Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change

So I'm not really aware of things like this going on in the blogging world, but it has become clear to me that today is Blog Action Day 2009, and the theme this year is Climate Change. Since I have worked directly in the field of climate change research, I feel like I should do some sort of post for Blog Action Day. Unfortunately, because of the short notice, it won't be as good a post as it might have been; I'm just throwing this together off the top of my head.

Global Climate Change is real. The doubters are losing the argument and becoming fewer and fewer. In the scientific community, it is essentially unanimously accepted that global climate change is happening right now and that it is caused by humans. There are still some significant doubters among the general public who are unconvinced that humans are affecting climate change. But it is well established scientifically that the main cause of the change in climate is the elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and humans are responsible for almost all of that CO2 increase, mainly due to our vast burning of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial revolution. I've heard an argument that humans and human activities output relatively low levels of CO2 compared to nature itself. That is true (the environment is a lot bigger than us little humans), but it is irrelevant; nature is able to balance its CO2 output, while we humans are just putting excess CO2 into the atmosphere without a mechanism to remove it.

The term "Global Warming" is used a lot, but "Global Climate Change" is more accurate. There will be overall warming across the globe, but that is just part of the story. The climate is projected to become more variable as well. We can expect to see both more hurricanes and more droughts. There will be more heat waves for longer periods of time. As climates change, the ecosystems will change as well. Some species may find themselves benefiting from the climate change, but in return others will be hurt, and all around the delicate balance will be disrupted. Who knows what will come out of that? We can bet that we'll lose something we'll miss.

As an oceanographer, I am particularly aware of the issue of rising sea levels (I'm going to be teaching kids about it this Saturday, in fact). As the water stored as ice on land (largely in Antarctica and Greenland) melts and runs into the ocean, the sea level will rise. It doesn't take much of an increase to put significant amounts of land underwater. Now is a bad time to invest in beachfront property.

Another ocean problem you may or may not have heard about is ocean acidification. This is related to climate change, because the more CO2 that is in the atmosphere, the more CO2 gets dissolved in the oceans (it's an equilibrium balance thing). This reduces the pH of the ocean, making it noticeably more acidic. This can cause problems for calcifying organisms (which use calcium carbonate in their shells/skeletons/etc.), including corals, mollusks (the group that includes snails and clams), crustaceans (the group including crabs), echinoderms (the group including sea urchins and sea stars), and coccolithophores (a type of algae which, like other photosynthetic organisms, helps to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere).

I'm sorry that this is all rambling and isn't the most scientific of summaries of global climate change, since it would be fair to expect more from me. But this information is based on what I've heard time and time again in my classes at different universities and in seminars with leading scientists, as well as what I've learned from multiple peer-reviewed publications I've read and research I worked on myself using the suite of global climate model predictions (there are about 20 global climate models from around the world).

In even the best-case scenarios, the Earth is going to get warmer, and the climate is going to change and cause problems. But we can help to lessen those future problems (which will have noticeable effects in our lifetimes). One of the things to do is lessen your energy consumption. Walk or ride a bike, or take public transportation. If you must drive a car, choose something energy efficient, not some huge gas-guzzler. Turn off the lights (as well as the TV, computer, etc.) when you leave the room. Only turn up the heat or air conditioning to the level that you really need. You've probably heard all these things before, but they really can make a difference.

As a side note, even if you don't care about global climate change, you're going to have to find ways to reduce energy consumption sooner or later. I just came from a lecture where the professor told us quite bluntly that we're going to run out of oil, and the only things that are poised to replace it sufficiently are natural gas and coal, which will then run out themselves. We need some unexpected, unlikely advances in technology in order to deal with what happens after that. Sounds like we're kind of doomed, really.

Anyway, I've blabbed on enough about this. Again, sorry it's not better, I just don't have the time right now to do what this post deserves. Maybe I'll write something good in the future. But yeah, Blog Action Day 2009: It's time to care about climate change. Because even if you don't care about it now, in a couple decades, you won't have a choice.

1 comment:

Sebastian said...

Ah, technology will save us.

*the blind faith of the zealot*

I hadn't thought about the lower pH! That's an interesting point.

I guess the main problem is not the climate change, but rather how quickly it will occur.

Also, is it better to plant trees rather than turn off your lights/computers? (I have no idea on the relative CO2 production/consumption)