Ecological challenges arise as climate change increases

by MATT MOLINAR//Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

[Editor’s note: This story is the first part of the multi-part series “Climate Crisis” examining the causes and effects of climate change that begins with Issue #1 and concludes in Issue #6. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.]

The idea of climate change has become a largely politically polarized concept. But the nation’s leading climate scientists say it’s time to make a choice.

Using tools to measure precipitation, temperature, and sea level, climate scientists have noticed that the average amount of rainfall has increased over time, along with the average sea level and temperature. However, almost half of the planet’s population does not agree with these research discoveries.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, out of 40 nations that were polled, including the United States and Latin America, the global average of people who say climate change is a serious problem is 54 percent. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists claim that climate is changing.

At the beginning of September, three hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Katia, made their way into the gulf of Mexico, while wildfires began engulfing the West Coast. The closeness in time of these events has increased the growing concern about climate change.

However, according to renowned atmospheric scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, having multiple hurricanes in the Atlantic, along with large amounts of land engulfed in flames around this time of year, is not to be indicative of climate change.

“Whenever we get so many intense events at the same time, we naturally think, ‘Why is everything happening at the same time like this?’” Dr. Hayhoe explained in an interview with the Plainsman Press. “The reality is that a lot of the timing is just bad luck. At the same time, though, we do know that climate change is exacerbating the risks associated with them [natural disasters].”

Studies conducted by climate scientists, such as Dr. Hayhoe, claim that in a warming world, forest fires in the West have claimed more land on average today than they have in the past. Dr. Hayhoe says that the same idea can be applied to hurricanes.

“For any given hurricane, there is more precipitation associated with the hurricane in a warmer world,” she said. “Sea level is higher, so storm surges are stronger. Hurricanes also get their energy from warm ocean waters. So we don’t expect more frequent hurricanes in the future. But what we do expect is that the hurricanes we get on average will be stronger from the warming ocean waters.”

According to NASA, the climate has naturally fluctuated in the past 7,000 years, when the modern climate era began, as a result of small variations in Earth’s orbit and solar energy. In 1950, carbon dioxide emission levels increased dramatically. Sixteen out of 17 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. With statistics such as these discovered by researchers with the same methods that predict when the next solar eclipse will occur, Dr. Hayhoe says that denial of climate change can be associated with one’s political party.

“Climate change is one of the most politicized issues in the entire country,” Dr. Hayhoe said. “A colleague of mine did a study in New Hampshire, where they had a record warm January a couple of years ago. He asked people, ‘Was this January unusually warm?’ The further to the right on the political spectrum they were, the more likely they were to say, ‘No.’ They knew what it felt like, and they lived through January. Why don’t they think it was warm?”

According to Dr. Hayhoe, people will deny the evidence from their own lives in order to maintain the image of which political party they identify with.

“For example, if I’m a Republican, I don’t have to believe all this stuff that people are telling us,” she said. “So I’m going to deny what I see, because otherwise, I can’t be who I am. It’s important to point out that this is not a liberal or conservative thing. It’s a fact.”

There are solutions across the whole spectrum, according to Dr. Hayhoe.

“That’s where the argument should be,” she adds. “We should be arguing in politics today over what the best solutions are, because that’s not science. That’s politics.”

According to Dr. Hayhoe, it is in the best interest of fossil fuel production companies to slow the momentum of the transition into using clean energy. Making the switch to clean energy may not be expensive to the economy, but to fossil fuel production companies.

“If you look at the 10 most wealthy corporations, five out of 10 are fossil fuel companies,” Dr. Hayhoe explained. “But just look at the impact clean energy has on our economy. Here in Texas, we have over 25,000 jobs in the wind energy industry alone. In the first quarter of 2017, we got 23 percent of our energy from the wind.”

Dr. Hayhoe says that wind and solar energy are so cheap that Fort Hood signed an electricity contract for wind and solar energy in order to save tax payers $158,000,000, compared to if they had used natural gas.

“There are more jobs in the solar industry in the U.S., than there are in the coal industry,” she said. “Clean energy is great for our economy, but there are always going to be winners and losers. We’re getting around to the fact that fossil fuel industries are going to be losers.”

According to Dr. Hayhoe, reversing the effects of climate change could be a possibility, with the added benefit of sustainable construction materials as a result.

“Scientists are working on ways to suck all that carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” she explained. “They are turning it into blocks, baking soda, and figuring out ways to do it. The only problem is that it’s very expensive to do this. For right now, it’s a lot cheaper to replace fossil fuels with clean energy than to suck all that stuff out of the atmosphere.”

[Photo courtesy of Dr. Katharine Hayhoe]

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