There is no longer a question about whether the climate is heating up, the only question is how quickly it will happen. A draft report released in August 2013 by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC) a body of several hundred scientists that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, said that if greenhouse gas emissions continued at a runaway pace, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of the century. That would endanger the hundreds of millions of people who live near sea level worldwide and imperil some of our greatest cities, like New York, Boston, New Orleans and Miami.
We are already seeing the effects of climate change all over the world. Ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, trees are flowering sooner, heat waves are becoming more frequent and lasting longer and while there is scientific debate about whether climate change is actually causing more hurricanes, scientists agree that it is increasing the size and intensity of the hurricanes we do have. Extreme weather is already significantly impacting people’s lives and livelihoods, as we’ve recently witnessed with disastrous, extensive flooding in our Catskill communities. “The Age of Warming”, produced by 60 Minutes in 2007 shows the astonishing speed at which glaciers and whole colonies of penguins are disappearing in Antarctica. And it is only going to get worse.
A new paper has shown that even small changes in temperatures can result in significant changes in the ecosystem. The paper which was released on December 30, 2013 by the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences attributed the rapid spread of tropical mangrove trees in Florida northward, where it was once too cold to support them, to the disappearance of bitter winter nights that once controlled the growth of cold-sensitive organisms. Study leader Kyle C. Cavanaugh, a researcher with Brown University and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center said that “this idea of tipping points in the earth’s ecosystem is absolutely critical….but once you cross a threshold, you can get rather dramatic changes in the ecosystem.”
Our fresh water is also under threat both from the direct effects of climate change like drought and the irreversible impacts of ExtremeEnergy processes, like fracking. These processes deplete our aquifers to provide the water that is essential for fossil fuel extraction and generate billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater. There is only a finite amount of fresh water on this planet and our wastewater treatments plants are totally unequipped to process toxic wastewater on this scale.
Paradoxically, climate change may actually result in colder temperatures in places like Europe that depend on ocean currents to stay warm. Britain is at the same latitude as Siberia but has much warmer temperatures because of the heat it gets from the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is part of a massive, worldwide system of ocean currents that are affected by many things including the heat of the climate. Climate change is causing colossal amounts of Artic Ice to melt, which is dumping enormous amounts of cold fresh water into the oceans. This is affecting the ocean currents and will likely mean that less heat will reach Europe.