Good news about the COVID-19 pandemic: it will kill fewer people than will die as a result of the changing climate.
Scientists are sounding alarms that the planet is heating up much faster than predicted. Our environment is changing more quickly than plant and animal species can adapt. The coronavirus affects mostly humans, but a warming planet affects all life.
Fortunately for first-world humans and their pets, air conditioning will protect them from an overheated earth. Or will it?
(Richard M. Nixon liked to have wood crackling in his fireplace. When the room became uncomfortably warm, he cranked up the air conditioning.)
More than 3.6 billion refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioning units are in use around the world, keeping our bodies comfortably cool, our food and beer cold and our pizzas frozen. In days of extreme heat, air conditioning keeps the most vulnerable of us alive. Those that don’t have AC want it and many will get it. Air-conditioning use increases at the rate of ten percent a year.
The problem is that all this cooling contributes to heating up our atmosphere. Cooling units use hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), the replacement for hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), which the Environmental Protection Agency banned in 2010. (Who knows, the current E.P.A. may bring them back.) HFC is not as bad as HCFC, but it’s still a greenhouse gas being diffused into the atmosphere.
Cooling equipment uses electricity, a lot of it, and not very efficiently. Most equipment sold today is only one-half to one-third as efficient as what is available today. And as we know, most methods of electricity production releases greenhouse gases. Clean coal, anyone?
As with most everything, there are no simple solutions.
“How do you get people to protect themselves from something they don’t believe in?”
– Steve Andrews
A meteor hit earth near a small town in Pennsylvania. The impact released a diminutive mass of formless, gelatinous goo. The sludge attached itself to a hapless human victim, devouring it before oozing its way to the next unsuspecting prey. The muck grew larger with each person it consumed. As it increased in size and appetite, panic ensued in town.
The 1958 motion picture “The Blob” tells the story. Steve McQueen, in his first starring role, portrays the protagonist Steve Andrews, who encounters the monster’s first victim. (The movie features a theme song composed by up-and-coming songwriters Burt Bacharach and Mack David.) As the beast grows, neither bullets nor fire nor electric shock can stop its relentless rampage. Eventually, the ogre retreats when Steve aims the chilling spray of a CO2 fire extinguisher at it.
While the townspeople race off to round up all the fire extinguishers they can find, Lieutenant Dave is on the radio to Washington: “I think you should send us the biggest transport plane you have, and take this thing to the Arctic or somewhere and drop it where it will never thaw.”
Lieutenant Dave: “At least we’ve got it stopped.” Steve Andrews: “Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold.”
Not only is the average temperature rising in the Arctic, it’s increasing at a pace much faster than anywhere else on earth.
Be ready with your CO2 extinguisher.
The Colonial Theatre, prominently featured in the “The Blob,” is putting on a stay-at-home version for its Blobfest 2020.
The day after Thanksgiving, while we were still semi-comatose from overindulging on food and family, the White House quietly released the latest report on the state of the world’s climate. Friday afternoon is typically news-dump day, a day for the government to release information it hopes few will read. (You can read it here.) The current occupant of the White House has already gone on record that he doesn’t believe it.
Both senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and twenty of their House colleagues voted against the 2013 Hurricane Sandy Relief Act. (In the previous fiscal year, Texas received more federal disaster relief money than any other state.) All but four Texas reps voted in favor of initial Harvey relief legislation. The four dissenters don’t represent coastal districts, so they don’t care.
Florida Governor Rick Scott (still the record holder for Medicare fraud) warned residents of his state as Hurricane Irma bore down on them, “This is a catastrophic storm our state has never seen.” Governor Scott in 2015 purportedly banned state employees from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” Post hurricane, he still demurs when questioned about the subject, his stock answer, “I am not a scientist.” (I am not a doctor, but I know a 105° fever requires attention.)
Climate-change denier Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (a legacy of the Nixon administration) says it would be “very, very insensitive to the people in Florida” to discuss the cause of “these massive, anomalous storms.”
The Los Angeles Times recently published a concise summary of scientific consensus about cause and effect of natural catastrophes and why we can expect more in the future.
Wind & Rain – Rising sea levels mean more flooding – storm surge – when storms push water into the shore. Warmer air results in more moisture in the atmosphere, so… when it rains, it pours. And oh yeah, scientists say there’ll be fewer weak storms. That’s because more of them will be Category 4 and 5.
Lack of Wind & Rain – Warmer temperatures mean quicker evaporation into the atmosphere to feed the storms in hurricane zones. Meanwhile, in the southwestern U.S., even with normal rainfall – which has not occurred the past few years – the ground will be drier meaning less moisture for living things.
Fire – Dry conditions mean more fires. Duh. Warmer weather also means greater survival rates for pine beetles that generally perish in frigid conditions. The pest has expanded its area of devastation from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
According to Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University, “The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. They are playing out before us, in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home.”
The Planet Earth set several records in 2015:
The Earth experienced its hottest year on record
Greenhouse gas concentration was the highest on record
Ocean surface temperatures were the highest on record
Global sea level rose to a new record high
More floods and droughts ravaged the planet
Arctic sea ice continued to disappear
Not to worry though. The Earth doesn’t care. It was OK before humans arrived and will recover and be just fine after we’re gone.