I’ve been talking a lot about media in this column lately. We’re seeing a lot of fast change in the amount of media available, the way we consume that media, and also in what that media says. One of the new media books I’ve been reading is Al Gore’s iPad app version of “Our Choice” about Climate Change. As I write this, it’s pouring rain and hail outside my window and ten degrees colder than normal. The city of Joplin has been almost leveled by a tornado, and at this very moment there is a tornado warning in effect in Northern California (which is not historically a place where many tornadoes touch down). So I decided to write about climate change.
Let’s start with arctic sea ice. The extent of sea ice is shrinking according to every indicator I could find. Not always (there is always more in winter than fall, some years the fresh ice – ice less than a year old – grows). But overall ice in the Arctic and ice locked away in in the Greenland Ice sheet is all shrinking. By 2019, it’s predicted that we’ll see an “ice free fall” in the Polar Regions. This, if course, affects sea level, which in turn eats at our coasts and the lifestyles of those living on them. Melt may cause massive releases of methane. While not as dangerous as Co2 – because it has a shorter “life” in the atmosphere – large volumes of methane release could jolt the climate into quick change.
Animal habitat is changing. I’ve seen this for myself riding horses through bark-beetle kill in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest where I live. Some animals are losing habitat. For example, a rare mid-eastern songbird is threatened by shrinking habitat. Others are shifting habitat (malaria bearing mosquitoes are moving into places that may not be prepared for them).
We’re not talking about slow changes here. Many children alive now will see the end of this century, and something more than half of the living population will see 2040, when the world population is estimated to around nine billion, give or take a half a billion (It’s just under seven billion now). Those additional two billion people will by definition be under 30 years old in 2040. That’s a lot of kids and young people we are setting up to live in a world that is massively stressed by climate variability. Food could be harder to get, and if we’re not fast and agile, energy may be harder to get in any form.
Okay – so that’s probably a decent “what is happening” bit. I’ve left a lot of links below in case anyone wants to see where I drew my information from.
What are we doing about it?
I could write a very long post of what is being done. Most regions and countries are doing more with greener power. Many people are driving cars that get better gas mileage. Many of us have changed over our appliances for greener versions. Laws are slowly getting more supportive of green initiatives, particularly at the local level. The problem is that even taken all together, what we’re doing isn’t enough. It’s an uphill battle: previously third-world countries are modernizing, population is growing, and entrenched interests are slowing legislative change via lobbying and misinformation.
I have some thoughts about why we aren’t doing enough. I think we’re holding on to some myths about climate change.
Myth #1: We have time. We seem to think we can pick around the edges of this problem, that we can almost ignore it for a while and then get busy. We can wait for the economy to get better and then we can fix the world. It’s not true. How long ago was 1980? Not very – I remember it. 2040 is only that far away, with its one and half to two billion more people and everything from one foot of sea level rise to more storms to more droughts to more mosquitoes etc.
Myth #2: The government will solve it. Sorry. The government is owned by people who don’t want to solve the problem. Check the money flowing to your people in power. Check the halting process of any laws with real teeth.
Myth #3: We’re not really sure it’s happening. Read through the links I’ve given you and see if you still believe that. We’re sure. Not exactly of WHAT will happen, but we know that the world’s climate is changing in human-scale timeframes and that humans are most of the problem.
So should we do?
I watched a really excellent TED video as part of my research for this column. In the video, a man named Lewis Pugh talks about a swim he took in meltwater off of Mt. Everest. It’s worth watching, even though it has more emotion than substance. Pugh says we need to think differently, and with care, to solve this problem. That climate change is as big as Mt. Everest. But people have climbed that mountain, and if we want to leave future generations a better quality of life, we need to be willing to change. We need to change now. We need to force the government to help, and provide parts of the solution in spite of our governments, and we need to stop wavering.
Part of thinking differently needs to be global. Kyoto helped, but not enough. The IPCC didn’t get the traction it needed. Copenhagen fell short. We need to find a global force with teeth, and then be very careful about how it works and how transparent it is. Corporations are larger forces across the planet than governments. They are doing some good, at least some of them. But they could do a lot more. Corporations, by nature, are selective about their marketing and message and not always truthful, so it’s hard to really tell what’s being done. We need better transparency laws and more consumer leverage. The super-rich matter. Bill Gates is finally engaged in climate change / clean energy. He came late to the internet party, and he’s late to this one, but he remains a bright enough thinker with enough business acumen and balls to make a real difference if he decides to. There are a lot of other business and entertainment celebs also doing real work in this area.
There’s not a lot of brand new information about this problem. Yet we have to keep moving forward, innovating, educating, and swimming upstream. We can’t just forget it, and wait so long that the only real choices are massive geoengineering. If we do, we are almost sure to fail. In spite of all these years of information, misinformation, and controversy, we still don’t understand climate enough to change the system’s gears – the best we can do is change the known dangerous inputs (carbon and a lot of other things) that are de-stabilizing it.
If you want to do more of your own reading, here is a rather extensive list of articles on the internet. It’s a longer list that I usually give here, but this topic matters even if we’re tired of it. Almost every article in here is from 2011. Note that not one of these links is about the politics of climate change – that would be an even longer and more depressing list.
- Vancouver Observer: 1,000 Year Arctic Storm Linked to Climate Change
- David Suzuki Foundation: Sinking Beneath the Seas: Canadian Coast Under Threat in New Predictions.
- National Snow and Ice Data Center: Arctic Sea Ice 101
- Climate Progress: Arctic sea ice volume: The death spiral continues
- Common Dreams.org: Report: Arctic Warming May Raise Global Sea Levels Five Feet
- Bloomberg: Ice Loss Accelerates in Greenland, Antarctica
- New York Times: A City Prepare for a Warm Long-Term Forecast
- MSNBC.COM Greenland Ice Sheet saw record melt, study finds
- Guardian.co.uk Greenland ice sheet faces ‘tipping point in 10 years’
- New York Times: For many species, no escape as temperature rises
- Reuters: Climate change bringing infection, hunger, and illness
- US Fish and Wildlife: Vermont: Climate Change Poses Challenge for Bicknell’s Thrush
- Salon.com: Gates: Clean Energy Won’t be Focus of the Foundation
- BBC News: Climate Change page
Brenda Cooper’s latest science fiction novel, Wings of Creation, is out now from Tor Books. For more information, see her website!