Earlier this week it was reported an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Scientists monitoring the ice shelf cannot definitively attribute the break to climate change, but warming water and air cannot be ruled out either. Most likely the break was naturally occurring, and since the iceberg was already floating, it won’t contribute much to sea-level rise. It’s the same concept of ice melting in a glass of water. Water levels remain the same because the ice cube is displacing an amount of water equal to its own weight.
The most recent break from the Larsen C Ice Shelf isn’t cause for serious alarm now because the size of this iceberg isn’t abnormally large. However, what’s worrisome is the potential collapse of the parent ice shelf decades from now.
To provide some perspective, let’s discuss my favorite disaster film – The Day After Tomorrow.
(Note: If you’ve never seen the movie, you need to get your life together. The level of cataclysmic climate shenanigans is epic.)
Dennis Quaid and his paleoclimatologist bros (no need using character names here) are drilling for ice core samples on the Larsen Ice Shelf when the ice sheet suddenly cracks beneath his feet. Somehow through the power of movie physics, Quaid survives and doesn’t fall to his death.
Quaid goes back to the lab and realizes that all these wild weather patterns may be due to global warming. He flies to a conveniently held United Nations conference so he can warn world leaders of their pending doom. Of course no one listens because death and destruction must happen first before our leaders take action.
Quaid was trying to explain this simple concept to leaders: global climate is controlled by our oceans.
Ocean currents are a conveyor belt transporting warm water and precipitation from the tropics to the poles, and cold water from the poles back to the equator. The ocean acts as a big heat-retaining solar panel, especially in the tropics, and distributes this heat through evaporation. The colder and saltier the ocean water, the denser it is. The greater the density created between cold and warm water, the more mixing and circulation will happen.
So when the newly single Larsen was no longer in a long-term relationship and was ready to hit these streets, its movements would cause a severe drop in ocean temperatures – much like a massive typhoon – and disrupt the entire North Atlantic Current.
In a matter of hours, dozens of tornadoes touch down in Los Angeles tearing up the airport and everybody’s insurance coverage. There’s a blizzard in San Diego, and hail rains down on Tokyo like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Home dude in Scotland dies because Europe freezes over, and a monstrous storm surge floods all of Manhattan, where Quaid’s movie son Jake Gyllenhall is stranded. By the end of the day, the temperature drops to the point where the Northeastern part of the U.S. experiences a severe snow storm.
In the end, Quaid saves Jake, but the government ignored the warning signs and hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. (The movie did not reference how many people died, but I’m estimating numbers based on damage shown throughout the film.)
I know that the depiction of events unfolding in such rapid succession in the film is highly unlikely. But the movie fast-forwards the speed of climate processes so that viewers can understand the magnitude of what’s happening on a timescale that’s relatable.
Climate is part of the geologic time scale. Yet, we are constantly being asked to comprehend the slow rate of geologic processes on a human time scale. We think in minutes, days, months and years.
Humans have difficulty grasping the metric of time in regards to what feels like ancient history compared to the nearness of ‘today.’ We are wired to focus on the near future and short-term consequences.
Even though impacts are already taking place, the most significant impacts of climate change still lie in the future. And because climate change is an extension into the future, there is a distance between what’s happening in our lives now and what will happen down the road. That’s why it’s easier to respond to the aftermath of a hurricane than putting together a 20-year climate preparedness plan for coastal communities.
It’s hard for us to conceptualize that we have the capability to alter the landscape of this planet. But we’ve documented what happens decades after we drain lakes, blow off mountaintops and deforest land. We know that change is happening now.
Since 1963, Lake Chad – a major water resource for Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon – has shrunk 90 percent. As Obama was running for his first term as president in 2007, Syria entered a three-year drought, leading to a civil war and the current refugee crisis. Last year, an entire island community in Louisiana started planning its move to a new region of the U.S. after losing 98 percent of its landmass. It only took 60 years of flooding and storm surges to see their home disappear.
The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. For billions of years, geologic events unfolded without being seen or felt by humans. Tiny changes happening in increments of tens of thousands of years brought us to where we are today with earth’s climate. That’s too long for the mind to truly comprehend.
But not being able to see or feel something shouldn’t erase what evidence is showing what’s happening and what will happen. Climate change will not impact this planet or certain populations of people equally. There must be more long-term thinking and the inclusion of people in the narrative to bridge the distance between geologic time and human time.
I was in Paris last week where temperatures reached 97 degrees Fahrenheit, and at one point had a heat index of 105 degrees. My husband and I did our best to stay in the shade and cool off indoors while exploring the city, but we were miserable until the temperature broke. Our love for the efficiency of the Parisian metro system waned when we had to ride trains that didn’t have air conditioning. Even our accommodations for the first two days only had a rotating fan. Our Airbnb host said, “This is Paris. There’s no air conditioning. What did you expect?”
Well, sir, I expect for businesses, and dwellings and public transport to have air conditioning, or a fan big enough to blow my edges away. Sitting on a broken down train for 30 minutes when it is 100 degrees is not part of my ministry. (Nor is walking through the halls of Versailles with no air circulating. But that’s another story.)
More people die each year from extreme heat than all other natural disasters combined.
Heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, but hundreds of people will die this year due to heat exposure and humidity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 618 people are killed in the U.S. every year due to extreme heat. By the summer of 2030, climate change could cause an additional 11,000 heat-related deaths in the U.S.
Those of us living in cities are at a higher risk of heat-related illnesses due to the urban heat island effect, where manmade surfaces and human activity causes cities to be warmer than surrounding non-urban and rural areas. Not only are roof and pavement surfaces often 50 – 90 degrees hotter than the surrounding air, elevated temperatures in heat islands can increase levels of air pollution and impair water quality.
Children, the elderly, individuals with chronic illnesses, people working outdoors and low-income families in poor housing conditions are most vulnerable to temperature extremes. Race and poverty also contributes to more non-white Americans (primarily black Americans) dying from heat-related causes than white Americans. Poorer neighborhoods tend to have less tree cover and more asphalt compared to affluent neighborhoods. Studies also show they have less access to air conditioned facilities.
Summer has just arrived and Phoenix has already set daily records with temperatures reaching 120 degrees, causing a surge of heat emergencies. Heat exposure is said to be the possible cause of 12 deaths in the metro Phoenix area last week. The heatwave is also responsible for the deaths of another 18 people in other parts of Arizona, Nevada and California.
We’re starting to see milder winters, prolonged heat waves and more days with elevated temperatures due to a warming climate. Without additional adaptation, we will see an increase in heat-related deaths, illnesses and hospital visits, especially in metropolitan areas. We’ll also continue to add higher concentrations of greenhouses gases due to high electricity demands during the summer months.
Current support services during heat waves include providing water, air conditioning and access to cooling centers, but cities must do a better job of implementing green infrastructure as part of its urban planning. More local governments need to take steps to reduce energy demands and help residents reduce their vulnerability to heat with cool or green roofs, cool pavements, trees and vegetation.
And we need to put vulnerable populations first. Installing green roofs on new buildings in gentrified areas only serve a subgroup of the population that generally aren’t categorized as being vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Cool roofs should be added in low-income housing communities. Something as simple as planting trees along the streets in high-poverty neighborhoods can make walking to the grocery store or waiting for public transit more bearable.
Additionally, green infrastructure reduces stormwater runoff and noise pollution, improves air and water quality, decreases crime, enhances community aesthetics and creates community cohesion.
Creating programs that provides funding for residents to invest in greening their neighborhoods are cooling measures that need to be considered to reduce the risk of heat emergencies and deaths. We need cities to reduce the burden for those who are most susceptible to extreme temperatures, and green infrastructure is the next viable solution.
Today, nearly one billion people around the world will celebrate Earth Day, and tens of thousands of Americans will attend rallies and teach-ins for the March for Science.
It almost seems absurd that we even have to take to the streets to defend the role science has in our everyday lives, but alas, here we are.
There was a time when science, especially environmental issues, had bipartisan Congressional support. Emotions and politics did not overrule scientific research, and our effort as humans to better under the physical and natural world through observation and experiment was not questioned.
But somewhere along the way, many of our political leaders have steered away from evidence-based science to inform our policies. Now agencies like the EPA and NOAA face sweeping budget cuts that will harm our economy, our planet and our safety.
We know the current state of our planet: critically stressed and deteriorating because of human activity, manifesting in our climate, plant and animal species, food, the air we breathe and water we drink.
But there is hope.
Because today I see an entire global population coming together to celebrate our planet. I see citizens of the world planting trees, cleaning up rivers and teaching our children to be stewards of the environment. I am hopeful because of us. We are showing the world that science is for all.
Knowledge is power.
Research drives prosperity, both economically and socially. Science has extended our average life span, and shown us the impact of lead poisoning and how to harness the sun and wind into renewable energy sources.
There are no such things as alternative facts. Climate change is not a hoax. We know this and must double down to promote the fundamental principles of science and science literacy.
The U.S. can and should lead the world in innovations. But it takes a commitment and investment from our elected officials. If President Trump truly believes in “America First,” then we must help him see how that government funding is crucial to research and training the next generation of scientists.
Everything from genetics and botany to geology and anthropology helps drive this country. Even the military relies on science.
So when Congress introduces new legislation to undo regulations that protects our air and water, remember today and the number of people who celebrated Earth Day. When this administration blatantly denies the role of carbon dioxide in global warming, remember that scientists, and science lovers, stood up and organized a march as a sign of resistance.
Science will prevail.
Last week, Scott Pruitt gave an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box in which he denied the role of carbon dioxide as the primary contributor to global warming.
Our nation’s top environmental official stated:
I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.
But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.
Even though I know where the EPA chief stands on climate change, I was still enraged about how blasé he was about denying climate science. So, I took to Twitter.
I ended up in a debate with someone who thought I had fallen for the left wing media’s lies. He claimed to have an engineering degree and boasted about how he designs power plants. I have a degree in earth sciences. You’d think that we’d find common ground with our STEM backgrounds, but it was a wasted effort.
Our conversation devolved from funny meme responses and trying to discuss solutions to fossil fuels to him mansplaining how energy and power plants worked. It wasn’t a productive use of my time, so I checked out. I mean, it is Twitter after all.
If you believe in the science, then you know that our planet’s climate is changing at a rate unlike anything we’ve seen across geological records, and that this warming trend is caused by human activity and not natural changes such as changes in the sun’s output or volcanic eruptions.
But what people who don’t believe the science? How do we effectively engage climate change skeptics?
Here are some tips:
Grist has a comprehensive list of responses to the most common skeptical arguments.
Science shouldn’t be a political issue, but it has become one. Non-scientists such as President Trump are debating professional scientists about their work. In the last presidential campaign, we witnessed a widening division between Americans who believe science outweigh the potential harms, and those who view science. How we perceive science and our willingness to trust science translates into how much the public will fund science. This is why we're seeing severe budget cuts to the EPA and NOAA.
As a communicator, I’ve learned that people don’t just absorb information. They have filters. It’s why the war on science is never-ending and throwing facts at people does not work. People seek out information that is agreeable to their beliefs and will argue against information that is contradictory to those convictions, especially if it’s tied to their identity. What I’m telling you will be accepted or rejected based on your predispositions. It is hard to change a person’s convictions purely based on scientific evidence.
Environmentalists must work daily on finding ways to break the selective bubble of the climate-skeptical constituency and hone their debating skills, myself included. Engaging with climate change deniers is frustrating and can be draining, but it’s an opportunity to help someone who may be listening to think differently.
We need our elected officials to understand the need to commit funding and staffing resources to climate research, mitigation efforts and adaptation in our top environmental and climate science agencies.
In the end, every little bit counts.
At least 24 tornadoes touched down in the South and Midwest over the last two days. Last week, more than 20 tornadoes ripped through the Midwest, with an EF4 touching down in Perryville, Missouri. Massachusetts experienced its first-ever tornado in February, and Minnesota set a record yesterday for the earliest reported tornado in a calendar year.
There have been at least 250 confirmed tornadoes in 2017 that have claimed the lives of 24 people, wreaking havoc on communities that will have to find a way to pick up the pieces and rebuild.
As we’re witnessing now, tornadoes can happen throughout the year, even during the winter. But sadly, we haven’t even reached peak tornado season which occurs from April through June.
Natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes are increasingly putting a strain on the federal budget. And with an increase in temperature due to climate change, there will be more extreme weather the federal government will have to pay for.
Which is why it’s so odd that the Trump administration has proposed a 17 percent budget cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of our leading climate science agencies, and an 11 percent budget cut to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency which provides disaster relief. It’s all part of the president’s effort to find money to build a multi-billion dollar border wall.
NOAA would experience cuts in research funding, education, coastal management and resilience, and most importantly its satellite programs, which provides 90 percent of information for weather forecasts. The same satellites that alerts us when extreme weather is on the way, guides commercial ships and monitors crop health.
FEMA helps local, state and tribal governments prepare for emergencies through training and response strategies. Imagine the strain that would be put on community preparedness and recovery efforts if there is a significant cut to its federal budget. It would mean that states that experience big, costly natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy may not have the ability to tap into federal dollars to coordinate a response or rebuild.
According to NOAA, the number of severe weather events that cause at least $1 billion in damage is on the rise. In 2016, there were 15 weather and climate disaster events that exceeded $1 billion in damage from drought, wildfire, flooding, a tropical cyclone and multiple severe storms.
FEMA spends billions of dollars on general relief and flood insurance. The Department of Agriculture spends billions on crop insurance. The Army Corps of Engineers spends billions on flood control. Why are we cutting budgets for catastrophic events we know are on the rise?
Our government should be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to emergency preparedness. Investing in resilience programs through green infrastructure projects will allow communities, especially coastal communities, to be better prepared and withstand damage from natural disasters.
It’s shortsighted and irresponsible for this administration to significantly defund agencies that are crucial to a number of industries and the livelihood of Americans. Unfortunately, history tells us that everybody starts caring until it's too late.
On February 2, Maryland lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to boost the state’s renewable energy standards and override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The bill will increase the requirements for customers to receive 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020; up from the current goal of 20 percent by 2022.
It’s being hailed by environmental advocates as a state legislative victory against an anti-environmental agenda of President Trump.
The new measure will require utility companies to buy more energy from wind turbines and solar panels to meet the new demands.
Hogan vetoed the legislation calling it a “sunshine tax” and claimed it would be an additional burden on utility rate-payers. Republicans also object to the costs that will be passed onto customers.
However, the State Department of Legislative Services estimates that consumers may only pay between $.48 or $1.45 more per month with the new requirements.
Maryland currently has seven coal-burning power plants that contribute to the state’s failing air quality grades for ozone pollution by the American Lung Association. Nearly three-quarters of Marylanders live in areas that have a ‘D’ or ‘F’ in air quality.
The 25 percent increase is the equivalent of taking more than 563,000 passenger vehicles off the road every year.
Democrats believe this bill will boost the renewable energy industry in the state and create more jobs, in addition to reducing carbon emissions and air pollution. Approximately 4,600 direct jobs are expected to be created from the 25 percent increase in clean energy standards.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are more than 183 solar companies in Maryland that employs more than 4,200 people. These companies provide an array of products and services ranging from installations and manufacturing to financing and project development.
Del. Cheryl Glenn (D – Baltimore) said that companies are now looking to invest in manufacturing components for wind energy at the former Sparrows Point steel mill, an opportunity to generate more jobs for the community.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act is part of Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires electricity supplies to “procure a minimum portion of their electric retail sales by eligible renewable energy sources.” This is part of an ongoing effort to sustain the growth of the renewable industry compared to other states.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act will go into effect in early March.
Last night my mother asked about the implications of the current administration’s view points on climate change. We discussed a range of topics, such as the war on science, and the role of the EPA, and the incredulity of how low income communities have water advisories because of years of acidification from coal mining.
Partway through the conversation my mom discusses what the future will look like if we don’t take immediate action, but I had to remind her that we’re already seeing the effects. We’re not just talking about the hottest years on record. We’re talking about cities having to deal with cleanups after hurricanes and superstorms; the collapse of agriculture because of drought and the food crisis it creates. We’re dealing with the mass migration of communities because their homes are slowly sinking into the earth.
We must realize that we’re not dealing in the abstract. This is happening right now.
Tuvalu, a small island nation in the South Pacific, has a total land area of 10 square miles. The average island height of the low-lying island ground is around 6.5 feet, with the country’s highest point only at 15 feet above sea level. Rising seas, storm surges and increasingly violent storms have destroyed villages, forcing generations of families to move to larger islands to seek refuge.
More than one million Syrian farmers were forced to move to overcrowded cities because of drought exacerbated by climate change. Water shortages, bad government policies and lack of employment opportunities, coupled with subsequent violence, forced Syrians to flee to Turkey, Greece and Western Europe. The drought will get worse as it continues across the Middle East and the Mediterranean region, causing more political, economic and social instability.
And it’s also happening here in the United States.
Since 1955, the Isle de Jean Charles – an island off the coast of Louisiana – has lost 98 percent of its landmass from encroaching waters from the Gulf of Mexico due to human activities. Climate change has exacerbated the issue.
In January 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the island $48 million as part of a $1 billion grant to help communities in 13 states adapt to climate change. The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, to which the majority of residents belong, became the first American community to relocate because of climate change.
Unfortunately, they will not be the last. It is projected that 414 cities in the U.S. will face similar problems to Tuvalu and Isle de Jean Charles.
More communities will migrate to new regions and compete for decreasing resources.
We must meet the needs for communities to adapt.
How will farmers and fishermen adjust to droughts, floods, water oceans and an increase in salinization? How will our government respond to vulnerable communities facing an increase in diseases and lack of access to fresh drinking water?
Our energy policies and climate action plans are connected to the refugee crisis. Let’s not wait until people have lost their homes to take action.
Take action to build support for international climate refugees, including the ones here at home.
Within hours of Donald J. Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States, the new administration made its position clear on the environment with the removal of almost reference of climate change on the White House website. The Trump administration launched the America First Energy Plan – a policy that aims to revive our coal industry and boost the economy through untapped natural gas reserves on protected, federal lands. The plan also calls for a commitment to clean coal technology.
Unfortunately, this is not an America first plan. Lifting restrictions and removing what is deemed “harmful and unnecessary policies” is not responsible environmental stewardship. It puts the needs of polluters first and Americans last. The fossil fuel industry benefits the most, not the average American. This drill, baby, drill proposal endangers the health, well-being and economies of our communities.
Sound energy policy cannot consist of clean coal technology because “clean coal” does not exist. Burning coal still produces carbon emissions and toxic waste and there are few technologies that exist for carbon capture and sequestration. Additionally, it’s cheaper for companies to pollute and have taxpayers pay for cleanup than it is to invest in environmentally friendly operations. It would take an act of Congress for these corporations to have an incentive to clean up.
In 2016 alone, there were more than 24 oil pipeline accidents in the United States. Thousands of Americans are still on a boil water advisory because of toxic waste in their water supply. In order for Americans to be truly first with our energy policies, we must ensure that politics doesn’t put our health and safety at risk.
There is a way to stimulate the economy and put Americans to work – through a green economy. We cannot just say the EPA will solely focus on protecting clean air and water resources, without enforcing regulations that make it happen. We must use sound science and move toward building a sustainable future. Americans will be last with an energy policy that puts fossil fuels first.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.