Coping With Environmental Change

It seems to me….

Climate change is the environmental challenge of this generation, and it is imperative that we act before it’s too late.” ~ John Delaney[1].

The old adage that “everyone” talks about the weather but no one does anything about it can no longer be considered totally factual since all of us have obviously contributed to global warming.

The basic cause of global warming is a source of disagreement between liberals and conservatives. Liberals believe global warming results from increased production of carbon dioxide (CO2) primarily due to burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas…). The U.S. is a major contributor to global warming since it produces 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide. Proposed laws to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. are urgently needed and should be enacted immediately to save the planet. Most reputable scientists support this theory.

Many conservatives, on the other hand, claim changes in global temperatures are natural over long periods of time and science has not shown humans can affect permanent change to the Earth’s temperature. Proposed laws to reduce carbon emissions will do nothing to help the environment and will cause significant price increases for all. Hardly any reputable environmental scientists support this theory.

The Earth’s climate has admittedly changed throughout history. In just the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of both the modern climate era and human civilization. Most of those climate changes are attributable to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives – Earth’s orbit wobbles over a 23,000-year cycle. The current warming trend is of particular significance as it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia[2].

This is doubly concerning to environmentalists as a 2015 press release from the UK’s National Astronomy Meeting reported on a study suggesting the Sun is heading towards a period of very low output[3]. Such fluctuations in solar activity are not a new discovery, the 11-year variation in the number of dark sunspots on the solar surface was discovered more than 150 years ago. It is now understood that these spots are symptoms of increased magnetic activity and occur during periods when explosive outbursts of energy and material such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections are more frequent.

A period of low solar activity in the 17th century between 1645 and 1715, known as the Maunder Minimum, lasted about 70 years and roughly coincided with the “Little Ice Age”, an era characterized by an abnormally high number of harsh winters across Europe and North America. This Little Ice Age was partially the result of an atmospheric blocking effect but also probably due to increased global volcanic activity that ejected gas and ash into the atmosphere reflecting solar radiation back into space.

The overwhelming consensus among the world’s climate scientists is that the influence of solar variability on the climate is dwarfed by the impact of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most calculations suggest that a new “grand solar minimum” should have a cooling effect able to temporarily offset just a few years’ worth of the warming due to human emission of carbon dioxide[4] but though our planet might be heading towards a period of low solar activity, a new mini-ice age seems very unlikely at this point as any affect will be overcompensated by increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Avoiding devastating consequences of global warming in the future necessitates taking immediate steps that will incur costs some will consider objectionable.

The environment affects much of what we do and how and where we will live in the future. By 2070, tropical regions that now get one day of truly oppressive humid heat a year can expect between 100 and 250 days if current levels of greenhouse-gas emissions continue.

Experts now say that some of the worst impacts of climate change (e.g., more frequent droughts and flooding, and extreme heat that could lead to things like food shortages and potentially affect hundreds of millions of people) are expected to happen within current lifetimes. Agriculture is increasingly vulnerable to extreme heat which can ruin a season’s crop and kill off livestock; global warming reduced crop yields by as much 20 percent between 1964 and 2007. To keep the Earth’s temperatures from reaching the point of no return, the UN says governments need to impose high carbon taxes and reduce coal use ASAP.

Coal-fired plants, which are the primary source of CO2 discharge worldwide, produce 40 percent of U.S. electrical energy. Carbon capture and storage technology will be necessary to meet goals agreed to at the recent 2015 climate negotiations in Paris. Unfortunately, carbon capture is not only extremely expensive placing it out of consideration for much of the world but is very inefficient. There also isn’t any assurance that storing CO2 underground for thousands of years is actually even feasible.

While multiple uses for CO2 exist such as for producing baking soda, drywall, plastics, and fuel, the biggest potential customer might be petroleum companies who pump it underground to force oil out of wells that are running dry[5]. The question is whether it is logical as a response to climate change to capture carbon only to use it to obtain more fossil fuel to burn.

At a time when we need to address the planetary crisis of climate change and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to be energy efficient and sustainable, U.S. commitments providing $135 billion in tax breaks and subsidies over the next decade to fossil fuel companies is totally indefensible[6].

Climate change adds to the costs of preserving and maintaining infrastructure while advances in transportation technology put current practices, priorities, and revenues at risk. Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing problems as both a long-term trend and a short-term challenge. Governments must contend with the impact of more frequent and severe heat waves, storm surges, floods, heavy rainfall events, sea level rise, and the impact on roads, rails, power, signals, tunnels, culverts, and more. Pavement softened by high temperatures are more susceptible to rutting and potholes, rail tracks expanding and buckling in the heat, culverts and roads washing out in heavy rains, and subway tunnels becoming inundated by rising sea levels and storm surges.

It is disheartening that the best a UN environmental conference, called COP24 held between 2 and 15 December 2018 in Katowice, Poland, came up with was, in essence, a rulebook in which the participating nations will report supposedly accurately and transparently who is releasing how much greenhouse gas[7]. The goal established in the 2015 Paris agreement to limit atmospheric carbon levels to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels is insufficient to save the planet from some of the more drastic effects of climate change. Without significant action, global temperatures could possibly rise by up to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization likely resulting in massive disruption from rising seas, extreme weather, collapsing food chains, population relocations, droughts, and floods.

It is unfortunate that President Trump has announced his intention to pull the U.S. from the Paris agreement in 2020 and is pursuing policies to increase production and burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. In fact, intransigence by U.S. and three other leading oil-producing nations – Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait – prevented the COP24 conference from fully embracing the dire climate report the UN issued just weeks earlier.

It’s difficult to overstate the need for urgency in addressing climate change by setting national limits backed by hard policies, adopting carbon taxes, and other market mechanisms that will reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to changing consumer habits. None of this will be easy but failure to rise to this challenge will make the current generation culpable in the ecological disasters, human upheaval, and collapsed ecosystems of the future.

All of nature is interconnected. Not only is it necessary to switch to clean renewable energy and reduce CO2 levels, we must do more to preserve and protect our forests, rivers, and soils. There is a relationship between energy use, economic growth, species loss, deforestation, petro-politics, and global warming. Climate change, resource consumption, and population increase threatens species biodiversity. Population increases and economic growth result in environmental degradation and an increased need for natural habitat preservation as a bulwark to protect us from disastrous environment impact.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] John Kevin Delaney is a U.S. Democratic politician and businessman who was Maryland’s 6th Congressional district’s State Representative.

[2] Earth Science Communications Team. Global Climate Change: Vital Signs Of The Planet, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/, 13 December 2018.

[3] Hyde, Dan. Earth heading for ‘mini ice age’ within 15 years, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/11733369/Earth-heading-for-mini-ice-age-within-15-years.html, 11 July 2015.

[4] Wild, Jim. We’re Not Heading Into Mini Ice Age, EarthSky, http://earthsky.org/earth/were-not-heading-into-mini-ice-age?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=818c35b2d9-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-818c35b2d9-394219761, 15 July 2015.

[5] Biello, David. The Carbon Capture Fallacy, Scientific American, January 2016, pp 58-65.

[6] Sanders, Bernie. Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/senatorsanders/photos/a.91485152907.84764.9124187907/10153242673317908/?type=1&theater, 23 April 2015.

[7] The Times Editorial Board. Editorial: The World Needs Great Strides To Fight Global Warming. Climate Talks In Poland Delivered Only Baby Steps, Los Angeles Times, http://www.mctdirect.com/preview.php?id=201812180914MCT_____NEWS_SVC_24324352_0000, 18 December 2018.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Agriculture, Carbon Capture, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Tax, Climate, Climate Change, Climate Change Conference, CO2, Coal, Coal, CO₂, COP21, COP24, Environment, Environment, environmentalist, Floods, Fossil Fuel, Fossil Fuels, France, France, Global Warming, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Infrastructure, Katowice, Kuwait, Little Ice Age, Maunder Minimum, Natural Gas, Oil, Paris, Paris Agreement, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Sea Level, Trump, UN, United Nations, United Nations, Weather, weather, World Meteorological Organization and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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