Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

What Do You Want?

The cost of doing nothing.

Not a pretty view. These hemlocks have been killed by woolly adelgids. Photo by Steve Norman, USDA Forest Service

Not a pretty view. These hemlocks have been killed by woolly adelgids. Photo by Steve Norman, USDA Forest Service

By George Harvey

The bad news is that the environment is changing in ways we cannot stop. We may try to guide the changes, but we cannot stop them.

The immediate problem is that Nature is not in balance. Tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide are dumped into the atmosphere each year. It will take a very long time for Nature to get it out of the atmosphere again. Nearly all climate scientists (upwards of 99.9%, according to MSNBC) say our emissions are driving global temperatures up. And the rising temperatures may speed up change even more.

Many people are not impressed with a rise of one or two degrees Fahrenheit. After all, it barely makes a difference in fuel bills. They do not understand the implications.

The temperature change is not uniform and it has effects on other weather conditions that vary regionally. In the Northeast, minimum winter temperatures have already increased over five degrees F., and this has been accompanied by changes in winter precipitation. The result is that an unusual event that used to happen every few years, a period of a few days when temperatures were very cold and there was little or no snow cover, has become ever rarer. It is this combination that kept ticks at bay, and since ticks carry Lyme disease, its absence has brought the disease ever farther north.

Anyone who has contracted Lyme disease in a place where it did not exist in years past is very likely a victim of climate change caused by carbon emissions.

Lyme disease strikes animals also, including moose, though they are actually being killed by the blood loss of tick bites. Other diseases are also causing problems among animal populations, and other diseases are moving into the area. Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus are among them.

Plants are being threatened, as well. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is what is happening to our forests. Our fir and hemlock trees are being attacked by different species of woolly adelgid. Both woolly adelgids given the conditions they require, are quite capable of killing off entire forests of trees, leaving behind what is called a “ghost forest.” Both are propelled by climate change. And there are other invasive insects, such as the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle. Nature is turning messy, largely because of carbon emissions.

The forest path, the picnic area, and the view from our back porch are all under threat. Perhaps the greatest threats are our unwillingness to take responsibility for our destructive actions, mostly burning fossil fuels, and our unwillingness to take responsibility to undertake the things that need to be done to address the problem.

The good news is that by addressing climate change we may be at a point when we can have better health, enjoy greater comfort, and achieve greater prosperity than we have ever had in the past. But we have to ditch the denialism to get there.

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