Being a part of the March for Science was surreal. Despite the rain, the streets surrounding the National Mall were flooded with scientists protesting the administration’s threat to science and science funding. And it wasn’t just regular people (like me). Climate Central’s chief scientist, Heidi Cullen, spoke to a soggy crowd about the value of extreme weather reporting and attribution science. Jason Box, climate researcher (and an important part of my favorite climate film), spoke to the importance of melting Greenland on the world’s coastlines (in case you didn’t know, sea level rise is coming for us all, and estimates keep getting more extreme), while Bill Nye stressed to lawmakers that “science is for all.”
Signs here overwhelmingly pointed to renewables, rising seas, and the importance of protecting the Earth.
I marched for science and a clean planet, and for everyone in my life who is dedicated to science (including us science communicators!). The March for Science organizers are aiming to make this a movement, and I’ll be there every step of the way.
“If we can’t save this ecosystem, are we gonna have the courage to save the next one down the line?”
Imagine going to your favorite place in the world, only to find it was completely devastated.
That’s what producers, divers, and everyone involved in Chasing Coral found.
The film Chasing Coral follows the same structure as its predecessor Chasing Ice: a documentary produced to highlight something we’re going to lose (or have already lost) because of climate change.
After watching Chasing Ice, I felt hope. But after watching Chasing Coral, I feel despair.
In 2012, Chasing Ice made me feel urgency — I knew climate change was real, and this film was made (in my eyes) to show people the effects of this global issue. I felt equipped (with tons of icy ammo) to shout about climate change from the rooftops!
But now, in 2017, Chasing Coral almost made me cry. Because humans have dumped carbon into the atmosphere for so long, and have delayed on climate action, we’re finally losing something we cannot replace — the world’s coral. And the documentary film crew spent months documenting the damage.
Coral bleaching all starts with the rise in global temperatures, and where that heat is stored. The ocean takes up 93 percent of the world’s heat, and without it, we’d already be fried on land.
Bleaching is a side effect of the ocean’s heat. When the ocean is too hot, corals get stressed out, and the algae living on the coral depart (or are ejected), causing the symbiotic relationship between algae and coral tissue to waste. When the algae is gone, coral loses their source of food, and bleaches. Not all bleached coral is dead, but once coral is bleached, it’s less likely for the coral to return to a healthy state.
The impacts continue on. This week, scientists announced the second coral bleaching event in a row in the Great Barrier Reef. Corals around the globe have been subject to bleaching in recent decades, too, not just in Australia. More heat continues to pile up in the ocean, even turning the Arctic into the Atlantic.
“The ocean controls everything. Without a healthy ocean, we do not have a healthy planet.”
Scientists in the film are concerned that continual bleaching events will wreck coral and their habitats for good — if they always bleach, they will never have enough food, and will just die off. This would lead to an ecosystem collapse, where entire classes of organisms could go extinct.
Ocean scientists are sounding the alarm. And what’s their solution? Stop using fossil fuels now.
Is losing the Great Barrier Reef going to wake up the world?
The agreement aims to lower carbon emissions in countries across the globe in order to limit our global warming to 2°C instead of 4°C, which is our current track of warming.
Limiting warming to 2°C may not seem like a lot, but it would decrease the amount of climate change impacts currently plaguing the world, including sea level rise, extreme weather and extreme heat.
There are still some climate change effects that won’t be completely eradicated, including ocean acidification. A lot of global heat is trapped in the oceans, and decreasing our emissions won’t decrease the current heat in the oceans. But, of course, it would help the overall rate of warming.
Because of the signing, world leaders are helping combat climate change by embracing renewable energy and carbon trading.
The main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen capability to deal with the impacts of climate change.
To reach these ambitious and important goals, appropriate financial flows will be put in place, thus making stronger action by developing countries and the most vulnerable possible, in line with their own national objectives.
Day three in the Earth Week 2016 series. Read day one and day two here.
So many things indicate that this planet is changing — from rapidly acidifying oceans to extreme weather — but it all can be boiled down to the greenhouse gas emissions we humans have emitted into the atmosphere.
Here’s how we know the climate is changing, thanks to my very own WXshift and Climate Central‘s indicators of a warming climate:
Ocean acidification occurs when CO2 emitted into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels reacts with salt water from the ocean and forms an acid.
Acidic oceans aren’t just bad for corals — at the bottom of the food chain, plankton have trouble adapting to warming and acidifying seas, which can cause an ecological collapse, which would severely alter the ocean’s food web and how we humans get our seafood.
Arctic sea ice is disappearing over time. A warming Arctic poses problems for polar bears hunting for food, as you may have heard, but it also has an important feedback role in global warming. Because sea ice is much more reflective than the dark ocean (because it’s white), it usually reflects sunlight away from the planet. When the ice melts, the sunlight is absorbed into the ocean, increasing warming. You can see Arctic ice melt in the video below.
Rising temperatures are causing global sea levels to rise through two primary mechanisms. Water expands as it warms and this thermal expansion causes water levels to rise. Hotter temperatures are also melting land ice, like glaciers and polar ice caps, which adds more water to the ocean.
El Niño is a stretch of unusually warm water that forms off the coast of Peru and stretches across the equatorial Pacific every 3-7 years. The opposite phase, La Niña, displays a similar pattern but with cooler-than-normal water. These oceanic shifts conspire with the atmosphere to alter global weather by increasing the odds of drought, heavy rain and cool or hot temperatures in different parts of the world.
El Niño also contributes to record heat, as seen in this graph below.
U.S. wildfires are burning longer (and more frequently). The main cause of the increase in large wildfires in the Western U.S. is because of snowpack decline — because there is less snow, the area is more dry, and therefore more susceptible to going up in flames.
An increase in wildfires also decreases air quality, a serious health consequence.
Land ice is melting. Arctic sea ice isn’t the only ice on the decline. Land ice, including glaciers and polar ice caps, is trending down across the globe, the melt of which contributes to sea level rise.
As with Arctic sea ice, land ice is reflective, so the more the better to reflect sunlight away from Earth.
Snow cover is decreasing. When white snow disappears because the global temperature has risen, less sunlight is reflected off the planet, similar to what is happening with Arctic sea ice. In the Northern Hemisphere, snowpack has plummeted, which is not only a bummer for skiers, but for people who drink water (i.e. EVERYONE). Snowpack, especially in western states, provides runoff water that fills water tables and aquifers.
In the atmosphere:
Carbon dioxide is on the rise. Carbon dioxide, the pollutant we emit into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels (and the primary greenhouse gas driving climate change), is on the rise. This chart says it all.
The global temperature is rising, too. The rise in CO2 (see above) sets off many other climate indicators — in fact, it contributes to all of them, including the global temperature. Because of increased CO2 in the atmosphere, heat gets trapped, driving up global temperatures.
“The lasting legacy of climate change will be heat. The land, the oceans, all of it. It’s the tie that binds and while the global average temperature is the defining metric, the increasing incidence of heat waves and longer lasting extreme heat is how the world will experience it.” – Climate Central
And there you have it! Ten indicators of a warming world. The takeaway from this is how everything is connected. A warming globe decreases snowpack, which increases the risk of wildfires. More CO2 in the atmosphere leads to more CO2 in the oceans, which melts sea ice and increases ocean acidity.
Everything in this world is connected, which is an important concept to learn when thinking about climate change impacts.