Holy sh*t, indeed.
Last week, the Guardian hosted a NASA conference, announcing the retreat of ice in the Amundsen sector of Antarctica was unstoppable, and would contribute to global sea level rising by a meter.
When the Amundsen sector breaks up, it could cause the collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet, which could raise the sea levels another three to five meters. Rising sea levels will displace millions of people worldwide. (It is estimated that 100,000,000 people live around sea level.)
A few days after this announcement, another report was released claiming the Western Antarctic ice melt rate has doubled since 2010, releasing up to 160 billion tons a year.
This all sounds huge and scary, but it also might feel a bit far away, or a bit far off—a bit too “dystopian Bladerunner.” So, let’s break it down.
Rising temperatures due to carbon monoxide emissions and greenhouse gases are melting the ice both in the Antarctic and the Arctic, which will lead to higher global sea levels. The temperature of those waters is also getting warmer.
As the temperature of the oceans increases, what can we expect to happen, or what is already happening?
A big one is ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification is a decrease in the oceans’ pH levels as it deals with the uptake of CO2. Our oceans, rivers and lakes are responsible for the absorption of 30-40% of the carbon dioxide humans produce.
As the water increases in CO2 absorption, it increases in hydrogen content. As the molecular structure of the water ever so slightly shifts, it is affecting its inhabitants: in the past decade or so, what are called the “bottom feeders” (mollusks, sea anemones, shellfish) in certain areas of the world have been found to have vastly thinner shells, which affects their survival rates.
Bottom feeders feed the rest of the aquatic population, which in turn, can feed large parts of the human population.
(The World Health Organization has estimated that about one in seven people worldwide rely on sea creatures as their source of protein).
Of course, when ocean acidification happens, things like coral bleaching happen as well.
Stronger storms is another symptom of the rising ocean temperatures.
Storms gather energy and power from warm water currents and then rush across water and land alike until they are spent.
Bigger storms can mean much more than just an inconvenience, obviously. Big storms mean things like Hurricane Katrina, or Ike or Isaac (which are only a few of the hurricanes that have touched down in Louisiana since 2000, for God’s sake, much less the hurricanes anywhere else) which have brought displacement, death, and sickness through airborne and waterborne bacteria.
That’s right. We’re going to start getting the flu—a lot.
Water breeds bugs, to put it simply; a lot of the time, bugs carry parasites that can infect humans with all sorts of fun things. Malaria, for instance. Lyme disease. Stagnant water and lack of access to clean water can lead to illnesses like cholera.
Yes, I’ve cited diseases that already have vaccinations, but as airborne parasites mutate and evolve they will bring more resistant strains.
Ocean currents also influence the world’s precipitation and wind systems. This will, without a doubt, affect crop yields, harvests and pollination, which will affect the food supply of everything on this planet.
Top 10 Ways Climate Change is Already Affecting Us:
1. Higher temperatures in summer, colder temperatures in winter. Erosion of the idea of what a “season” used to be. The five hottest years on record have all happened since 1997.
2. Getting sicker for longer at weirder times. (This will be helped along not only by the new strains of insects and parasites, but also by the fluctuations in weather: our immune systems will initially have difficulty adapting. This also means more cases of airborne illnesses and infections.)
3. More forest fires. Higher temperatures have caused a 400 percent increase in forest fires and a 650 percent increase in land burned since 1970.
4. More storms.
5. Economy. New England lobster fishers have reported a plummet in their yields due to heat stresses and parasites; Newfoundland’s cod fisheries have all but disappeared; Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is struggling to maintain its ecosystem. The change in environment will not only affect people’s lives, but their livelihoods.
6. More shortages in crops due to weather or pollination events. Crops that have been affected in the past 10 years: almonds, wheat, coffee, strawberries.
7. Extinction of certain species. With the disappearance of so many natural habitats for so many animals, there could be as many as one million species in danger of extinction by 2050. Polar bears, dolphins, lions and gorillas are all on a “short list.”
8. Changes in respiratory health—this means higher rates of asthma, seasonal allergies, and an increase of particulate matter in standing air—think of the increasing smog alerts in many major cities.
9. Power shortages or outages; rolling brown outs or blackouts. As our power grids are getting more stressed out due to the amount of people they have to support and the fuels they use to power up, I predict “suggestions on how to use power” will become more and more frequent.
10. Changes in water quality and availability.
People in “vulnerable” regions, such as the Saharan desert and the Australian outback, as well as people on coasts of all countries will all tell us that they have seen the effects of climate change and global warming for years—not that it’s coming, but that it’s here.
So what can we do to stop what’s happening, to slow down and reverse the damage that we can, while we can? To be honest, I’m not quite sure, but here are things I think will help.
1. Get informed.
Read up on the issues. Talk to people.
2. Draw attention.
Write letters to our civic leaders (although granted, I am pretty tired of petitioning my government, which doesn’t seem to care). Write public letters. Letters to the editors. Letters elicit responses, which means someone is reading them.
3. Rethink our own consumption.
Right now. Anything we can do to minimize our carbon footprint helps.
If we don’t like what’s going on, we need to show the world that we care.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Wikimedia Commons