Global warming an urgent problem for Kaua‘i

Editor’s Note:

Walt Barnes’ global warming column will run on the last Sunday of each month. This is a re-print of the first installment, which was published Oct. 14 in error with a different byline.

Seven years ago, scientists thought global warming might cause the North Pole arctic ice sheet to completely melt by the end of this century. But this September, the Arctic summer sea ice shrank to more than 20 percent below the previous record low.

“The reason so much (of the Arctic ice) went suddenly is that it is hitting a tipping point that we have been warning about for the past few years,” said James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

In the last six months, estimates of when the North Pole ice cap will completely melt have been revised to 2023.

At least one climate scientist, Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School, projects a blue, ice-free Arctic Ocean in summers by 2013, an event that has never occurred as long as human beings have inhabited the planet.

In the last year, estimates of when climate change will cause widespread famine have been revised to 2020. The September report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes estimates that food production in Africa is now expected to be cut in half by 2020 and that some crops such as wheat will eventually disappear there completely.

Africa has trouble producing enough food to feed its 680 million people today. It is hard to imagine how it can feed an estimated 990 million Africans in 2020 when that continent’s food production is halved.

In the last year, estimates of when sea levels will rise 3 feet have moved from 2200 to 2100 (some say much earlier), creating 70 million refugees in the developing world.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado concluded that if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed and we continue with “business as usual,” humanity will be committing the planet to a sea level rise as drastic as 20 feet.

Bette Otto-Bliesner from NCAR said, “We could get 3 feet of sea level rise per century.” A year ago we thought 2017 was when greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere would reach the danger level of 450 ppm. But last month Australian scientist Tim Flannery disclosed that the upcoming IPCC report will show that greenhouse gas levels have already reached 455 ppm.

He said, “It establishes that the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that could potentially cause dangerous climate change. We thought we’d be at that threshold within about a decade, that we had that much time. I mean, that’s beyond the limits of projection, beyond the worst-case scenario as we thought of it in 2001.”

Coal, oil and gasoline are loading up our atmosphere with so much carbon dioxide that the planet acts like a parked car on a sunny day with the windows rolled up. Just like the vehicle gets hotter inside than outside, the build-up of CO2 in the air makes the Earth hotter and hotter. Climate scientists see the man-made effects of global warming on 10 different aspects of Earth’s environment: surface temperatures, humidity, water vapor over the oceans, barometric pressure, total precipitation, wildfires, change in species of plants and animals, water run-off, temperatures in the upper atmosphere and heat content in the world’s oceans.

“There are now no loose ends. The message is pretty compelling,” said Ben Santer, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

The greenhouse gasses from today and last year and the last 20 years are going to be floating around the atmosphere for a long time causing trouble.

“It is too late to avoid all climate change impact,” warned Martin Parry, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group on Food Security. “Our choice now is between a damaged world and a severely damaged world.”

We can’t hide from this problem. It is a global problem that will affect us even here in the middle of the ocean. The sea waters will creep up, destroying our beaches much more quickly than nature can rebuild them. Our harbors and coastal infrastructure will become inoperable. Tropical diseases like malaria could become endemic on Kaua‘i.

This series of columns will look at the man-made causes of global warming, the almost inconceivable problems we will face if it isn’t controlled, and focus on what we all need to do right now so our children and grandchildren will have a chance to live a life as rich as our own. We will focus on what our leaders in local government right here on Kaua‘i must do, what our utility must do and what we as individuals must do.

Upcoming columns will explore:

• The science explaining the causes of climate change.

• Where we are headed right now; is it already too late for our grandchildren?

• What are the global solutions we need?

• What county infrastructure needs to change? What does our county government need to do right now?

• What does our electric utility need to do right now?

• What does each of us need to do in our own lives?

• What leadership is needed at the state and federal level to address this problem?

We don’t know if they will act on Maui and O‘ahu, if they will act in California and Kansas. We certainly don’t know if they will act in Canada, China, India and Italy. We must hope so, because our survival here on Kaua‘i depends on their actions. And their survival depends on our actions.

Act today, to help tomorrow

• Replace light bulbs used more than one hour a day with compact fluorescent bulbs. The benefits include saving a little on your electric bill and helping to save the planet.

• Install solar water heating to save about a third on the average electric bill and cut down personal contributions to global warming. KIUC offers rebates or zero-interest loans to install the system, and there are state and federal tax incentives as well.

• Car pool to work. Driving back and forth alone accounts for a large part of an individual’s role in global warming. Share a ride with a neighbor, spend less on gas, and have someone to talk to while stuck in traffic.

• Walt Barnes is a resident of Wailua and writes a series of columns about the man-made causes of global warming for The Garden Island.


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