Sunday, November 4, 2012

Climate Change and the Election

Sunday, November 4, 2012
~12:00 P.M.

This election season has been pretty intense from both sides. I've seen some outrageous, unsupported claims on Facebook from people in support of both Obama and Romney, although I have to admit, I've seen more ridiculous posts in support of Romney. I've honestly gotten to the point where I am tired of all this stuff and just want the election to be over and done with. I'll go out and vote, but I won't be voting for Romney or Obama.

Why, you may ask? America has its fair share of problems right now. We have a massive debt, we involve ourselves in unnecessary wars, we have very high unemployment levels, and, in this day and age, we are still actually debating over the right of same-sex couples to get married. Homelessness, hunger, health, and poverty are all immediate issues, and the candidates have addressed these. But they have not addressed global warming as an immediate issue. As obvious as the evidence for climate change is, it is invisible compared to the fear and dread a soldier feels when he/she learns they will be sent off to war, and silent compared horrific suffering that same soldier feels when one of their comrades is killed, or when they, years after returning from combat, are still reeling from the pain, depression, and anxiety associated with PTSD. From this perspective, it seems immoral to spend money on trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when so many people in the U.S. are suffering, and even worse when you consider the rest of the world. Hell, it seems immoral to spend money on anything that doesn't help people.

But global warming and ocean acidification are immediate issues. Since "Superstorm Sandy" struck last week, Michael Bloomberg, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent mayor of New York City has expressed his unequivocal support for Barack Obama, stating that Obama has worked the last four years to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and cars, while Romney has "reversed course" and abandoned the pro-environmental positions he held while he was governor of Massachusetts.

"Our climate is changing," Bloomberg wrote in an editorial on Thursday, which you can find here. "And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week's devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action." It's not scientifically sound to say that Sandy was the direct result of global warming. Sandy was the direct result of, as Scott Sistek said in his blog, "a hurricane, an arctic storm, a strong jet stream, a strong blocking pattern in the western Atlantic, and a full moon" (the full moon made the storm surge worse). Sandy was a freak storm, and it makes just as much sense to cite Sandy as a direct result of climate change as it does to put a screen door on a submarine. Ok... maybe not that bad, but still, be wary of people pointing to Sandy as clear-cut evidence for climate change. It's not.

But let's go back to the topic of climate change/ocean acidification being immediate issues. When you are not prepared for something that will happen relatively soon, the issue needs to be given immediate attention to mitigate damage in the future. It's bad already here in Washington. There have already been massive oyster larvae kills in places like Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor due to decreasing pH levels in the ocean, and by the next 100 years, the water content of our snowpack will decrease five-fold at mid-elevation locations in the Cascades like Stampede Pass, which is located at 3,671 feet. As a result, river flows will decrease dramatically in the summer months, leading to problems with shortages in both water (for people, agriculture irrigation, and different flora and fauna that inhabit our region) and electricity (since 75% of our electricity comes from hydroelectric dams). Our ecosystem is not prepared for this, and neither are we, which means that it is an immediate issue.

But as bad as it is here, climate change will have exponentially worse consequences in the developing world. Take Bangladesh as an example.

The sea level is predicted to rise around 1.5 meters by 2100. This would displace 17 million people in one of the world's poorest countries. Add this with a predicted increase in the strength of typhoons in the tropical Pacific due to increasing heat energy in the oceans (95% of the increase in heat due to global warming has been absorbed by the oceans), and you have a recipe for disaster, as storm surges will be even more catastrophic to the area. The 1970 Bhola Cyclone killed over 500,000 people in Bangladesh. Imagine if a slight increase in sea levels meant that a similar cyclone could affect 17 million more people. That's a pretty immediate issue.

Heat waves will become more intense in regions, due to two reasons. First, since the average global temperature will rise, heat waves that are a certain anomaly above the average temperature will have bigger consequences because the average temperature will be higher. Second, heat waves are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity in certain regions, and even if the global average temperature wasn't rising, certain places would see more extreme events. I did some research last year (the research paper I wrote can be found here), and I looked in particular at a certain study by Tyler W. Ruff and J. David Neelin that predicted Gaussian "tails" in terms of temperature distribution in many areas, meaning that certain places would have a wider range of temperature distribution, and with it, the increased chance for unprecedented extreme heat events. The aging baby-boomer population will be especially sensitive to heat waves, particularly in California, where are large increase is expected to occur in many regions, particularly those in Southern California. But what about places in the third world that do not have the luxury of air conditioning or ample water supply? If these same Gaussian tails were present in, say, the Sahel, the consequences would be exponentially worse.

Who will I be voting for? Either Rocky Anderson, of the Justice Party, or Jill Stein, of the Green Party. I don't know which one yet... I still have to do some more research. But both of these candidates are not afraid to speak up about global warming in their campaigns. Yeah, I know they won't win... but I feel like my vote to support them will help them gain more recognition, and hopefully, make it clear that global warming is worldwide, extremely serious, and is an immediate problem that must be addressed on a level that it has not been addressed before, both for the U.S. and the rest of the world. If we, as the human race, are actually going to show the compassion and morality that we claim to have, we need to address climate change and ocean acidification as issues that require immediate action for the welfare of every other organism that lives on Earth.

Thanks for reading, and please choose your vote wisely on November 6th.

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