Out Of Time: The Climate Crisis
It may be too late to reverse the climate crisis. Our job now will be to mitigate the damages.
It has been over a century since the impact of human activity on climate change was first identified. Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish physicist, chemist, and Nobel Prize winner, first argued at the end of the 19th century that if quantities of carbonic acid — or CO2 — in the atmosphere were to drop by half the current amount, the Earth would cool by 4 degrees. Conversely, if the concentration of CO2 were to double, the Earth would warm by 4 degrees. In 1938, Guy Stewart Callendar built upon this hypothesis by compiling temperature measurements from the late 19th century onward and discovered that global land temperatures had indeed been increasing, showing that the planet was warming.
These warming trends have continued into the 21st century with a notable impact on our infrastructure and society as a whole. This past week was no exception. We saw parts of the country rocked by record temperatures as a massive heatwave swept across the Northwest. The impact of man-made climate change wasn’t just felt here at home in the United States, but other parts of the world have also begun to feel the boiling temperatures.
This past week, the city of Jacobabad, Pakistan, with 191,000 residents, saw temperatures soar to a sweltering 125 degrees Fahrenheit (51.6 degrees Celcius). This wasn’t just a record for the city of Jacobabad, nor the country of Pakistan. In fact, it may have set a record for the hottest temperature set on the Asian continent. Not only are these temperatures dangerous, but they are also lethal. How lethal you might ask. Well, it is believed that at 108 degrees, the human body would begin breaking down as the protein in our body denatures and our brain experiences irreparable damage. You can see where the concern becomes apparent and immediate.
Moving back landside, regions across the United States saw their own soaring temperatures. The city of Portland, Oregon is usually known for its wet and cool conditions. This past week saw anything but wet and cool. After reaching a staggering 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 degrees Celcius), parts of the city began experiencing interruptions in operations. Part of the roadways began buckling under the extreme heat along with rolling power outages as service providers explained the heat was quite literally melting the power lines. To put into context just how hot these temperatures were, the temperature in the city of Portland was higher than Miami, FL or Dallas, TX has ever recorded.
The heat wasn’t the only weather phenomenon impacting the country. Parts of the midwest have been experiencing storm systems that have been dropping massive amounts of rain. Detroit, Michigan saw 6" of rain which caused sewer systems to back up. As a result, city officials have decided to let the city streets flood and release the water slowly so as not to cause a massive backup into the basements of residential and commercial buildings around the city.
While these weather phenomena are being recognized as “abnormal”, they will continue to become the norm as governments around the world fail to act on the climate crisis. Whether it be the heat we are seeing now or the frigid cold temperatures like we saw earlier this year in Texas which left parts of the state in single-digit temperatures, 151 deaths, and massive blackouts from failed power systems, humans will continue feeling the consequences of our actions.
But is this really what we should expect for the future? Is there anything we can do today to help turn around the damage we have caused? That answer is unknown but what is known is that the longer we wait, the harder it will be to reverse and the more expensive it will be to do so. And if we continue to sit on our hands, we may get to a point where damage control is our only option as we see our once habitable planet begin to become less friendly to mankind.