I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about how I want to make a difference to the environment. Little things that we do everyday are certainly a part of it. Being aware of the impact we have is important and I will continue to write about various ways to do that. But I’m beginning to think that my road to feeling like I’m making a difference lies in a new career. And that new career has to do with the ocean. In fact, I’m back to where I started. I began writing this blog because I was looking into environmental issues and wanted to share what I was discovering. My first post was about my love for the beach which is where my concern for the environment started.
The beach is what I want to study, or rather coastal ecosystems. They are being broadly affected by humans – fishing and littering, by climate change – warming oceans, rising sea levels and they are some of the most beautiful places on Earth. I think I can find a way to help. I’m looking into programs in marine biology. It’s quite a change from theater, but it means a lot to me and interests me. I read a book recently that inspired me. It is called The Death and Life of Monterey Bay and I would recommend it to everyone and anyone. It chronicles all the ways that humans hurt the ecosystem of the bay, but then also tells the story of how the bay has been restored. Change is possible. A lot of what I’ve read has only spoken of the problems that exist, and maybe hypothetical ideas on what to do about them. Monterey Bay is a success story. I hope similar successes can happen elsewhere.
I would like to encourage everyone to read the cover article on sea level rise in National Geographic. I particularly enjoyed all the graphics and pictures. There are links across the top and down the side which I would highly recommend clicking on.
I read this book based on a recommendation of another blogger and I am so glad I did. One of the best things about it is the amount of charts, graphs and pictures that are used. It is particularly helpful when he shows graphs of long periods of times and then blows up the more recent past to show the effects that recent greenhouse gas emissions have had. I realize that I was already a believer, but it does seem to prove that humans are changing the atmosphere and sea level.
This book has a lot of science in it, but it was still incredibly readable. I am not someone who enjoys reading science textbooks, or even scientific studies. John Englander has made the science understandable and easy to digest. There were plenty of things I wasn’t aware of – like the cycle of ice ages and how we are actually due to start the cooling phase heading toward another ice age. The sea level is at the high point with less water trapped in ice sheets. It looks like this started to happen in the past centuries but something (humans) changed the course of history. (Not to sound too dramatic.)
Did you know? Sharps Island off Maryland sunk into the Chesapeake Bay in 1962? Apparently due to sea level rise, erosion and sinking land. Holland Island, also in the Chesapeake, disappeared in 2010. Or how about this? “At our current rate of carbon emissions, we will increase carbon dioxide levels… roughly 20,000 times faster than at any time in the last 540 million years. Temperatures… are now rising about 55 times faster than they did even during the most recent cycle of glacial melting.”
Englander also talks about the impacts of sea level rise. Here is a website that models sea level rise on the coastline of the U.S.: Climate Central. The NOAA also has one. He goes through various cities and talks about what they would face and how much of their population would be effected. It is worth noting that along with changes in shoreline, the water table will rise with sea level and so many inland areas will also be affected.
Here are a couple more links from the book that I thought were interesting:
The subtitle for this book is The Human Cost of Climate Change. It paints a scary picture of what the world will look like in fifty years and a hundred years. It also makes a compelling argument for why we can’t afford to ignore what is happening. The book assumes that there will be a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2100. This is on the low end of the temperature rise that can be expected. It’s smart in that it allows the author to avoid being considered too alarmist and it turns out even a 2 degree rise would be horrific. I think everyone should read this book. Rather than write a true review, I would like to highlight some of the author’s major points.
I knew that the Industrial Revolution was the beginning of humanity’s love affair with releasing greenhouse gases (GHGs, the most important of which is carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. What I didn’t realize was that the Earth didn’t start warming immediately. It wasn’t until the 197os and 80s that it started and it started slowly. This delay means that even if we stop releasing GHGs entirely right now the Earth would still warm for a while.
One of the major human impacts of climate change will be the displacement of people. People will be forced out of their homes for a variety of reasons; rising oceans will force people away from the coast, higher temperatures will cause droughts and widening deserts, glaciers melting will cause floods in one season and droughts in another. Glaciers store water and release it into rivers as they melt. Melting too fast or disappearing and melting not at all creates floods, droughts and then a lack of water. Hurricanes and other major weather events will get worse because warm ocean water fuels hurricanes. These displaced people will live in refugee camps and overcrowded cities that will have poor sanitary conditions and people packed together breed disease.
The politics involved in global warming are complicated to say the least. But certain things are relatively clear. Rivers don’t pay attention to political boundaries and the need for water will cause conflict. For example, Turkey puts a dam on the Euphrates River and Syria and Iraq have a lot less water to work with. Tens of thousands and maybe millions of people moving to other countries when their countries are no longer habitable will also cause political tension.
What you don’t want to know: There are island nations, including the Maldives and Tuvalu, who will disappear under the sea even if we start cutting GHG emissions right now. “The level of GHGs today is higher than at any point in at least 650,000 years and is currently rising more than fifty times as fast as what would be caused by natural fluctuations.” “The best information we have from still-earlier periods suggests that you would have to go back at least 15 million years to find another time with concentration levels [of CO2] as high as today’s. During that period, temperatures were much warmer than they are today, sea levels were 20 to 35 meters higher, and no permanent ice cap existed in the Arctic.” “Every year, a part of Nigeria about the size of Rhode Island turns to desert. Across the continent, the Sahara is spreading southward at a rate of more than three miles a year.” “Between the mid-1970s and the year 2000, for example, climate change caused the annual loss of more than 150,000 lives….”
I have been reading in a new book, which I will review soon, about sea levels rising as a consequence of global warming. A friend of mine found this article. Don’t forget to click on the left to see the pictures change as sea levels rise. It may seem like the 25 feet rise won’t happen for so long that it isn’t even worth thinking about. Think about how many people will be displaced by 5 feet in Back Bay, and remember that Boston has resources and wealth to deal with it. There are many countries in the South Pacific that will have much more significant flooding and will not have a wealthy nation helping the people who are displaced.