The consequences of global warming are more dire than just enduring the heat.
As I’ve walked around campus this semester to class, the mailroom, Water Tower Field and back to my off-campus house, I’ve felt that familiar sweaty stickiness as my shirt clings to my back. The heat has been the kind that pierces your skin and leaves you tired. Casting a glance from side to side, I see that everyone else looks the same: sweaty and worn. It’s always hot and humid this time of year, especially in North Carolina, but the bottom line is that it’s hotter than usual. Climate change is as real as Wake Forest midterms, grade deflation and binge drinking.
Increased fossil fuel consumption over the last two centuries has increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to its highest level in over 800 thousand years. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps solar radiation in the atmosphere, resulting in higher global surface temperatures. As carbon dioxide build up passed unprecedented points, it’s analogous to filling up a scolding cup of coffee without paying attention — eventually, it will overflow and burn the hell out of you.
Global temperatures have risen by nearly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, with most of this warming of our dear Mother Earth occurring since 1970. In fact, 15 of the 16 hottest years ever recorded have taken place since 2001, and 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record by quite a margin.
But while the sweltering heat and warming often get the greatest attention, it is other problems that heat causes that are most worrisome.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, the current rise in global temperatures threatens the extinction of 25 percent to 35 percent of plant and animal species. Animals like the Pika, which live in the mountains, are being forced to move to higher altitudes to find tolerable temperatures.
Rising temperatures have led to shrinking ice sheets in areas like Greenland and Antarctica, where more than 11 miles (or 5 trillion tons) of ice have melted between 2002 and 2014. This threatens hunting grounds for polar bears. As water warms, trout and salmon populations will continue to shrink.
Further, ducks and geese have had to change their migration patterns to avoid the cruel and unusual weather. If you’re a fan of hunting, take note because your dinner may disappear.
Another haunting trend in climate change is the rise in sea levels. According to the National Ocean Service, the two main causes of rising sea levels are the expansion of warmed ocean water and the melting of land-based ice. All this heat, and you’re left with sea levels that have risen 6.7 inches over the last century and are conservatively estimated by the EPA to rise between one and four feet by 2100. The danger is not just that ecosystems such as coral reefs and the sea life that relies on them will disappear but also that more frequent flooding will occur. Such flooding is estimated to be as much as 900 percent more frequent in coastal areas than it was just 50 years ago. I hate to sound like the fiddler of the world’s tiniest violin, but this dangerous change is critical because almost 40 percent of Americans live in densely populated coastal areas.
According to NASA, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends are due to human activities. It has become clear that we cannot sit idly by.
Indeed, the question isn’t whether climate change is real, whether we caused it or whether the Chinese fabricated it to make America’s manufacturing industry non-competitive (yes, Trump said this). The question is how we face it and how we overcome it.