that don’t lead to greenhouse gas generation or destruction of the natural environment, such as cutting down on how much meat you eat. There are also movements toward planting trees or reforestation (USDA) which involves things like the redevelopment of empty lots with vegetation in mind (Micro Parks), or planting trees to offset your carbon footprint. There are even companies devoted to this idea such as PaperCulture.com which plants a tree with every order of their paper goods.

With all the negativity around global warming, the fear, the anger, the denial… it’s no wonder that one could fall into a state of despair, and simply languish, or find temporary comfort and solace in pursuit of physical pleasures. In my opinion, while that may be something to do for providing a short-term personal benefit by relieving stress, the longer term benefit for us and our descendants is to take positive action, forget the skeptics, and plant a tree, or change your eating habits. If you own a home, you can go solar and switch your gas appliances to electric. You can switch from a gas-powered vehicle to an electric car, take a bus or train instead of driving alone, or walk or ride a bike to work. You can be less of a consumer and stop buying disposable products such as paper towels, single use items, plastics, and start reusing things more, and recycle them when they’re no longer usable. There are a billion better choices we can make to reduce our carbon footprints and leave the world a better place than we found it, and it’s not too difficult a path to navigate if you trust your gut and proceed most gently, with the final result in mind of making less of an impact on the natural world. As the popular saying goes: “be the change that you want to see in the world.” It’s best not to wait for our public servants and others to get with the program, rather, we should be the catalyst that drives change for the better, and we should vote for people who share our belief in being stewards of the planet, instead of being resource hogs, polluters, and short-term thinkers. If more of us get out there and make a difference by living a lifestyle that reduces our carbon footprints, reduces waste, and increases well being for all living things it will result in a sea change. Even if it’s too late to prevent a coming catastrophe due to an out of control change of our life-sustaining climate, in the very least we will be on the right side of history. The alternative is too dismal to not take action, and rather than buying real estate over a deep cave complex so you’ll have a cool place to go when it gets really hot, use your money to bring awareness and discuss it with your friends, family, and peers. Get organized and get the word out. I’m starting a blog: www.noharm-nofowl.com. 

Works Cited

Barth, Brian. “Permaculture: You’ve Heard of It, But What the Heck Is It?” 4/19/2016. modernfarmer.com/2016/04/permaculture/ Accessed 8/10/2018

Betts, Richard. “Is our planet headed toward a ‘Hothouse’? Here’s what the science does — and doesn’t — say” 8/10/2018. www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2018/08/10/hothouse-earth-heres-what-the-science-actually-does-and-doesnt-say/?utm_term=.a045dcf1033e Accessed 8/11/2018

British Petroleum. “Limiting Emissions” 2018. www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/sustainability/climate-change/limiting-emissions.html Accessed 8/10/2018

Exxon Mobil. “Our position on climate change.” 2018.
corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/current-issues/climate-policy/climate-perspectives/our-position
Accessed 8/10/2018

Friedrich, Johannes, Ge, Mengpin, Pickens, Andrew. “This Interactive Chart Explains World’s Top 10 Emitters, and How They’ve Changed” 4/11/2017. www.wri.org/blog/2017/04/interactive-chart-explains-worlds-top-10-emitters-and-how-theyve-changed Accessed 8/10/2018

Investors.com Investors Business Daily Editorials. “Global Warming Extremists Try To Silence Science — Again“ 8/11/2016. www.investors.com/politics/editorials/global-warming-extremists-try-to-silence-science-again/ Accessed 8/10/2018

L.A. Times Editorial Board. “Exxon’s damaging climate-change denial” 10/15/2015. santarosa.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=n5h&AN=Q4KHSON2015101935300980&site=eds-live&scope=site Accessed 8/10/2018

Lorenz, Susan, Rabinsky, Mark, Wurtzel, Jen. “Exxon Mobile and British Petroleum: A tale of two companies or just business as usual?” 4/23/2008.

climateknowledge.org/classes/images/1/17/AOSS480_2008_BP_Exxon_FINAL_rpt.pdf

ProCon.org. 2018. climatechange.procon.org/ Accessed 8/11/2018

Rich, Nathaniel. NYTimes Magazine. “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” 8/1/2018. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/01/magazine/climate-change-losing-earth.html#main Accessed 8/9/2018

Rucker, Philip, Johnson, Jenna. “The Washington Post’s online coverage of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord” 6/1/2017 www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-to-announce-us-will-exit-paris-climate-deal/2017/06/01/fbcb0196-46da-11e7-bcde-624ad94170ab_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d52dc16502b5 Accessed 8/9/2018

Saunders, Doug. “The great migration from farm to city“ 7/3/2011. www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2011/07/03/The-great-migration-from-farm-to-city/stories/201107030150 Accessed 8/11/2018

Snopes.com. Did Donald Trump Claim Global Warming Is a Hoax? 2018. www.snopes.com/fact-check/donald-trump-global-warming-hoax/ Accessed 8/12/2018

Srinivasan, Hani. “Why U.S. lawmakers failed to act on climate change decades ago” 7/29/2018. www.pbs.org/newshour/show/why-u-s-lawmakers-failed-to-act-on-climate-change-decades-ago The PBS News Hour. Accessed 8/01/2018

USDA, U.S. Forest Service. “Reforestation” 2018.

www.fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/vegetation-management/reforestation/index.shtml Accessed 8/09/2018

Wikipedia.org. “Environmental impact of meat production” 7/29/2018.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_meat_production WikiMedia. Accessed 8/10/2018

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