Perhaps it was adolescent naivety because the first time I noticed something was wrong with our environment was in April, 1978. I was twenty years old then, editor in chief of my college newspaper and as such, had just been given an all expenses paid trip to Taiwan.
One day while in the capital city of Taipei I looked out at a busy traffic circle in the downtown area and was completely dumbstruck. The traffic circle was teeming with mopeds and motorcycles, the preferred method of transportation amongst Taiwanese back then. To my utter amazement most of the bikers were wearing paper surgical masks to cover their mouth and nose.
As I had what psychologists call an “aha” reaction I suddenly began to take note of the air around me. It was acrid and oppressive from all the smog. As far as I can tell, the bikers were trying to keep from breathing the CO2 that permeated their air. What those Taiwanese probably didn’t realize back then was that plain paper/nonwoven material surgical masks are permeable to engine exhaust gases. However, they knew they had to take some precaution. As one of the most densely populated countries on Earth, smog was ever present. People in the West will often take pride in claiming that we are ahead of Asian and other Eastern Hemisphere countries in knowing the score. However I believe those Taiwanese in 1978 already knew something that took us a while to catch onto. The environment that we all share is evolving and not in a favorable way. We humans are God’s chosen stewards of Planet Earth yet mankind continues to contribute to its demise.
A battle of epic proportions is raging and there are many participants. Mother Nature and her increasing wrath is one. The big fossil fuel industry, its proponents and most of us who are its customers are another. Then there are scientists and other concerned people who are seemingly fighting a losing battle to stem the tide leading toward environmental Armageddon or as the title of this article calls it “Warmageddon.”
I am 55 years old and can remember most significant events from the time I was four. Therefore my memory spans just a tick over a half century. When I was 5 years old we had a hurricane in New Jersey. We returned home from a vacation at the Jersey Shore to find one cracked mirror in the hallway of our house. That was the sum total of damage.
We always felt secure in the knowledge that hurricanes just didn’t strike here and if they did they were in a weakened state. In 1999 Hurricane Floyd struck New Jersey and its impact was nothing short of colossal. Floods raged everywhere and the entire downtown of Bound Brook, New Jersey was engulfed in flood waters and fire ultimately to be labeled by the government and insurance industry as a write off. Things had certainly changed.
In August 2011, Hurricane Irene wreaked equal or greater havoc on our once safe state.
A year ago, an unparalleled snowstorm hit our state in October (In all my years I never saw this happen) toppling trees still full with leaves, downing utility poles and shutting down power to millions of customers. Then, in a twisted irony (everyone thought we were in for a snowy winter), we only had one snowstorm of about 4 inches for the entire winter. This miniscule snowfall total in New Jersey was unprecedented.
Still don’t think there’s global warming? A couple of years ago I drove by a reservoir that was normally about 15 feet deep at the center on my way up to Ringwood, New Jersey and the reservoir was bone dry.
Later in this analysis I’ll cite some ominous facts and figures about our planet’s burning of fossil fuels that appeared in a July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone article by Bill McKibben entitled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719.
However I first wish to reference some anecdotes about the horrific shift in weather patterns we are seeing in recent years that appeared in the September 2, 2012 issue of National Geographic. The article by Peter Miller entitled “What’s Up With the Weather?” can be easily accessed on the internet. Furthermore, the reason I prefer to precede references to the Rolling Stone article with those of National Geographic is that many neo-conservative pro big energy right wing types would typically dismiss anything from Rolling Stone as left wing liberal claptrap. However National Geographic, which has been published practically since the beginning of time, has a stellar reputation for objectivity. It is beyond reproach. It counts many big business leaders as subscribers. These are the people who we need to goad into some serious soul searching.
Consider some of the following occurrences and observations reported in National Geographic:
In May of 2010, a rain storm that was projected to dump 2 to 4 inches of rain on Nashville, Tennessee produced a whopping 13 inches instead greatly eclipsing the previous rainfall record of 6.6 inches set during Hurricane Frederic in 1979. Said National Geographic, “By Saturday night the Cumberland River had risen at least 15 feet to 35 feet and the corps (US Army Corps of Engineers) was predicting it would crest at 42. But the rain didn’t stop Sunday and the river didn’t crest until Monday – at 52 feet, 12 feet above flood stage. Spilling into downtown streets the floods caused some 2 billion dollars in damage.”
“About three months after Nashville, record rains in Pakistan caused flooding that affected more than 20 million people. In late 2011 floods in Thailand submerged hundreds of factories near Bangkok, creating a worldwide shortage of computer hard drives.”
“Losses from such events helped push the cost of weather disasters in 2011 to an estimated $150 billion worldwide, a roughly 25 percent jump from the previous year. In the U.S, last year, a record 14 events caused a billion dollars or more of damage each, far exceeding the previous record of nine such disasters in 2008.”
Then there were the Texas droughts of 2010 to 2011. Last year Texans endured the hottest summer in most of their lifetimes. Dallas residents sweated through 71 days of temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the worst wildfire season on record in Texas. Fires charred an area larger than Connecticut, nearly twice as much land area as the previous record.
In 2003, a heat wave of literally biblical proportions in Europe claimed at least 35,000 lives.
Global warming is real. As the air around and more importantly above us becomes warmer it holds more vapor. The paradox is that we have extremely hot weather for prolonged periods because the vapor remains trapped above thus causing droughts yet at the same time when it eventually does rain, it pours thus producing flooding.
Another consequence of global warming that has become all too familiar to most of us is that Polar ice is melting at an alarming rate. Over the short term this causes a desalinization of the ocean waters which is destructive to many forms of sea life. Over the long term, the possible scenarios are of more dire import to humans. Sea levels are going to rise to a point where many coastlines which are typically heavily populated will disappear. While this doesn’t happen in the wink of an eye where the citizenry would be engulfed by walls of sea water the economic implications are enormous. Imagine just one city, for example Los Angeles, completely under water. Billions upon billions of dollars in real estate and infrastructure would perish. There are societal implications to such a scenario as well. Where do you locate the millions or even billions of displaced people when coastal cities worldwide become modern day versions of Atlantis?
Are we too blind to see? That may be what the titans of the fossil fuel industries hope for. At least that’s what the aforementioned Rolling Stone article suggested.
The Rolling Stone author cites what he calls the three key numbers members of the scientific community consider in forecast models of our planet reaching a point of no return in its ability to sustain human life. The first number is two degrees Celsius. If average global temperatures climb that much more they say disaster is imminent. The second number is 565 gigatons. That is how much carbon dioxide we can pour into the atmosphere by 2050 and still remain below the two degree rise. The third number is 2795 gigatons. That is the theoretical amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal, oil and gas reserves of the fossil fuel companies. That’s five times the weight of what we can afford to burn prior to 2050.
The author points out that the 2795 gigatons of reserves are worth about $27 trillion. If you told Exxon Mobil, Lukoil and the other giants of the industry that they could only allow a burnoff of one fifth that amount and that they had to write off the other four fifths these companies would be writing off $20 trillion over the next 35 years.
I also recall reading a separate article that postulated that the existing amount of crude oil alone beneath the surface of the Earth is worth more than the gross national products of every country on earth combined. With that much money to be made the argument goes that big oil, coal and gas people will have three words to say. “Burn baby burn.”
It’s easy to see then that even the sobering statistic below pales in comparison to the money that is at stake. According to an August 15, 2012 article on the website “The Extinction Protocol, 2012 and Beyond,” http://theextinctionprotocol.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/mississippi-river-dries-up-as-drought-worsens-how-a-dying-river-could-help-crash-the-u-s-economy/ the Mississippi River has lost as much as twenty feet of depth in many areas due to the past year’s extreme droughts. If it continues to recede at the same rate for another year cargo barges already reducing their loads to stay higher up in the shallower water may not be able to use the river at all. The article estimates that the U.S. could lose $300 million a day in commerce as a result. That’s roughly $100 billion a year. Big number yes but small potatoes compared to the money at stake if a concerted effort were made by all of us to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.
The old cowboys used to say in those B-grade movies “Your money or your life?” From the biggest board rooms to the single consumer we all need to reevaluate our priorities and our energy using habits. Otherwise, Warmageddon may be nearer than we think.