A Documentary: Climate Change The Facts

The information in this article is summarized from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary “Climate Change The Facts.” Numerous scientists contributed to the documentary. 

Scientists across the globe are in agreement that urgent action is needed now to avert a global disaster from climate change and ensure the survival of our civilizations.  

Data from the U.S. Climate Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Japanese Meteorological Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) all show the same sharp rise in temperatures. What is driving the rising temperatures is we are all using energy all the time and in the industrialized world that energy is almost entirely fossil fuels – coal, gas, and oil – to power our energy needs. When we burn fossil fuels it produces carbon dioxide as a waste product. 

Carbon dioxide acts as a blank, it absorbs the heat radiation from the Earth’s surface and keeps the surface warmer. Before we started to burn coal, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million (ppm). Now it is over 400 ppm. We are one-degree Celsius hotter than pre-industrial times and that is enough to bring about the effects we see as climate change.

As the planet heats up you get more intense storms and more frequent heat waves that dry up the soil causing worse droughts and out-of-control wildfires.

Last year we saw record-breaking wildfires across the globe, in Australia, the U.S., Greece, and even the Arctic. 

It’s not just extreme heat events, climate change is changing our weather system in other ways. With one degree Celsius of warming, there’s more moisture evaporating off the oceans. With more moisture in the air, you get more superstorms, heavy downpours, and flooding and it’s going to get worse. 

Greenland and Antarctica Ice Sheets are Melting

The Greenland ice sheet is melting as it loses 4 trillion tons of ice and it is losing five times as much ice today as it was 25 years ago. The Antarctic is losing three times as much ice today as it was 25 years ago. All that ice goes into the oceans and sea levels have already risen by about 20 centimeters in the last 100 years. Rising sea levels have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in coastal areas in the South Pacific, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.

Based on our current model, by the end of the century, our planet will be between 3 to 6 degrees hotter and looking at a meter or more of sea-level rise. Over six hundred million people live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level. With the sea level rising, storm surge will be higher than we have ever seen before.

If we lose our coastal cities we have a different planet and an economic situation that is out of control.

In the U.S., Louisiana is on the frontline of the climate crisis and is losing land at a fast rate to sea level rising. Since 1955, the Isle de Jean Charles, southwest of New Orleans, has shrunk by over 90% and continues to slip into the Gulf of Mexico.

The residents of Isle de Jean Charles are the first climate refugees in the US but they won’t be the last.

The oceans are expanding not only from the melting ice but because they are getting warmer. Over 90% of the heat trapped in our atmosphere has been stored in the oceans and that heat has caused a third of the world’s coral to bleach and die.

What is happening today across the world, scientists have warned about for over 30 years.

The Forests

The world’s great forests play a vital role in determining the balance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. They suck up and store a third of our carbon emissions.

With technology to take pictures of the Earth from space, we see forests being cleared in Columbia Peru, Paraguay, and Bolivia.  Forests are being burned releasing their stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to warm the planet.

If we continue the deforestation of the planet our ability to mitigate climate change decreases. 

The forest is replaced with soybeans, pasture for cattle, and palm oil that is found in almost every product in your home.  

If we continue to release Co2 we will hit 1.5 Celsius degrees of global warming between 2040 and 2050, and not long after that, we are on a trajectory to go through two degrees. 

The evidence shows we have increased storms, floods, droughts, and heatwaves. At such levels of warming, it will be difficult to maintain our agriculture so the population of the world can actually feed itself.  Access to clean drinking water will become more difficult.

If the poor suffer today, the rich will also suffer tomorrow. Climate change is dangerous for everyone.

Tipping Points

There are tipping points where just a little bit of extra warming could urge it into an irreversible change that could spiral beyond our control.

Greenland and Antarctica could be tipped into an irreversible meltdown.  Or the rainforest could be tipped into a die-off and turned into a savannah.  Once you cross the tipping point you’ve triggered a catastrophic change and it will get hotter because you’ve triggered something that you can’t stop.

The tipping point scientists have identified as most dangerous is the greenhouse gas locked underground. There are large amounts of methane stored in the permafrost in the Arctic. As that permafrost starts to unfreeze the methane trapped underneath will start to bubble up and be released into the atmosphere. Methane is 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than co2.

Politicians and the Fossil Fuel Industry

The fossil fuel companies are very profitable and have the most to lose as the world transitions to renewable energy and they want to keep making huge profits.  So the oil and gas industry hired public relations consultants to confuse the science and they used the same tactics used by the tobacco companies to cast doubt on the science. This climate denial has slowed the transition to a clean energy economy. 

Politicians who profit from the fossil fuel industry are part of the problem because they continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry and some are climate change deniers. 

Carbon emissions must be cut from every part of the economy.  Twenty-five percent comes from how we produce electricity and heat but alternatives are already within our grasp.  We have the technology and ability to change but do we have the personal and political courage and will to change?

Solutions

We need to reduce the amount of carbon that is already in the atmosphere. We already have this technology and it is called TREES. If we reforest vast areas of the world we can lock up huge amounts of carbon that is already in the atmosphere. We are developing technologies to recapture carbon

Norway is using hydropower and many countries have a lot of sun for solar power. The U.K. is building some of the biggest offshore wind turbines. There is also geothermal power and hydrogen power. 

People must change their behavior and reduce their carbon footprint by reducing their meat and dairy consumption, buying more products made locally, stopping being wasteful, and buying more battery-powered and electric cars.

World leaders must put climate change on the fast track and transition to renewals faster.  It is time for action, not endless discussions on whether climate change is real. 

Change is coming whether you like it or not. The change can be clean energy or it can be climate change that destroys the world as we know it.

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