Scientists are really good at measuring things. They measure temperatures. They measure the thickness of ice. They measure the rate that glaciers are melting. They measure, and they are smart, and they have determined that global temperatures are rising. If you don’t believe this you should probably join the “Flat-Earthers” out there in la la land.
Global warming is a fact. Period. It is indisputable. Only people who have their heads buried completely in the sand can possibly deny that global temperatures are rising.
While anyone can see that glaciers are melting rapidly and ice in the Arctic Circle is melting earlier and freezing later, the consequences of this warming are fiercely debated. The political implications are certainly debated. Even the cause of the warming is debated.
There is no doubt that humans have contributed to the rise in global temperatures. There are, after all, now more than 7 billion of us inhabiting this planet, and all of us are making waste.
Global warming is definitely melting ice around the world. Glaciers are receding. Ice sheets that cover most of Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster and calving off huge icebergs and sending them out to sea. Some fear that this calving process will accelerate the rate that these ice sheets slide into the sea. NASA says that the rate of melting in Antarctica has tripled in the last 10 years.
The first concern most people have is that the water contained in all this ice will cause a rise in global sea levels, flooding coastal areas. That is likely true. It would disrupt life along the coasts and could even destroy some of the world’s largest coastal cities. Venice would no longer be unique. We would have Venice-like cities around the world. In any event, coastlines will move and places like New Orleans and Miami will be in considerable trouble.
According to NASA’s Global Climate Change website*, there have been seven climate cycles that have caused glaciers to retreat and advance over the last 650,000 years. You might think, “Oh, okay, this is a normal cycle.” Not so fast my friends. NASA says that the data it has collected shows that this warming cycle is happening at a rate 10 times faster than any previous warming cycle and almost all of that has come since about 1950. In other words, as mankind has multiplied, so have our pollutants and gaseous emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere.
The global temperature has risen by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, and scientists attribute this directly to the increase of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. Prior to 1950, NASA shows that global carbon dioxide had never been higher than 300 parts per million and that was about 350,000 years ago. It was often significantly lower than this, as low as 150 parts per million. Since 1950, that number has skyrocketed to almost 400 parts per million.
We have been fortunate up until now because the oceans have absorbed a great deal of that warming. But the ocean’s capacity to absorb heat is finite and the addition of high quantities of fresh water into the oceans affects salinity, which in turn affects ocean currents. Since the ocean is a major driver of the world’s weather, changing the ocean most certainly changes the weather.
As the oceans have warmed, we have seen fiercer storms as the oceans release some of that energy back into the atmosphere. The Earth is a living thing. Part of the life of the Earth is our atmosphere. The Earth gets hot and it produces a storm to blow off some steam. We get more hurricanes or heavier rains and more extreme weather.
All this affects the living organisms on the planet, and it is probably too late to stop the trend of global warming, but since we created it — or exacerbated it — what do we do to mitigate it?
My daughter and I spoke extensively on this subject recently. She is deeply concerned and upset about the condition of the planet. I told her what I will tell you now. No one person can save the world. All you and I can do is make a positive step today. Reduce your waste. Recycle those things that can be recycled. Be conscious of what you are consuming, of the personal pollution you are creating, and change your habits to be more responsible to our world. We can also hold our political and economic leaders accountable and demand they do all within their power to lower our dependence upon burning fossil fuels.
I alone can do nothing. However, all of us together, all 7 billion of us, can do something. That is how we mitigate this. Everyone does his or her little part and together that amounts to a monumental change. I’m pretty fond of living here. It would shameful to screw this up.
*Source material for this column can be found at climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
Gary Cosby Jr. is photo editor of The Tuscaloosa News. Readers can email him at email@example.com