Over the two-plus years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve posted several times on issues related to the environment. The topics have been as diverse as ozone depletion caused by refrigerants, biological invasion by plants and animals, fracking, and sea-level rise. Although most now accept the reality of climate change, there still are differing opinions as to its causes and solutions.
Climate change (formerly “global warming”) no longer is a theory. Despite what some politicians say, it is a scientific reality. Since the 1970s, NASA has been monitoring and estimating global temperature change. In 1981, it reported there had been a small net global warming between the 1880s and the 1970s. Since 1999, NASA has used increasingly more sophisticated satellite imagery to measure the Earth’s temperature changes. Recently, it released preliminary data, supported by independent data from the Japan Meteorological Administration, indicating that July 2015 was our planet’s hottest month on record. According to NASA’s findings, every month this year has ranked among the top four warmest on record, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is expected to report that July was—if not the warmest month the planet has ever seen—certainly one of them. Unless the rest of the year is significantly colder than usual, 2015 will be the warmest year ever. Other scientific evidence, based on tree rings, ice cores, and ocean coral formations, indicate the earth is the warmest it has been in at least 4,000 years.
NOAA forecasters, meanwhile, are predicting one of the strongest El Niños ever in the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, we all have seen the news regarding the outbreak of wildfires in the western United States resulting from extreme hot and dry conditions. We also have heard of increased risks from poison-ivy rashes, Lyme disease from tick bites, and those ever-annoying mosquito bites, as warmer temperatures result in expanded habitats and larger populations of those pests.
Fracking is another issue with both environmental and political ramifications. Again, many politicians—whether to curry favor with special interests or as a result of their own hubris—have ridiculed scientists’ concerns about this practice. In my original post, I took a relatively neutral position because the balance between environmental concerns, energy conservation, and energy independence is a complex one. In an update, I mentioned recent studies that linked fracking to earthquakes in Oklahoma and flooding in Colorado, as well as reporting that the New York State Court of Appeals would allow individual towns in New York to ban fracking. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency has weighed in with proposed standards to require reduced volatile organic compounds and methane emissions from hydraulically fractured and re-fractured oil wells. Also, this week, Denton, Texas (of all places), passed a ban on fracking—of course, it already is being challenged in court—and New York health officials released the results of a long-term study of the health and environmental impacts of fracking, concluding the state should ban the practice until more research can be done.
Sea-level rise is of particular interest and importance to me because I live at the beach in South Florida. Just this week, new research published in The Cryosphere raises the estimate of how much ice melt in West Antarctica could contribute to sea-level rise. Those findings estimate an additional 8 in. of water on top of an estimated of 39 in. of sea-level rise previously projected to occur by the end of this century.
These are complex issues, and if we’re to be good stewards of the planet we call home, we need to better understand the arguments being made by both the scientists and the politicians … and their more vocal constituents.