Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Environment

View image on Yahoo News websiteIn my home state of New Jersey, we are coming to the end of one of the snowiest winters in recent memory. Most of the United States was covered in snow including places ill prepared for it (read: Atlanta, GA.). The large amounts of snow throughout the US have prompted many to say, "I don't see global warming, I see snow." Did you know, however, that this was one of the warmest winters ever throughout the world? Sure, much of the US may have been under snow but the winter Olympics in Russia were interrupted by a heat wave that saw snowboarders and skiers taking trips to the beach to relax. This January was the 4th warmest we have ever recorded.

The term global warming is misleading. One of the main reasons is people saying, "Look! There's snow! Where's your global warming now!?" Statements like that show a clear ignorance in the macro-scale of the global weather that affects our entire planet and not just your specific morning commute on any given day. Reports like this from Fox News are troubling. The report begins with "I'm no expert on this so I always defer to guys like you." The troubling part? Marc Morano is a right wing blogger with a degree in political science, not a climate specialist. His blog has received funding from ExxonMobil and Chevron: companies with vested interests in having people doubt climate change. Deferring to guys like this is a problem.

Satellite image of CaliforniaCalifornia was not affected by the same winter woes the rest of the country experienced. In fact, California has a problem caused by extreme heat with little to no precipitation: drought. The image to the left is a satellite image of California from 2013 (left) and 2014 (right). The white areas are not clouds but snow. The areas on the image to the left that are not covered in snow are green with vegetation. Just one year later, those same areas are barren as water levels continue to dip. The California drought is not just affecting California. Lake Mead, created in 1935 when the Hoover Dam was built, provides water to millions of people across 3 states: California, Arizona, and Nevada. Chief among those cities fed by Lake Mead is Las Vegas, Nevada; Vegas gets 90% of its water from this lake. You can find a clock here counting down to when Las Vegas will run out of water. Following that same link you get a small history of water usage from the Colorado River and a bleak outlook for the future of water allocation to the states whose water needs are met by both Lake Mead and the river that fills it, the Colorado River.

It is true that no matter how extreme these weather conditions are no one weather event can be directly blamed on global warming, CO2 levels, pollution, or an act of God. However, multiple events taken as a collective study on the environment help build the argument. Scientists are not 100% sure that the most recent increases in the global air and water temperatures are the effects of humans (they are only 95% sure), but they are 100% sure that it is happening. Discarding climate change completely is dangerous.

I conducted an interview with a scientist at the Department of Defense recently. Much of what I asked went unanswered for obvious reasons, but I asked about climate change in a much more general way and whether he has to take it into consideration for his day to day job. What he told me was very general (for obvious reasons) but still interesting. For one, the diminishing ice in the Arctic not only creates new travel routes for commerce, but new travel routes for invasions or attacks. You can see the map on the right showing new passages around the dwindling Arctic ice. The water resulting from melted ice has to go somewhere, and indeed we have seen an increase in global average sea levels. Rising sea levels increase chances of flooding in coastal areas of the world which can lead to destabilized economies; imagine New York City looking more like it did in The Day After Tomorrow than what it looks like now, and then imagine that happening all over the world.

The evidence for climate change is out there. The vast majority of the scientific community agrees that it is happening. The conflicting opinions you get come from money. Large corporations are supporting right wing talks that global warming is a myth. People like Marc Morano are passed off as experts while lining their pockets with money from the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife and ExxonMobil. If you want to know about a subject, take it from the experts (of which I am not one). You have options: trust the scientific community or trust corporations. I have discussed corporations and their unlikeliness to change their ways if it means sacrificing profits. Remember that there were a small number scientists who claimed health benefits of smoking even while the vast majority of the scientific community was trying to warn us of the cancer risks.

I leave you all with a video on climate change. I encourage everyone to fact check what you hear on the subject; not just in this video, but in your everyday lives. Make up your own minds by conducting some research; it'll serve you well to be informed. (You can find the article associated with this video here):

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