Can we do anything?



To the Editor:

Forget what you’ve heard or think you know about global warming/climate change and ponder just these facts:

It has been known since 1896 that CO2 is a “greenhouse” gas. That is, it lets light in, which heats up the planet, but does not let heat out, so the planet ends up trapping that heat. The more CO2 there is in the atmosphere, the more the earth heats up. This is not in dispute even by many of those who like to imagine that global warming is not happening.

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing for some time and continues to increase. Pretty much all of the increase since the industrial revolution has been caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

The earth is, indeed, heating up. While there are those who like to pretend that this is not happening, science does not support this fantasy.

Because of this heating, the Arctic Ocean has lost a very large volume of its ice in the last decade, and the Antarctic ice shelves have been discovered to be undermined by the warming sea, causing instability and greater ice loss than was previously thought. While some ice returned to the Arctic in 2013, the trend towards increasing ice loss is clear.

It is estimated that there is enough ice locked up on Greenland and in Antarctica to raise the world’s oceans by more than 200 feet. While no one thinks that the larger mass of the ice caps will melt any time soon, there is a smaller portion of the polar regions that is likely to melt soon. There is enough ice in these regions to raise the worldwide ocean levels by at least 15 feet.

In a recent paper, James Hansen and others state that it is not only possible, but likely that enough ice will melt by as early as 2050 to raise the ocean levels by at least that amount. This paper has not been peer reviewed yet because the authors wanted to get their analysis out as quickly as possible to try to inform the next conference on climate change meeting this fall. But I don’t think it takes a scientist to tell us what is obvious: ice must stay cold to stay frozen, and we are warming it up.

Once the CO2 is in the atmosphere, it lasts for over 100 years, so what we burn now will affect many generations. Having the water wait for 200 years to rise means we will not see the outcome, but doing nothing based on that time frame requires a level of cynicism that is contemptible.

Can we do anything? Well, if we do nothing, if we continue without changing the way we have been living – in particular, the burning of fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas – the conclusion of our experiment in Earth climate control is certain.

Can we afford to do what needs to be done? The real question here is can we afford not to do what needs to be done? There is not any doubt that getting off of fossil fuels is monumentally difficult. But so would be the task of dealing with millions of refugees around the world whose livelihoods and homes have disappeared.

We live in a fractious world where getting anything done is difficult. But we pulled together to rid the world of fluoro carbon refrigerants and saved the world’s ozone layer. That has nearly completely mended itself now. We can do the same to save the atmosphere. Two things are required: we must stop listening to those voices that are too afraid to face the truth, and so keep throwing up nonsense to try to stop any action from taking place.

The current theory of global warming has been tested, hard, for the last 20 years. The details get modified from time to time, but the basic idea has held firm.

The other thing that is required, then, is to fix the mess. This requires someone or something to lead us to the solution. I can think of no better nation than the USA to accomplish this. We like to think of ourselves as the greatest nation on Earth. That could be true. If we are, then this is what a great nation would do:

We need to lead the way with strength and courage. We need to implement something like a Marshall plan for the Earth, with different goals, of course. We need to find ways to live and prosper without carbon-based fuels. There is no guarantee that the world’s atmosphere will remain stable and supportive of our lives. We must find a way to keep the carbon in the ground.

We are just over a year from a presidential election. Now is the time to start organizing to get them to focus on what is truly important. This will only happen if we, the people, set the agenda and not allow large corporations to do it. Money talks. Even though corporations are now considered people, they still do not vote. If we let our politicians know that they will get our vote if they focus on this, we can achieve great things.

Lunn Sawyer

Southwest Harbor

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