The Effect$ of Climate Change are Extensive and Profound, Now & Later

by Duane Nichols on April 13, 2018

Climate Change Impacts to Increase with Time

What we face as the climate changes

Essay by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Rising ocean level causes migration. There are many reasons areas just above sea level are densely inhabited, ports are there, broad expanses of tillable or easily developed land are there, and close contact with the ocean makes it possible for people living there in the past to enjoy bounty of both land and sea.

One of the worst affected areas in the U. S. is the area around Norfolk, Virginia, home to so many military bases that it has been called the world’s greatest collection of military might. It is sinking, as well as the ocean rising. Since 1927, the tidal gauge at Sewells Point has recorded the highest relative sea level rise on the East Coast, nearly 15 inches. Storms bring water into residential streets. The military is already taking steps to preserve the usefulness of the new construction, but has no plans for overall protection.

Another is the coast of Louisana which now is losing a football field of land (an acre) to the sea every hour, due to a combination of subsidence, sea-level rise and reduced sediment flow from the Mississippi River. Extraction of oil and gas and removal of salt deposits causes the sinking. Dams on the Mississippi prevent sediment from rebuilding the delta. Two thousands square miles have already been lost. The island where Tabasco Sauce has been manufactured for 150 years is threatened.

On the West Coast and elsewhere coastal marshes are threatened, which will allow storms to come in to human habitat and development.

Many low lying islands are increasingly uninhabitable. Kirbati Islands, an island chain halfway between Hawaii and Australia is looking to find a home for its 102,697 inhabitants. The Maldive Islands, to the West of India, has an average height of 51 inches above water, and is increasingly affected by storms. The Seychelles, also in the Indian Ocean has been a great tourist destination, great for scuba diving, but the beaches are being lost. The Solomon Islands of WWII fame are disappearing.

Bangladesh, a whole country of 156 million people, is so low nearly a quarter of it floods each year. Farmers have created an agriculture that floats on rafts!

Both Greenland and Antarctica are loosing more water from ice than previously understood, causing more rapid sea level rise.

What does this mean for the future? Migration. Migration from the seacoast, from islands, and from low lying nations that cannot accommodate their people. Millions upon millions must move or die. Or move AND die if there isn’t enough food.

Drought and storms mean food insecurity. “You can kiss much of California’s agriculture goodbye because of climate change” is the title of an article about what will happen to the largest state contribution to the American diet. “That critical food supply is at great risk,” it says.

The article goes on to quote a recent study in the scientific journal Agronomy: “Changes in temperatures and in the amounts, forms, and distribution of precipitation, increased frequency and intensity of climate extremes, and water availability are a few examples of climate-related challenges to California’s agriculture sector. Irrigated agriculture produces nearly 90% of the harvested crops in California and a decrease in water availability could potentially reduce crop areas and yields. Permanent crops are among the most profitable commodities in California. They are most commonly grown for more than 25 years, which makes them more vulnerable to impacts of climate change. For California, as an agricultural leader for various commodities, impacts on agricultural production due to climate change would not only translate into national food security issues but also economic impacts that could disrupt state and national commodity systems. “

Wine grapes, strawberries and walnuts, chestnuts, pecans, apricots, kiwis, apples, cherries and pears, quince, necterines, avacodos, table grapes, oranges and vegetables will be affected. For specifics, see the 27 page research here. The effect will be caused by drought, early melting and lighter snow pack, reducing water for irrigation. Loss of cold nights, which help reduce pests and are critical for starting some crops. Other crop production areas will be affected as well.

Drought is expected to affect cattle and other ruminants in the West and South of the U. S. and elsewhere in the world. Wheat, perhaps the world’s most important crop, is threatened. Research shows a very serious decline of around 5% for a 1 C temperature increase, and world production is barely keeping up with population increases. Some 500 million tons are used by humans at the present time. It can’t simply be moved north with warming, the appropriate soils don’t exist there.

Bloomberg, the business news service says, “Food crises are increasingly determined by complex causes such as conflict, extreme climatic shocks and high prices of staple foods, often happening at the same time. Conflict will remain a major driver of food insecurity in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, while drought is likely to worsen crop and livestock output, increasing food insecurity in countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.”

Right now food shortage is a major driver of the migration from the Middle East and Africa into Europe. As with sea level rise, food shortage is going to be a major driver of population migration.

Drought affects many businesses and environmental services. Winter sports are a big item in the lives of many people. Skiing, ice hocky, fishing through ice, ice skating, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and other winter sports are popuar where climate allows. Big money is involved, too. According to an article in Powder, a leading skiing magazine, “… spring snowpack in many parts of Western Washington, Oregon, and Northern California has dropped 50 to 70 percent since the early 1900s. Spring arrives in Tahoe two and a half weeks earlier now than in 1961. In vaunted cradles of skiing like the Alps, climatologists estimate that two-thirds of the ski resorts are in danger of closing by 2100. Even ski areas on the East Coast, with their massive snowmaking systems and hordes of city-goers ready to ski, have lost 15 percent of their snowpack in the last 60 years. On our current track, only four of the major 14 resorts in the region will be economically viable by 2100.”

The Iditerod dog sledge race in Alaska is 1200 miles long, run from Anchorage to Nome. In 2003, the race route had to be moved from its usual starting point in Willow to Fairbanks because the winter hadn’t provided enough snow for good racing terrain. It was moved again in 2015. This year, a month before the race, officials decided to relocate a third time after determining that snow in three or four sections of the track was not sufficient.

This year, “I don’t think it ever got colder than five below. It was super comfortable for us,” said Trent Herbst, a fourth-grade teacher from Ketchum, Idaho, running his eighth Iditarod.” And the future of the race is in doubt, because of the areas without snow.

Phoenix, suffers from extreme heat, regularly it’s 100 F and sometimes over 120 F, and the Area suffers from a shortage of water. These people are dependent on the Colorado River, ground water and small local streams, all vulnerable to the heat. Many areas worldwide have the same problems.

In many parts of the world water will be in short supply for users, because of less snow and early runoff. California and many places in the U. S. West, the Himalayas (seriously harming India and Pakistan), and around the Alps. Too much water in the cooler parts of the year overwhelm reservoirs, then too little in the summer for drinking and irrigation. It hurts hydroelectric systems depending on runoff, too. Perhaps half the world’s population might be affected. Again, population movement will be prompted.

Severe weather will hurt many areas. Severe storms from hurricanes to thunder storms to tornados are expected. “Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana last August, causing $125 billion in damage, dumped more water out of the sky than any storm in U.S. history. By one calculation, roughly a million gallons fell for every person in Texas.” According to a story in Rolling Stone, it fell on areas contaminated by chemical companies.

Houston is the nation’s fourth largest city, and a petrochemical hub. It had 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries and more than 6,670 miles of intertwined oil, gas and chemical pipelines. It had dozens of toxic waste sites. Benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene and other known human carcinogens were among the dozens of tons of industrial toxic substances released into surrounding neighborhoods and waterways following Harvey’s torrential rains. In all, reporters catalogued more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases — on land, in water and in the air. Most were never publicized, and in the case of two of the biggest ones, the extent or potential toxicity of the releases was initially understated.

Flooded city streets had folks fleeing by boat, and families from low-lying areas moved in with relatives or friends to wait out the crisis. The long-range forecast is for many hurricanes this year, 2018. Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration decreed that storm-related pollution would be forgiven as “acts of God.” Days later, he suspended many environmental regulations.

New Orleans is another city hard hit by hurricanes. Katrina, in 2005, caused 1800 people to die and 400,000 to evacuate. The city has lost 100,000 population as a result of the storm. Of course, being 17 feet below sea level doesn’t help. Storm water must be pumped up over the levee to get rid of it.

Last year, 2017 was a bad year for thunder storms and tornadoes, according to Forbes. The NOAA Storm Prediction Center had collected 10,869 reports of severe weather through May 29, the peak season. It was particularly bad for tornadoes, 936 reported. The 2018 severe weather outlook is a mixed bag. No one seems to have predicted the cold weather caused in part by the warm Atlantic and a moderate El Nino.

Property damage, economic hardship, physical peril, accidental death, sickness from migration of disease (because of insect vectors) and warmer winters will affect many individuals. Lots of other things will be going on, too. But rock-sure predictions over the longer term mean that everyone to be affected by mass migrations and food shortages.

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