Commentary: Mother Nature is sending us wake-up calls about climate crisis
The following is a commentary opinion item submitted to the newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
By Mary Jo Bibby, member of Citizens for a Sustainable Future, Alexandria, MN
Mother Nature is sending us wake-up calls. She is urging us to get serious about confronting the detrimental effects of human-induced climate change. Our atmosphere now holds the most carbon ever recorded since the pre-industrial age. CO2 and other toxic gases act like a blanket that traps the earth’s heat, causing the earth’s average temperature to rise to the highest levels in 11,000 years.
Our climate crisis is causing extreme weather events which are becoming more common. A megadrought is currently affecting the Colorado River Basin which fills Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir that provides water to millions of people in the Southwest. Record heat and drought have caused wildfires that have burned three million acres so far this year— almost three times the 10-year average. Increased evaporation also causes more frequent heavy downpours. Recent flooding in Yellowstone National Park washed away roads and bridges as thousands of visitors were ordered to evacuate the park. Worldwide, the picture is even grimmer.
Recognizing the need for action to mitigate the damaging effects of burning coal, gas and oil is not a recent concern. For three decades the “Conference of Parties” — COPs — has brought almost every county on earth together for global summits, bringing together negotiators, governments, scientists, businesses and citizens. At the 2015 COP21, known as the “Paris Accord,” every country agreed to work together to limit average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) and to aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, this warming target is much lower than where civilization is currently heading.
Although a few degrees may not seem like it should cause a significant impact on our planet, we must consider that this is an average global temperature. The average must account for our vast oceans which absorb an enormous share of the additional heat generated by rising carbon levels, leaving the actual land part of earth where people actually live much hotter than those few degrees would indicate. To prevent catastrophic climate conditions, we must achieve a 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by the end of this decade. Cutting emissions is critical if we are to lessen the odds for more frequent and record-breaking extreme events — melting ice sheets causing sea levels to rise, severe droughts affecting crop yields, warmer temperatures drying vegetation which burn more easily, and heavier downpours causing devastating floods.
The effects of our climate crisis are indeed dire, but experts maintain we are capable of limiting further warming. We must quickly transition to renewable sources of energy and reach net zero emissions as soon as possible. Decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels in the long run will offer huge economic and social benefits, costing consumers less, creating jobs in multiple sectors, reducing our reliance on foreign sources and protecting biodiversity. Improving our air quality will save thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in healthcare costs. We have the technology and the knowledge to avert a climate catastrophe. We can demonstrate our hope and concern for future generations by educating ourselves.