Congratulations to Jeff Mc- Donough on his timely and vital editorial “Warning Drumbeat of a Warming World.” Being the editor and publisher, his words were kind of elegant, so let me be a little more blunt.
We are in the beginning phases of what will be the end of life as we know it. Too dramatic? I wish. I have made it my business to learn about the forces that drive catastrophic climate change, and this is not a concept — it is as real as a dog bite. Consider these facts:
• 40 percent of the polar ice cap has melted since 1960. The rest is expected to be gone within 40 years.
•The Gulf Stream – the nearest part of a worldwide conveyor belt that has transferred heat, balancing climates around the globe for millions of years — has shut down by over 30 percent since 1957. This is related to the influx of over 5000 cubic miles of melt water from the ice cap.
• For years, the U.S. has employed intensive farming tactics that have boosted yields at the expense of the soil. Climate change will cripple the ability of our vast “bread basket” to produce food.
•Trapped beneath the rapidly melting permafrost belt that surrounds the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere are trillions of tons of methane. As a greenhouse gas, methane is over 20 times more potent than CO2. As this gas escapes, it will create a positive feedback loop — the more gas escapes, the hotter it will get- and so on.
To go on would be to fill the paper. The climate upheaval is only now beginning to touch us here in Jamestown, but it is on its way. This past October the sea washed over Mackerel Cove briefly isolating the southern half of the island. In coming years, this will become a regular event.
Mold growth, soil microbes, plant, insect, and animal borne diseases will become more common. A Katrina-style hurricane could easily wipe out our infrastructure, costing us millions and destroying property values.
Studies show that in coming decades Southern New England will experience an increasing number of 100-plus degree days in summer. Jamestown already has some of the worst air in the country thanks to high humidity, vehicular traffic, and the Brayton Point Power Plant — 13 miles away in Somerset, Mass.. The plant burns 10, 000 tons of coal every day and is the largest source of air pollution in the northeastern United States. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2004, just that one plant costs us $750 million a year in additional health care costs. It is a classic case of corporate greed superceding the interests of the public.
While Brayton Point is unnecessarily dirty it is our profligate use of electricity and gasoline that is causing climate change. If you are not buying from an alternative electric company then you are part of the problem. We are in a sunken submarine and breathable air is running out. Is human behavior capable of restraint? Can we make the sacrifices that must be made or will we all just take and take until we wind up squabbling like rats over the last piece of food?
History shows that humans are capable of adapting- if they believe that the need is pressing. At this point, one of our largest obstacles is ignorance. Time is running out.