There is so much debate among the public about climate change. Is it real? Is it serious? Is it worth doing anything about? Or is it just a 'hoax' carefully designed to allow certain people to selfishly accomplish their own goals?
The consistent readers of this blog know my opinions on global warming. It is occurring, it is serious, and it is poorly communicated to the public. In fact, one of my main inspirations for writing this blog is to spread accurate information about climate change to the public and encourage others to do the same.
But what's the real reason that compels us, as a human race, to take action against global warming? It's not politics. And, to some extent, it ultimately isn't even about the environment.
It's about love.
When I was in elementary school, I was taught that humans need three things - food, water, and shelter - to survive. When somebody asked me about the three things I would need if I was stranded on a desert island, I would respond accordingly. Ain't nobody got time for a pet dragon when your life is at stake.
But I think there actually should be a fourth need, and that is love. Love is so ubiquitous in our lives... almost everything is related to it. Not everybody may believe in global warming, but nearly everybody has the capacity to love, whether they love a certain person, the human race as a whole, or the beauty of the entire Earth. I say nearly everybody in the same way that hand sanitizers claim to kill 99.99% of germs. I don't know a single person who does not have the ability to love.
When asked about his belief in climate change, 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman said that "all I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we'd listen to them." When we sense that we, or loved ones, or anyone for that matter, are in danger, our innate love comes through, and we take measures to prevent harm to the people we care about, whoever that may be.
The scientific community overwhelmingly believes that climate change and ocean acidification are occurring and that these atmospheric and oceanic changes have the potential to cause damage to ecosystems and conflicts over resources in the future. A study was recently done on the effects of rising temperatures and decreased ocean pH levels in a controlled environment, and it was found that the combination of rising temperatures and increasing acidity will spell disaster for coral.
I have seen this study before, but unfortunately I don't know any specific details about it. I'll write more about ocean acidification in another blog, as it gets nowhere near the attention of climate change when it is likely a bigger problem for the immediate future.
Looking at this picture above, we can see the modeled effects of increased carbon dioxide levels and ocean temperatures on coral. Some people have an immediate reaction to a picture like this. Others may not. But for those who initially don't see the point to saving coral reefs due to them not having any influence in their lives or the lives of others they love, I propose a new thought paradigm. Try to surrender your steadfast beliefs, and try to think about our instinctive, universal love. Think about the people that a change like this would affect. Think about the people who obtain their food directly or indirectly from a coral reef ecosystem. Think about people like Jacque Cousteau, who dedicate their entire lives to spreading their love for the ocean and all its inhabitants. It's perfectly fine to not care about the beauty of coral reefs, but think about the happiness of the people who do, and think about how devastating a change like this would be. Ocean acidification is, of course, a global problem, and its effects have already been felt strongly in the Pacific Northwest - most notably with the massive die-offs of oyster larvae in hatcheries located on protected bays on the Pacific Coast. If someone you love is an oyster fanatic, take the time to reflect on how ocean acidification would affect their life. To some people, loving the minute organisms that would suffer greatly in an increasingly acidic ocean is enough to catalyze a response toward mitigating ocean acidification. For others, the knowledge that other animals we care about - salmon, orcas, bluefin tuna - will suffer in an increasingly acidic ocean due to their decreased larval survival rates and the reduced carrying capacity of an ecosystem for their prey will inspire them to take action. Even if you don't care about the ocean whatsoever, chances are you have a friend who does, and the chances are even higher that one of your friend's friends does. In that circumstance, any commitment you make to do something about ocean acidification would be rooted in... you guessed it... love.
Global warming will change some people's lives to much greater extents than others. For a place like the Pacific Northwest, the biggest effects will end up being less wintertime snowfall and therefore lower summertime streamflows to support hydroelectricity, irrigation, and other water-dependent activities. These changes will affect the economy as a whole, so even if somebody is completely removed from nature, they will still experience the repercussions in the form of higher food prices and electricity bills. In drought years, they may hear of conflicts between farmers wanting to draw more water and conservationists/fisheries wanting to secure an adequate water supply for salmon runs. In Charlie's ideal world, the concern for others and compassion that we all have would play a significant role in attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water, and be a more environmentally-conscious citizen.
The effects will be far more severe in other parts of the world. In Bangladesh, 10% of the country is expected to be submerged under water in the event of a 1-meter rise in sea level. Global warming is also predicted to perhaps bring stronger cyclones to the area due to increasing sea-surface temperatures, although the effects aren't completely understood at this time. The deadliest cyclone in recorded history, the 1970 Bhola Cyclone, killed up to half a million people in Bangladesh and far eastern India, with most of the deaths resulting from the storm surge as it flooded the Ganges Delta. A rise in sea-level associated with the increased ferocity of tropical storms would create the potential for even larger storm surges in the area, and the results could be catastrophic.
Stalin once said that "the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic." Most of us can relate to the death of one person either because we have been in the situation of grieving after the loss of a loved one or because we imagine people who are close to us passing away and reflect on how tough such a loss would be for anybody else. Rational thought would say that one million deaths is far more tragic than one, but people, including myself, are unable to truly comprehend how horrendous the death of a million would be, and therefore take it as a simple statistic. This is often the mindset I find myself subconsciously adapting when I hear of tragedies such as the Bhola Cyclone. I believe that this reaction is a defensive mechanism to help keep one's mental sanity and is not something to be ashamed of, but it is something to be aware of.
Our best chance to mitigate climate change and ocean acidification is to draw upon our instinctive compassion for the others of this Earth. What if we just let go of our prejudices and worked together for the benefit of our planet and all its inhabitants? It's easy for the realist to list all the reasons why something like this could never work. But what is the virtue in doing that? Saving our planet, and our people, starts from the heart, and nothing is preventing us from taking that first step.
Sorry for the excessive sappiness. But the sappier the tree, the sweeter the syrup. Now that's food for thought.