Environmental Problems: Global Disasters Waiting to Happen

Our environments are constantly changing, and correspondingly serious problems arise as a result of these changes.  There are many serious environmental problems, such as pollution, overpopulation, natural resource depletion, waste disposal.  The most important and most talked about problem is global warming, with the associated rise in temperature and sea level.   This was the main impetus for the United Nations (UN)’s Paris Climate Agreement which was reached in December 12, 2015.

This article discusses the world’s environmental problems associated with global warming, and the potential disastrous consequences for the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.

 

Why It Is Urgent to Address Global Warming Environmental Problems Now?  The environment of course has always been changing.  However, there are two reasons why it is much more important to address the consequences of environmental changes now than say 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago.

  • The population of the world was only 1 billion in 1804, and it doubled after 123 years to 2 billion in 1927.  Then it doubled after 47 years to 4 billion in 1974.  The current world population is about 7.6 billion.  The population growth rate is no longer as high as before due to the advent of birth control and smaller family size in some parts of the world.  Nevertheless, it may soon grow to that maximum number that can be supported by our earth, which is estimated by many to be about 10 billions. [1]
  • Many countries are still undergoing industrialization and will consume much more natural resources than before; this will escalate the exhaustion of natural resources.  For example, Americans constitute only about 5% of the world’s population but consume about 24% of the world’s energy.  On average, one American consumes as much energy as 2 Japanese, 6 Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians, and 370 Ethiopians. [2]  Therefore, as the world becomes more industrialized, the world’s environment problems will drastically increase.

 

The Greenhouse Effect:  Human activities, especially related to industrialization, produce gases such as carbon dioxide.  When such gases are trapped by the earth’s atmosphere, it warms up the surface of the earth.  Depending on local geography, the resultant global warming can lead to various adverse consequences, including:

  • More drought and more flooding:  Higher temperature causes more evaporation from the earth’s surface (over both land and ocean).  More evaporation can cause droughts.  More evaporation can also result in more moisture in the atmosphere which leads to more rain and therefore potentially more floods.
  • Less ice and snow:  Areas that are dependent on water from melting ice and snow from mountains will have less water.
  • More extreme weather incidents:  Warmer climate will cause more heatwaves, more violent rainfall and also an increase in the number and/or severity of storms.
  • Rising sea level:  Sea level rises because of melting ice and snow, and especially because of the melting of age-old glaciers.  Because water expands when warmed, this also causes the sea level to rise.

Recent published data from the U.S.’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) state that the frequency of coastal (including our Jersey Shore) flooding from high tides has doubled in the U.S. in just 30 years. [3]  Furthermore, this is a universal problem for the whole world, and not just for the U.S.

For example, on July 12, 2017, after months of anticipation, the Larsen C iceberg separated from the Larsen Ice Shelf in the northwest part of the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. At 2,200 sq miles (5,800 sq km) it is one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, leaving the Larsen C ice shelf at its smallest extent on record and probably since the last interglacial period 115,000 years ago. [4]

Another example is the heavy monsoon rains during the summer of 2017 resulted in unprecedented flooding in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal that killed at least 1,288 people and affected over 45 million. The floods of 2017 are consistent with the globally observed rainfall trend that indicates heavy rainfall events are getting heavier.  This trend has been firmly attributed to climate change. [4]

Global warming triggered the Earth’s third-ever global coral bleaching event, which began in the north Pacific in the summer of 2014, became global in 2015, and extended into a record-breaking 4th calendar year in 2017. (NOAA defines a global coral bleaching event as one apparent in all three ocean basins “across multiple reefs spanning 100 kilometers or more.”)  In the last three decades, 19% of global coral reef area has been lost due to coral bleaching. Global-scale bleaching events were not observed until 1998. [4]

 

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement:  The Paris Climate Agreement is an agreement within the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to control the increase of the greenhouse effect.  After several years of discussion and negotiation, representatives at the 21st Conference of the Parties [5] of the UNFCCC signed the agreement.  The long-term goal of the Paris Climate Agreement is to keep the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aim to keep it 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (the current temperature is about 1°C above the pre-industrial levels). [6]

Essentially all the countries of the world (around 200) have signed the Paris Climate Agreement.  For a while Syria and Nicaragua were the only countries who did not sign the agreement, but both Syria and Nicaragua have signed in 2017.  Although the Paris Climate Agreement is voluntary with no enforcement power, the hope is that because it is critical to the livelihood of the whole world, various countries in the world will be willing to implement the agreement.

 

Implications for Trump Announcing the U.S. Will Withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement:  In June 2017, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. [7]  This is an issue that has tremendous impact for the U.S. and the world, with implications for the health and livelihood of our children and grandchildren, as well as more generations to come.  It is one of very few issues that have essentially the whole world in agreement of its importance.  It is an issue that is solidly based on science.  Yet, without even seriously consulting those scientists or his own scientific staff, Trump made his decision.  Why?  Perhaps the following can explain his action.

Coal tycoon Bob Murray was an early campaign supporter of Trump and also a major GOP political donor.  In a series of letters dated to March 28, 2017, Bob Murray told Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt that Trump should issue an executive order to exit the Paris Climate Agreement, which was exactly what Trump did three months later. [8]  Such action would remove the requirement that coal-fired electric generators would need to take action for comply with the agreement, and mean millions, or even billions, of dollars for the coal industry.  The article also pointed out the role played by now-EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who then worked as Murray’s lobbyist.

This is just another example of Trump’s priority, which is to himself, his family, his financial empire, and his financial supporters. What is important to the people of the U.S., the people of the world, or the health of own planet is really not important to him.  This is what we currently have as the President of the U.S.

 

Summary:  Population increase and industrialization across the globe are creating more and more environmental challenges to the world.  Challenges such as global warming are affecting the whole world.  The increase in the world’s average temperature will have tremendous impacts on the livelihood in many localities across the globe.  If we don’t take appropriate actions now, these problems could become insurmountable 50, 100 years from now.  These insurmountable problems will be faced by our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren due to the actions or in-actions that our leaders adopt today.  The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement is a symbol of hope that the leaders of the world are wise enough to recognize the problem and start to initiate actions to address the problem.  Unfortunately, our current president of the U.S., Donald Trump, has already announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

 


[1] See, e.g., “How Many People Can Earth Support?”  Of course, such estimates may not be completely accurate, due perhaps to future unexpected advances in food production, shelter construction, and conversion of salty ocean water to drinkable water.

[2] See, e.g., a 2008 compilation by the Associated Press:  https://public.wsu.edu/~mreed/380American%20Consumption.htm.  Although this 10-year-old compilation is somewhat outdated, especially with respect to the Chinese, the general message is still valid.  As a matter of fact, the message is even more urgent.

[3] See, e.g., The Guardian article “Flooding from high tides has doubled in the US in just 30 years.”

[4] See, e.g., the climatenexus articlc “2017 Climate Impacts Around the World.”

[5] A party usually means a country.  However, the European Union of 28 countries is only one party in the Paris Climate Agreement.

[6] Actually we don’t have reliable data on what were the pre-industrial temperature levels, since such data became available only after the mid 1850.  Climate experts rely on biological or physical archives – known as “proxies” – that preserve past temperature (see, e.g., “The Planet’s Temperature Is Rising.”)

[7] Under the Paris Climate Agreement, the earliest effective date of withdrawal for the U.S. is November 2020.

[8] See, e.g., the 6/6/2018 USA Today article “Coal industry documents show extent of effort to influence Trump on Paris accord, regulations.”

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One Response to “Environmental Problems: Global Disasters Waiting to Happen”

  1. Daniel Wang says:

    Hi Don,

    An excellent article.

    I am concerned about the global warming and its effect on the earth, too.
    So I monitored the earth’s temperature from the following link.
    It appeared that the Earth’s temperate has risen to the peak in 2016
    and started to fall since then. At the same time, China is pushing for the Electric Vehicles which don’t pollute. Tesla’a cars are also EVs.
    China also is gradually replacing coal-based power plants with natural
    gas and nuclear power plants.
    So there are movements to reduce the pollution and hopefully, their efforts
    will cool down the Earth.

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/latest-global-temperatures/

    Thanks.

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