Earth’s ‘fever’ demands attention: Toledo scientist
BLUFFTON, Ohio—A parent wouldn’t take a child with a fever of 1.5 degrees to the emergency room. But that parent would give the child medicine and keep an eye on the fever, a University of Toledo scientist said Oct. 13 at Bluffton University.
Dr. Andrew Jorgensen suggested that humans take the same approach to the Earth, whose average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.5 degrees since 1880.
“We’re not at a catastrophic level,” the associate professor of chemistry and environmental sciences said, but we “better pay attention” to what he called global climate disruption. “The situation may not reach a dangerous level, but it may very well get much worse.”
Temperatures in the continental U.S. set a record in 2012, and 2014 ranked as Earth’s warmest year since 1880, according to separate analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA has also reported that the globally averaged temperature during the first six months of 2015 was a record high for the half-year period, and that August 2015 was the world’s warmest August, also since 1880. That was when thermometers came into use worldwide, Jorgensen noted.
He pointed out, too, that temperature changes haven’t been uniform around the world. For instance, he explained, the increase has been double the global average in the Arctic, where the level of sea ice reached a record low in 2012.
Melting ice and warming oceans have raised sea levels, which have increased by about seven inches in recent years—a “modest” rise, he said, although the rate of increase is three times the historical rate. And at this rate, he added, more than 10 million people are in danger of being displaced by rising seas in countries such as Bangladesh in the not-too-distant future.
The culprit in global warming is an increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the atmosphere, said Jorgensen, also a Senior Fellow for the National Council for Science and the Environment.
An enhanced Greenhouse Effect has been caused primarily by increased carbon dioxide, whose atmospheric concentration—which is measured at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano—has risen over 30 percent in the last 100-plus years. In the roughly 85 years between the births of his mother in 1922 and his granddaughter nearly eight years ago, the generational increase has been a factor of six. “To me,” he said, citing his grandchildren, “it’s worth worrying about.”
“We humans have done this,” Jorgensen continued, noting that energy generation is the largest source of greenhouse gases and that the U.S., while having less than 5 percent of the Earth’s population, has accounted for 26 percent of the world’s emission of those gases since 1870. Europe and China are next at 23 and 11 percent, respectively.
If projected increases in carbon dioxide concentrations occur, the average global temperature is expected to rise by 3.6 degrees by 2050 and by 5.8 degrees by 2100. Those could be “life-threatening” increases, he said, adding that, in a child, they would prompt a trip to the emergency room.
Earth has been that warm before, by 3.6 degrees 130,000 years ago and by 5.8 degrees 30 million years ago, Jorgensen said. But, unlike now, the world’s population wasn’t 7.3 billion—with many people living near an ocean—and the present change is “very rapid,” he pointed out, listing causes for concern. In addition, agriculture and animal cycles have developed with the current climate and so are “set” to it, he said.
Answering the question of what can be done, he advocated reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through various means, including:
∙ improved efficiency in manufacturing, homes and cars;
∙ changing to alternative fuels or nuclear fuel;
∙ reducing destruction of plants and trees, which produce the potent gas methane as they decay; and
∙ personal actions such as recycling of aluminum cans—producing each new can generates 25 gallons of carbon dioxide, he said—driving less and changing temperature settings on home thermostats.
Asserting that he wasn’t just presenting “gloom and doom” about climate change, Jorgensen offered a little “good news” as well. Conservation saves money, “fuel” for solar and wind power is always free and “green” jobs can be a boon to the economy, he said.
We’re not at a catastrophic level,” said Dr. Andrew Jorgensen (right) about climate change, but we “better pay attention” to it. “The situation may not reach a dangerous level, but it may very well get much worse.”