To the editor,

In 2018, Pew Research did a survey of 26 countries on the question of climate change as a major or minor threat. Of those countries, the top 13 view it as a major threat. The United States ranked 20thy with 50 percent of the population seeing it as a threat. Israel was last at 38 percent.

For a time, there was doubt about greenhouse warming, which the fossil fuel lobby deliberately fostered. In the US in 2017, 62 percent said polices to protect the environment were a priority; but that slipped to 56 percent in 2018, and only 44 percent say the same about climate change. There is no legitimate doubt today. Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the on before, which rules out natural variations.

In 1900, the deliberate burning of fossil fuels – almost entirely, at the time, coal – produced about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. By 1950, industrial emissions were three times that much. Today, they are close to 20 times as much. In 1965, the carbon dioxide level was 320 parts per million; unprecedented, but only 40 ppm above what it had been two centuries earlier. The next 40 ppm took just three decades. The 40 ppm after that took just two. The carbon dioxide level is no 408 ppm, and is still rising by 2 ppm a year. The last time Earth had a carbon dioxide level similar to today’s, it was on average about 3 degrees C warmer. Greenland’s hills were green. Parts of Antarctica were fringed with forest. The water now frozen over those landscapes was in the oceans, providing sea levels 20 meters higher than today’s.

It is astonishing that the International Monetary Fund estimates fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) received $5.2 trillion in subsidies in 2017.

But, if you don’t believe in climate change like the Republicans I’ve talked to and is reflected in the GOP platform, I put forth the following facts: The past five years have been the hottest since 1880 when climate agencies started tracking global temps. Weather disasters in 2017 and 2018 cost the global economy $653 billion, the costliest back-to-back years in history. Floods in the Midwest have devasted farms and communities, and catastrophic fires are burning California and Australia. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria alone caused $265 billion in damages – all in 2017. I could go on about life dying in the warming oceans, the increase in typhoons and flooding in Asian countries that kill thousands of people, and the drying out of rivers forcing migrations of people to cities.

Can you see yourself living in a daily temperature constantly exceeding 100 degrees F, day and night? Scientists have given us a few ideas to help with the problem – safe disposal of refrigerant chemicals, more onshore wind turbines, reducing food waste, eat a plant-rich diet, repopulate the tropical forests, add solar farms and rooftop solar panels, and combine more woodlands with livestock grazing.

For the most part, the harm warming will do – making extreme weather events more frequent and/or more intense, changing patterns of rainfall and drought, disrupting ecosystems and driving up sea levels – simply gets greater the more warming there is. And its global toll could well be so great that individual calamaties add little.

I won’t be around to see if humanity survives or not, but my kids will see it, so I still care about the future and all the suffering because we didn’t make climate change a global emergency of the highest order.

Patrick Witherow


Load comments