On a Cosmic scale our beautiful little blue-green jewel of a planet is some kind of rare miracle – perhaps the only one – in a vast Universe of unimaginable extremes of blazing hot and deep-freezing cold.
But global warming and the resulting climate change is now in the process of showing the world – that part of the world that’s watching, at least – how delicately balanced and vulnerable that miracle is.
Market gardeners and other farmers know a few degrees of temperature either way during the growing season, and the lack of a certain amount of reliable rainfall – say, at least a weekly centimetre or two, about an inch – can make all the difference in the health and well-being of crops.
Whether you believe the current global-warming, climate-change crisis is caused by human industrial activity and especially the continued burning of masses amounts of fossil-fuel or not, it is real, and it is happening.
Lots of people still say the science of climate change is a hoax: Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump for example. Whether he actually really believes that is hard to say. The ever-more controversial real-estate mogul has been called a “world-class panderer,” meaning he will say whatever he thinks his base supporters want to hear. And they include stubborn climate-change deniers, and other conspiracy theorists.
Meanwhile, Trump and the ongoing political crisis in the U.S. related to him is getting so much news media attention there and around the world that other important things are being short-changed; like, for example, the latest annual international “State of the Climate” report. It made news for a day or so, and then dropped out of general-public sight.
Published for the last 26 years, the report led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. government, combined the efforts of several hundred scientists from 62 countries. It confirmed 2015 was a record-breaking year for climate change, with a “toppling of several symbolic mileposts” in heat, sea-level rise and extreme weather.”
“The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. They are playing out before us, in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home,” Michael Mann, described as a leading climatologist at Penn State University, told The Guardian, one of the world’s most reliable news organizations.
Global groundwater resources have shrunk to their lowest level in the 14 years it began to be monitored closely. That’s one thing that stands out for me in the 2015 State of the Climate report, despite extreme rainfall and flooding events in some parts of the world.
It brings to mind a recent study that revealed the world’s groundwater reserves were being used up faster than they can be renewed by natural processes in a 50-year cycle. Parts of once-extensive groundwater basins in the Middle East were cited as among the many in trouble. China was another area facing diminishing groundwater resources.
It should be obvious; but the impact of such critically important environmental issues on human life and the political stability of the human community seldom gets mentioned, for example, regarding the root causes of migrant crisis, and the deaths of thousands of men, women and children, fleeing drought-stricken, war-torn areas.
That too is climate change, “playing out before us, in real time.”
Areas of the world suffering through “severe” drought conditions rose from eight percent in 2014 to 14 percent in 2015. Those areas included Caribbean Island nations, Colombia, Venezuela and northern Brazil, the State of the Climate report says.
“Several South Pacific countries also experienced drought. Lack of rainfall across Ethiopia led to its worst drought in decades and affected millions of people, while prolong drought in South Africa severely affected agricultural production.
“Extremely dry conditions in Indonesia resulted in intense and widespread fires during August-November” that sent vast amount of “carbonaceous” greenhouses gases into the atmosphere.
“Overall, emissions from tropical Asian biomass burning in 2015 were almost three times their 2001-14 average,” the report says.
It predicts 2016 will be another record-breaking year for global warming and climate change.
The Fort McMurray wildfire, which burned a vast area of Canada’s northern Boreal forest, as well as whole neighbourhoods in that city surely comes to mind. The fire was only just recently brought under control.
Now, of all things, Fort McMurray this week was hit by torrential rains and severe flooding.
The city built on fossil-fuel wealth from the oil sands has become the very definition of climate change.
Meanwhile, the Arctic region, and the Arctic Ocean in particular, is an area of the world among those being hardest hit by climate change, the report says:
“On 25 February, 2015, the lowest maximum sea-ice extent in the 37-year satellite record was observed. Mean sea-surface temperatures across the Arctic Ocean during August in ice-free regions ranged as high as eight degrees C above the 1981-2010 average.”
The report notes many species of Arctic wildlife are struggling to survive as they lose their surface-ice habitat, or as competing species are attracted north from the Boreal area by the warmer Arctic temperatures.
Here in Hope Ness, on the Bruce Peninsula, we haven’t had a good, soaking rain for a long time. I go back to dig the first of my many rows of potatoes, push a fork into the ground, and must say I’ve never seen local soil so dry.
A little timely rain early this week probably saved my bean crop, but more rain sometime soon would be much appreciated by the beans, tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, and squash.
My sweet corn crop looks surprisingly okay, and is likely just a few days away from maturity. But many pails of water carried back and forth from a well that’s now almost dry have no doubt made all the difference.
I know as I say that my little problems are like nothing compared to millions of other people in other parts of the world.
Hear me my children, we’re in big trouble. To play pandering, populist politics with the unfolding climate change disaster is dangerous and irresponsible.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in August, 2016