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November 7, 2016

Unless+we+make+a+change+in+the+way+we+use+energy%2C+a+seemingly+apocalyptic+landscape+may+be+a+very+real+possibility+in+the+future.

art by Erica Miget and Kailie Otto, map courtesy of Dr. Odd under the Creative Commons License

Unless we make a change in the way we use energy, a seemingly apocalyptic landscape may be a very real possibility in the future.

MESSAGE FROM THE FUTURE, TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

The year is 2050. Millions are dead, and millions more are in grave danger. At the end of every summer, hurricanes ravage the American southeast. The Gulf of Mexico has conquered New Orleans, and Miami and the Bahamas have begun to sink into the Atlantic Ocean. New York and Boston are next. California is completely dry, as are Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. The Amazon rainforest is nothing more than a barren wasteland, and the irregular monsoon patterns in Bangladesh have forced its economy deeper into ruin. But these aren’t the only places devastated by climate change. Armageddon is here, and there is no safe place. So we urge you to do something now, before it’s too late.

 

Without a doubt, the 2016 presidential race is one of the most controversial in American history. Climate change has been a topic of political discussion over the past several decades, but has not been nearly enough of a focus point this election. Not for the Democrats, and not for the Republicans. Confronting climate change has to be a bipartisan effort, and unless we act now, we may soon realize it’s too late.

Confronting climate change has to be a bipartisan effort, and unless we act now, we may soon realize it’s too late.”

For the past several hundred thousand years, Earth’s atmosphere had never allowed carbon dioxide content to exceed 300 parts per million (ppm). This figure may seem insignificant, but around the turn of the 20th century, carbon dioxide levels passed 300 ppm for the first time in Earth’s history, and in March 2015, they passed 400 ppm. But why is this so significant?

Due to increasing carbon dioxide levels, temperatures in Earth’s lower atmosphere constantly rise. Since 1880, the planet’s surface has heated up by a global average of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The 10 hottest years ever have all occurred since 1998, and 2015 holds the top spot. A couple degrees and a trend that appears to move at a snail’s pace may not sound like a big deal, but…

Higher atmospheric temperatures lead to warmer oceans. Since 1969, Earth’s oceans have warmed up by over 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. This may seem like less of a big deal than the rising atmospheric temperatures, but…

Ocean temperature is one of two major factors that contribute to sea level rise. As the oceans heat up, the water expands. But the other factor is much more daunting. The melting land ice sheets from Greenland and Antarctica result from increasing atmospheric temperatures, and the excess water has to go somewhere, so it all runs off into the oceans. Each year, an average of 399 billion tons of ice melts from these two land masses. This annual loss of water, in ice form, could fill 159.6 million Olympic swimming pools, 380,000 Empire State Buildings or all of Lake Erie in less than 15 months. This may seem like a just a drop in a bucket, but…

This drastic increase in sea level makes a difference for low-lying coastal cities like Miami, which is a mere several feet above sea level, and New Orleans, which is below sea level. Over the past 100 years, sea level has increased by 6.7 inches, and the rate over the past decade has been almost twice that of the past century. Maybe sea level rise won’t be the only cause of the demise of some of the world’s greatest cities, but…

Coastal subsidence will surely quicken the process. Large coastal cities are prone to sinking into the ocean because the extraction of fossil fuels and groundwater degrade the soil. A staggering 500 million people live in these river deltas, including the Huanghe Delta in China, which subsides 10 inches per year, Southeast Asia (1.2 to 2.4 inches per year) and New Orleans itself (1.7 inches per year). But, speaking of groundwater and fossil fuels…

Neither resource is renewable. We’re depleting the Ogallala Aquifer under the central United States faster than it can replenish itself, so it won’t be there forever. This shortage of water is already prevalent in California, and the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, isn’t immune to drought. The world’s rapidly growing population requires more freshwater than exists, especially considering our often-wasteful habits. In addition…

Fossil fuels won’t last forever either. We must innovate cleaner forms of energy, such as solar, wind, and yes, nuclear fusion, because these newer, cleaner forms of energy will get us out of the carbon dioxide crisis we got ourselves into with, you guessed it, fossil fuels. So let’s do something now, before it’s too…

 

*Statistics courtesy of NASA

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