| Guest columnist
Where is the Thwaites Glacier and why is it referred to as “the Doomsday Glacier”? The Thwaites glacier is located in the Antarctic, near the South Pole, in the Northwestern corner of the West Antarctic ice sheet. It acts like a cork in a bottle, holding up this whole ice sheet.
The Thwaites Glacier is melting … and it is melting fast. Thwaites has already lost twice as much ice a year as it did in the 1990s. Previously, in their 2016 research, scientists found that in a future with radically cut carbon dioxide emissions, the West Antarctic ice sheet could be stable for centuries. However, with the current melting, the outlook is not good. If we do not cut emissions and the Thwaites glacier collapses, scientists fear that much of the West Antarctic would follow it into the ocean, triggering up to 11 feet of sea level rise around the world. Many Pacific island nations would be wiped off the map and coastal cities around the world would be devastated.
Both the Antarctic and Arctic regions are rapidly losing ice. If the Thwaites Glacier collapses and the West Antarctic ice sheet follows, the loss of so much ice would not only create sea level rise but also add dramatically to global warming. Ice reflects sunlight; and when this ice disappears, global warming increases at a much faster rate. This domino effect speeds up the arrival of a tipping point, a point at which climate change becomes irreversible.
Is climate change really happening? Scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is caused by human activity. In seven studies, around 97% of thousands of Earth scientists have agreed that climate change is caused by human activity:
Oreskes (2004) — 100%
Doran (2009) — 97%
Anderegg (2010) — 97%
Cook (2013) — 97%
Stenhouse (2014) — 93%
Verheggen (2014) — 91%
Carlton (2015) — 97%
Yet we continue to pump out carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, in ever-increasing quantities each year, in our coal plants, automobiles and agricultural production. Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere have now reached 417 parts per million, higher than any point in 800,000 years.
Many people believe that global temperatures rotate in and out of warming and cooling periods. So we get hotter sometimes and colder other times. No big deal, right? This warm/cool rotation would not be a big deal if the average global temperature, or climate, over this long period of time remained the same. According to NASA scientists, the average global temperature has risen 1.9°F since 1880. It takes a lot of energy to heat up our planet, and a 1 degree increase in the average global temperature means that temperature increases around the world are much more than one degree.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an average 1.5° increase in global temperature can set off catastrophic events, such as the California and Australian wildfires and Hurricanes Michael and Dorian. Plus, the average global temperature continues to rise. It is not coming down.
In his newly released Netflix documentary “A Life on our Planet,” David Attenborough says that Earth’s history, including the pace of climate change, is a story of slow, steady change. Perhaps this is the reason many people doubt climate change is happening. Because the pace is slow, in the past it has been difficult to actually see what scientists are predicting will happen. But with catastrophic events cropping up more frequently all around the world, more people are becoming believers:
• The wildfires in California and Oregon are setting new records every year with their number, ferocity and widespread destruction.
• More than 20% of Australia’s forests burned during the summer’s bushfire disaster, a proportion scientists believe is unprecedented globally.
• Since oceans absorb heat and carbon dioxide, as heat and carbon dioxide increase in our atmosphere, the oceans become warmer and more acidic. Warming acidic oceans kill coral reefs, which are crucial to the survival of many species of fish. 50% of our coral reefs have died.
• There have been more category 5 hurricanes in the last 17 years than any other 17-year period in recorded history. Warming oceans create stronger storms.
• NOAA reports that 9 of the hottest yearly global temperatures ever recorded have occurred since 2005. Since 1998, more than 166,000 people have died in heatwaves.
There have been five mass extinctions in Earth’s history where from 75% to 90% of all species have disappeared. In all except one, where an asteroid hit the earth, National Geographic cites the single biggest driver of these extinctions was massive amounts of carbon dioxide in the air, produced by volcanoes which enabled runaway global warming. In previous events, it has taken up to a million years to produce enough carbon dioxide to trigger a major catastrophe. We have done the same in just 200 years. If nothing is done, all evidence points to a sixth mass extinction in the not-too-distant future.
We are leaving our children and our children’s children with a world with out-of-control wildfires, soaring temperatures, devastating hurricanes, rising sea levels wiping out coastal cities, and massive die-offs of coral reefs and other ocean life. If carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase, scientists tell us that a tipping point will come at which point the rising heat and its consequences will become irreversible.
We can only stop this at a global level, with each nation taking responsibility for its own actions. This should not be a political issue; it is a bipartisan issue which involves us all. Before you vote, make sure you require the persons for whom you vote believe that climate change is caused by human activity and that they are willing to take action to stop it.
What is coming will make the COVID-19 pandemic look like a drop in the bucket.
It must be stopped.
Tom Lakin is a retired Forest High School mathematics teacher and is a member of the Ocala Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby.
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