The world is warm­ing and we must act

Waikato Times - - Opinion - Tom O’Con­nor

This past Northern Hemi­sphere sum­mer, Cal­i­for­nia burned like never be­fore and at the same time Aus­tralia, in the South­ern Hemi­sphere win­ter, also had record break­ing wild­fires.

In be­tween, we have seen mas­sive floods in In­dia and other parts of the world on a prece­dent-set­ting scale.

These ex­tremes of cli­mate chan­g­ere­lated disasters have been pre­dicted for at least three decades by some of the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tists, but they were ei­ther ig­nored or pil­lo­ried by those who still deny cli­mate change even ex­ists. The de­bate has been bogged down in a morass of gen­uine sci­ence, pseu­do­science, su­per­sti­tion and ig­no­rance to the point where few laypeo­ple can agree on what the facts are.

Dif­fer­ences of opin­ion, how­ever, don’t change the facts any more than the celebrity or po­lit­i­cal sta­tus of the per­son hold­ing those opin­ions can.

And some facts are glar­ingly ob­vi­ous. About 50 years ago, sci­en­tists pre­dicted that the in­crease in car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere, as a di­rect re­sult of the com­bus­tion of coal and oil over a rel­a­tively short 200 years, would cause global warm­ing. It is also a re­al­ity that the speed of that change is faster than many species, in­clud­ing hu­mans, can adapt to.

In re­al­ity, we have what should be called ac­cel­er­ated cli­mate change.

The amount of car­bon in the world had not changed, but most of it was locked up in fos­sil fu­els.

Since the start of In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion just over 200 years ago and the in­ven­tion of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine a lit­tle more than 100 years ago, we have dug up and burnt count­less billions of tonnes of coal and oil, re­leas­ing all that stored car­bon diox­ide into the at­mos­phere and an ever in­creas­ing rate.

Stud­ies have shown that sea sur­face tem­per­a­tures are in­creas­ing rapidly, which is af­fect­ing weather and cli­mate with more in­tense rains.

This was why 2017 was the hottest year ever recorded at the Earth’s sur­face. Ad­di­tion­ally, 2016 was a year with record hur­ri­canes, heat waves, droughts, and wild­fires around the world. That process is con­tin­u­ing.

Ev­ery year dur­ing Au­gust and Septem­ber, storms de­velop over the North At­lantic Ocean and sweep in over the east­ern states of the US.

Last year, with ocean sur­face tem­per­a­tures warmer than ever be­fore, the in­creased heat acted as an ac­cel­er­ant and the storms de­vel­oped into the big­gest hur­ri­canes in recorded his­tory, cov­er­ing the en­tire state of Florida. Winds of more than 200kmh and a record rain del­uge brought may­hem to mil­lions and death to many.

In the fol­low­ing sum­mer, that in­creased heat fu­elled the usual an­nual wild­fires into mas­sive and un­con­trol­lable in­fer­nos like never be­fore.

Closer to home, we now know that last Septem­ber has been the wettest for many years, with Hamil­ton Air­port mea­sur­ing 1271mm of rain since the begin­ning of that year, which is the high­est Jan­uarySeptem­ber tally since records be­gan in 1935.

This year is al­ready on the way to be­ing the wettest in more than 80 years, with big­ger floods and heav­ier down­pours through­out most of the coun­try than ever be­fore.

Most of our rain comes in from the Tas­man Sea with the pre­vail­ing west­erly winds and the Tas­man, like the North At­lantic, is warmer than it has ever been.

The new re­search has quan­ti­fied how much the Earth has warmed over the past 56 years due prin­ci­pally to hu­man ac­tiv­ity and the com­bus­tion of fos­sil fu­els.

That has the added car­bon diox­ide to the at­mos­phere at ever-in­creas­ing rates. That in­crease of more than 40 per cent, with most since 1980, has trapped heat in the Earth’s sys­tem, warm­ing the en­tire planet to the point where it can now be re­li­ably mea­sured.

While most gov­ern­ments through­out the world ac­cept that some­thing needs to be done, un­til quite re­cently noth­ing had been done be­yond talk about the prob­lem, sim­ply be­cause that prob­lem was not easy to see or quan­tify and too many in­flu­en­tial peo­ple refuse to ac­cept that there was a prob­lem at all.

If we don’t have the col­lec­tive abil­ity to avoid real and ob­vi­ous calami­ties like war and world poverty, the chances of ac­tu­ally rev­ers­ing global warm­ing are slim at best, even though we have the tech­ni­cal abil­ity to do so.

Planet Earth is prob­a­bly not at risk, but life as we know it to­day prob­a­bly is un­less the prob­lem is taken much more se­ri­ously than it is at present.

Hamil­ton Air­port has had 1271mm of rain since the begin­ning of the year, which is the high­est Jan­uary-Septem­ber tally since records be­gan in 1935.

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