In the old days miners would take a canary in a cage with them into the mine. If the canary died, it would tell the miners that the air was bad, and it was time to leave the mine.
In today’s world it is not hard to see dead canaries all around us. From the melting of the polar caps to the erosion of the American wetlands to the wildfires raging across the world, it is hard not to notice that the climate is changing.
First Calculations of Human-Induced Climate Change
In 1896, Svante Arrhenius calculated that cutting CO2 in half would produce an ice age and that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 would give a total warming of 5–6 degrees Celsius.
In his study “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Earth” Arrhenius had been attempting to quantify natural sources of emissions of CO2 for purposes of understanding the global carbon cycle. He found that estimated carbon production from industrial sources in the 1890s (mainly coal burning) was comparable with the natural sources.
Arrhenius also found that this human emission of carbon would eventually lead to warming. However, because of the relatively low rate of CO2 production in 1896, Arrhenius thought the warming would take thousands of years, and he expected it would be beneficial to humanity.
The Evolution of Climate Science
From the 1890s until the 1950s the body of scientific knowledge grew exponentially. A debate raged over the question of whether the atmosphere was actually warming or cooling. Much was learned during this time about the composition of the atmosphere and how weather works.By the 1970’s computing power confirmed that civilization was a heat engine, raising the Earth’s temperature at an alarming rate.
Although the majority of the scientific community came to a consensus on climate change the political will and public awareness lagged behind the scientific community.
The Polar Vortex and the Jet Stream
The polar regions are warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world. As the polar vortex warms the jet stream slows down. As the jet stream slows down the waves from north to south increase. Diagram (a) shows the jetstream variations during pre industrial natural levels. Diagram (b) shows the jetstream variation over the past 50 years. Diagram (c) shows the current variations of the jetstream today.
This change in the jetstream, driven by warming of the polar vortex, will continue to cause extreme weather events that last longer and are stronger in intensity.
The Paradox of Global Dimming
Global dimming is a positive feedback loop caused by burning carbon based fuels. It is the result of particulate matter released into the air and carried into the upper atmosphere that reflects solar radiation back into space thus lowering the earth’s temperature.
This brings up two issues for the earth: Total dimming is less than the total warming, and greenhouse gasses like carbon will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years while the particulate matter that drives global dimming only stays in the atmosphere for about 6 weeks.
The paradox comes in when you stop burning carbon fuels. If we were to stop burning carbon fuel today, in 6 weeks when the global dimming stops, the temperature would rise to levels not seen since the Permian-Triassic extinction event that resulted in the death of 95% of all life on earth.
This paradox implies that we have already passed the point of no return. We cannot stop but we cannot continue.
The solution lies in developing a technology to remove carbon from our atmosphere at an industrial level.
Although several ideas have been explored no viable system has been found as of yet.
The Dangers of Nuclear Energy
There are currently 454 civil nuclear power reactors around the world, with another 54 under construction. It takes an average of 50 years to shut down a nuclear reactor.
If climate change causes global crop failures on a regular basis the world will suffer massive starvation and mass migration will leave the question of what will happen to the nuclear power reactors when the operators are forced to leave to find food?
454 nuclear power reactors going into meltdown at the same time will end all life on earth.
We also need to address the danger of nuclear weapons. If the worst predictions are realized nations will be motivated to use nuclear weapons to take or defend the dwindling resources.
Most nuclear scientists believe that the world could not survive a nuclear first strike much less a retaliatory nuclear response.
Taking Action on a Global Scale
Not all the news is gloom and doom.
In 1985 scientists discovered a deadly hole in the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects all life from harmful radiation. It only took the world two years to develop a solution.
In 1987 the Montreal Protocol was signed which was the first global effort to stop the destruction of the ozone. This treaty was signed by all nations on earth and has successfully phased-out 98% of the Ozone-Depleting Substances (ODS) contained in nearly 100 hazardous chemicals worldwide.
In 2016 the Paris Agreement went into effect with a long-term goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 °C, since this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.
In 2017 the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement and proceeded to roll back environmental regulations. This change in direction will have extreme repercussions.
Taking Action on a National Level
In 1965 a geochemist named Clair Patterson found that the amount of lead Americans had in their blood was 100 times greater than natural levels.
By 1970 President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act of 1970 into law. The new law required the EPA to lower emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides by 90 percent in only a few years.
Then in 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, banned lead from gasoline. The measures would take effect in 1995, giving America five years to completely phase out lead.
This was quite remarkable as it required the conversion of Americas lead based automobiles to unleaded systems. The vehicle would need to be converted or scraped. Some retooling of the gasoline production and logistics systems were needed also.
This was an incredible show of collective will by the American people.
Taking Action on a Local Level
Franklin County must prioritize the transition from carbon based fuel to solar, wind, hydroelectric energy and battery storage stations.
We can expect an increase in the number and duration of storms. Storms will bring more rain causing and even greater soil erosion problem than we have now.
Franklin County is a major source of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Unsustainable agriculture practices, like industrial meat production which dominates Franklin County farming business, is polluting our water that we drink and eventually flows into the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
It does not appear either county or city governments have any will to go beyond state and federal regulations. If change is to come, the citizens of Franklin County will need to apply pressure to it’s political leadership to force change.
Taking action on an individual level
As individuals, the first and most important action citizens can take is to reduce their carbon footprint to zero output. This will require some major changes in lifestyle and will not be cheap or easy.
Here is a clever example of recycling an old washing machine into a hydroelectric generator to power a home. A lot of small changes on the individual level can make large a large difference on the larger scale if everyone tries to reach a zero carbon footprint.
The Big Picture
- The primary driver of climate change is the human population. The more people that exist the more pollution is released into our environment.
- Carbon is the primary greenhouse gas that is driving temperature rise.
- Industrial manufacturing, industrial farming and transportation are the three largest drivers to climate change.
- The ocean is the largest carbon filter the earth has, but it cannot absorb all the carbon produced by human civilization.
- We have already passed the .5 degree celsius temperature rise that has marked upper temperature rise without starting feedback loops that cannot be stopped.
- Currently we are just above 1 degree celsius temperature rise and we are expected to hit 1.5 within 10 years.
- An increase of 2 degrees celsius temperature rise above the pre-industrial baseline is generally considered a catastrophic tipping point.
A recent study shows that 7 out of every 10 Americans (73%) believe that climate change is real and happening right now.
Climate change presents monumental challenges to our world and way of life. We must find a way to live in balance with our word. We don’t have time to wait for our leaders to get around to fixing the problem. If they won’t or can’t take immediate action to stop climate change, we need to replace them with people will will do the job.
Everyone must take action today! Call or write your political leadership and demand immediate action. March on City Hall and demand action. We are fighting not only for the world we live in, but for our children’s future.
Environmental Organization Links
Federal Emergency Management Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
US-EPA Groundwater and Drinking Water
United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
United States Army Corps of Engineers
United States Geological Survey
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
National Agriculture Statistics Service
Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Pennsylvania Environmental Council
EPA’s Surf Your Watershed
EPA’s Watershed Academy
EPA’s Watershed Central
Center for Watershed Protection
PA Department of Agriculture
PA Department of Environmental Protection
Bureau of Point and Non-Point Source Management
PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
PA DCNR Bureau of Forestry
PA Emergency Management Agency
PA Game Commission
PA Fish and Boat Commission
PA Historical and Museum Commission
Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Penn State Cooperative Extension
Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, Inc.
Center for Dirt and Gravel Roads
Sustainable Forestry Initiative of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Nutrient Management Program
Pennsylvania Online Rails-to-Trails Guide