Global Warming: Are We All Screwed?

Left: August 21, 1985. Right: August 29, 2011. The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest landlocked body of water, and it’s getting bigger. In the past couple of decades, heavy rains in the greater Volga Basin have greatly increased the incoming flow from the Volga River, the Caspian’s primary source of water. These images show a small portion of the shoreline. In the 2011 image, coastal settlements have been flooded, displacing inhabitants and shutting down industrial facilities.

The other night, as I lay in the darkness awaiting sleep’s arrival, R’s voice broke the quiet “Do you think we’re really all f*cked, Kat?”

I paused, wondering at the context of the statement.  My first thought, without any context to base it on, was  “Yes.  Yes, we’re all f*cked.”  But, I cautiously asked him what he meant.

“You know, with global warming.  Is it too late to change it?”

I rolled over to face him in the dark and sighed. “Probably.” I replied.

As we both let that fact sink in a bit, I felt uneasy.  The fact that global climate change, as it’s more properly called, has fallen out of the public consciousness isn’t news.  Recent research from the Pew Research Center shows a 13% decrease in those who consider climate change to be a top campaign priority.  It ranks at a dismal 22 in voter’s lists of policy issues they want addressed by the next president, below such nebulous topics as “moral breakdown” and “crime.”

I can’t really speculate as to the reasons for this decline, but Sara Peach, a professor at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill has written that google trend data show that searches for “unemployment” have eclipsed “climate change” and “global warming”  since 2008.  This corresponds with the 2008 financial crisis and a subsequent re-ordering of priorities away from climate change and towards the ongoing recession.

Though we can see that the issue of climate change has fallen from the collective consciousness in recent years, I can’t help but observe the stirrings of a re-emergence of the issue here and there.  On January 13th, a pilot cap and trade program was announced for the Chinese cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenzhen, and the provinces of Hubei and Guangdong.  This follows in the footsteps of similar programs in the European Union, and a voluntary cap and trade scheme  that operated in the U.S. from 2003-2010, called the Chicago Climate Exchange.  This appears to indicate that while Americans may not be thinking too hard about climate change, the Chinese are and they’re willing to experiment with some methods to combat it.

Yet, I sense that Americans, though they might not be talking about it, are sensing that things around them are changing.  Many parts of the United States have seen unseasonably warm temperatures this winter, which has had people raising the question of what exactly is going on?   While some suggest that this is an indication of global warming, a more likely cause is the increasing occurrence of extreme temperature events, a consequence of climate change that was predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as early 1990.

So, what is happening?  And are we all f*cked?  If we are, then do we need to be asking ourselves some serious moral questions about how to confront the challenges that climate change will present us?

Over the next few posts I want to explore some of my own thoughts on the matter, and would love to have feedback from people as to what other issues I should research and discuss.

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