Tom Maertens

Tom Maertens

The Greenland ice sheet lost 12.5 billion tons of ice on Aug. 1 of this year, the largest loss in its history. That single-day melt followed another large loss the previous day, 10 billion tons, according to Danish researchers.

Daily ice losses on this scale were forecast in the climate models for 2070; they are 50 years ahead of schedule.

That is enough melt water in just two days to cover Florida in almost five inches of water.

If all the ice in Greenland melted — an estimated 684,000 cubic miles — global sea levels would rise 24 feet. The Antarctic ice cap is even larger, more than the combined area of the lower 48 states and Mexico combined.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that even a two-degree Celsius (3.6 F) global temperature increase could cause both a massive sea level rise and kill all the world’s coral reefs.

This year alone, according to Marco Tedesco of Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, about 248 billion tons of ice has melted. That’s enough to raise sea levels by more than half a millimeter.

The melting could also threaten the ocean conveyer belt, including the Gulf Stream, which transfers tropical heat to the northern hemisphere; that is what keeps northern Europe habitable and makes farming possible.

July 2019 was the warmest month since records began. According to NOAA, July 2019 marked the 415th straight month that was warmer than the 20th century average.

The heat wave this summer pushed Greenland’s temperatures more than 30 degrees above average and led to temperatures of 114.6 degrees in France, the highest on record.

Temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley rose to 100 degrees or above on 15 days in July. The previous July, temperatures reached at least 100 degrees on 26 consecutive days the hottest July ever, which followed the hottest June ever.

Climate change is a global phenomenon which affects both temperatures and precipitation, but they do not affect every place uniformly. Furthermore, the overall warming trend doesn’t mean that some areas can’t have extreme winters anymore, as the uninformed regularly proclaim whenever there is a cold snap. Polar vortex events, in which frigid Arctic air descends into the lower 48, can still bring biting cold.

Warmer winters can be self-perpetuating as they mean less snow cover, which reflects solar radiation back into space. That means less mountain snowpack; California, the Colorado river, all the big rivers of Asia, and many other areas of the world depend on glacier meltwater for irrigation, and even for drinking water.

There is no longer doubt about the cause of global warming. The large-scale burning of fossil fuels has increased the concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent since the industrial revolution began.

The carbon dioxide spewed from smokestacks and cars remains in the air for decades; in addition, the pollution from burning fossil fuel is now the fourth leading cause of death in the world, killing an estimated six million people prematurely in 2016.

Despite that, the fossil fuel industry got a whopping $5.2 trillion in government subsidies in 2017, according to the IMF. That money should be used to convert the world to a carbon-free economy.

The National Bureau of Economic Research warns of a 10 percent GDP loss for the U.S. by 2100 and a far bigger cut to economic growth if global warming goes unchecked. The cost of doing nothing must be measured against the cost of taking remedial action now: fossil fuel companies are not paying the full cost of carbon-based energy: the people do, in health costs.

Despite these facts, Donald Trump wants to increase the use of coal, the dirtiest fuel and highest in carbon emissions. Ironically, his Mar-A-Lago resort is threatened by sea rise. NOAA is predicting a 12-inch sea rise by 2030 for Miami Beach, which is already planning to raise its streets two feet because rising seas regularly flood the streets at high tide.

Meanwhile, the Amazon rain forest is being consumed by tens of thousands of fires, set by ranchers and loggers clearing land, as promoted by Brazil’s Trump, right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro. 

As for Trump, the Washington Post wrote “whether for political advantage or out of sheer pigheadedness or both, President Trump continues to deny and ignore reality. It is beyond unforgivable.” The Post left out two other possible explanations: ignorance and stupidity.

Tom Maertens held several science and technology positions in the U.S. government, including minister-counselor for Environment, Science, and Technology at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

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