Earth’s life is changing

The dry west coast has burned down and the coast is drowned in a deluge of water. Much of the rest of the country breathed in the smoke of the summer fires as westerly winds carried and delivered the ashes to Colorado, Utah, Ohio and the East Coast.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth assessment report last month as a preface to the November United Nations Climate Summit (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. The report has been called a “code red” by the UN secretary general. It’s a statistical fact that the size and scope of this year’s Dixie Fire now spawns five times more often than before.

We are on the verge of increasing the Earth’s average temperature by at least 1.5 degrees centigrade, which will greatly increase the risk of fire. If we can’t stop loading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and methane, we’ll go past 1.5 and go down to 2.0 (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and according to a report in The Nation, these blazing fires the size of a Dixie will increase in frequency. 14 times the current rate.

If that report weren’t alarming enough, the editors of 220 leading medical and public health journals around the world warned in a collective editorial this week that if countries don’t take urgent action, temperatures will rise ” risk of causing catastrophic damage to health that will be impossible to reverse.

The rise in temperatures is mainly caused by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. The difficulty in reversing the deleterious effects of these gases is that carbon dioxide, for example, remains in the Earth’s atmosphere for about 100 years after its initial release. The lifespan of methane is shorter.

Recent photos of Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam (fed by the Colorado River) show water levels at the lowest level in history. In addition to supplying the city of Salt Lake City with 90 percent of its drinking water, the river is the largest hydraulic artery in the western United States. The Colorado River draws its water reserves from the snowpack of the Continental Divide. Despite a relatively good snowpack recently, the river is increasingly unable to meet the needs of states in its basin, including Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, California and Colorado. Warmer temperatures have dried up the lands of these states, soaking up greater amounts of water. Arizona is among the worst off because its aquifers have fallen sharply. Some urban and suburban areas now pump water from aquifers as deep as 1,000 feet. Recharging aquifers is a problem if the Colorado River fails to deliver.

The downstream impact of the weakening Colorado River and its impact on the Imperial Valley of California and the fertile plains of northern Mexico, which together constitute the “breadbasket” of fruit and vegetables in the United States, are more worrying for the rest of the country.

Other important climate issues include warming oceans, which are perhaps having the greatest effects on life on Earth. Melting polar ice floes and glaciers threaten arctic species and alter fishing habitats. Rising sea levels due to the heat and swelling of the oceans and increasing evaporation cause more calamitous storms and precipitation. In addition to recent supercharged weather events, these changing ocean thermoclines threaten to massively alter weather patterns around the world, especially on the European and African continents.

Recent catastrophic weather events have a multitude of less obvious consequences. Aside from the recent Category 4 and Category 5 hurricanes, the millions of people without power in the South, the collapse of apartment buildings, the million acre fires, and subways and subways. – Flooded floors in New York City, the least obvious effects for everyone are increased costs. health care, the spread of disease, loss of animal species, and escalating tax and insurance rates to cover disasters.

The hundreds of billions of dollars lost to this year’s crises will mean higher taxes to cover the costs of infrastructure recovery and prevention, but also higher insurance rates i.e. though insurance options are even available in some parts of the country. Insurance companies and reinsurance companies are responding to these events in two ways, either by increasing prices or by terminating insurance in high risk areas and switching to low risk products and services.

Make no mistake, Americans in all parts of the country will be paying to keep insurance companies viable, to keep government support services viable, and to cover rising costs of food and health care.

Life on Earth is changing. To deny it is to bury your head in the proverbial sand, and at the same time, to reject our obligations to leave the planet in good shape for future generations. I sometimes reflect on what life on Earth will be like for my grandchildren if we fail in our moral responsibility to do whatever is necessary to preserve the vital nature of our planet for our descendants.

As far as cosmologists know today, planet Earth is a life-giving “unicorn”. There may be others somewhere in the universe light years away, but this is for dreamers, and beyond today’s immediate needs to help our planet survive. It is time for today’s inhabitants of Earth to take responsibility for preserving what we are blessed with, a truly remarkable and life-giving sphere, at sea among the stars.

Adlai Stevenson put it well 60 years ago in a speech at the United Nations when he said: “We travel together, passengers of a small spacecraft, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our security to his security and his peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, work and, I will say, the love that we give to our fragile craftsmanship.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired chairman of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and founding president.

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