Tuesday, May 6, 2014

We're melting

After I posted last night's blog entry about the iceberg the size of Manhattan (which you can read more about at Discover Magazine), two major news stories broke about climate change.

I made a casual check of the Huffington Post and was greeted with this bold headline: "MASSIVE MELT." Part of Antarctica may be on the verge of melting to a point that will raise sea level for 10,000 years.  This statement is based on a new study from Nature that points out the vulnerability of the Wilkes Basin of Antarctica.  A section of this area is held together by a thin layer of ice resting on bedrock.  As ocean temperatures rise and ice melts, this strip may gave way.

As usual, the headline is both somewhat misleading and alarmist.  The study indicated that it would take about 200 years for all the ice of Antarctica to melt, an occurrence that would result in the 188-foot rise in sea level implied.  That said, even though this kind of a polar melt is far off, sea levels are still expected to rise by 2.7 feet by the end of the century.  But wait!  There's more!

Just today, the White House released its report on climate change.  In summary: it's real, it's happening, either get ready to change or get used to it.  Or both, really.  That's right, climate change is going to hit us right where we live...if it hasn't happened to you already.  From the precis in the linked article, the report breaks down by region just what kinds of effects can be expected here in the U.S. if this trend continues unabated.

The Southwest can expect prolonged periods of drought and therefore greater risks of wildfires.  The Midwest is also looking at droughts and heatwaves but also more "extreme" storms of both the summer and winter varieties.  Coastal areas will be susceptible to flooding as sea levels rise.  Yeah, if this polar melt really kicks in, you might want to reconsider any beachfront property.  The report calls for two paths of action: mitigation and adaptation.  The latter means preparing for the worst case scenario.  I have no idea what that would entail.  Invest in a good, eco-friendly air conditioner (if such a thing exists)?  Move to higher ground?  Pack up as many penguins and polar bears as we can and build habitats for them?  The former of the plans would mean curbing carbon emissions from things like cars and power plants.  You know, that part that makes corporate America really unhappy?

Speaking of which, detractors have already attacked the report, flitting between the usual responses of cost and fraud.  Mitch McConnell called the argument hypocritical of "liberal elites" who are out to damage the economy.

Somebody break it to Mitch that the economy is already being damaged.  And it's about to get a whole lot worse.  The scientific community is in consensus as to what is happening with the rise in temperatures and its ensuing effects.  The only resistance at this point is political.

This is unquestionably one of the biggest issues of our time.  History will judge us by how we act.

Or don't.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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