So the Climate Is Changing…Now What?

The impact we have on the environment is not something we can overlook, but it is something we have chosen to ignore. If we are trying to look at the big picture of what climate change is and how it is affecting us, the most obvious thing to point out is global warming. While our group did discuss global warming, we decided to focus more on the smaller aspects of climate change and investigated how global warming affected other aspects of the environment. The clear impact of global warming is the rising temperatures, and we discussed the implications of the warmer weather in many different cities. Through investigation, we also stumbled across the impact our pollution has on animals, how it can stir up dormant diseases, or how it can damage our atmosphere. The real focus of our project, however, was the many ways we can mitigate the effects of climate change.

To generalize the numerous problems that are attached to climate change, it is not untrue to say “the end is near and society is essentially screwed.” Climate change is more than the planet getting a “little” hotter. A difference of a few degrees from the average range of the Earth’s temperature has greatly affected the weather, which in turn effects land, and ultimately where life is sustainable. Climate change has caused a domino effect of problems that is perpetuated by continued creation carbon emissions, as well as lack of addressing carbon emissions already present in the atmosphere. Moreover, there is no single solution to fix climate change. Carbon emission may arguably be what facilitate current and future climate change issues, but cutting back on carbon emissions will do virtually nothing to address the issue. Humans have been pumping carbon into the atmosphere for centuries and carbon takes thousands of year to dissipate. As a result, action, like that set by the Paris Accord, will not do much to solve climate change. Even if emissions were cut to zero, the emissions already created would continue to linger, thus perpetuate the effects of climate change. Instead of searching for a single solution to climate change, we need to address every issue individually before they arise.

One effect of global warming is the rise in sea level. Only concerning sea level rising, the increasing temperature of the Earth causes thermal expansion, melting of the ice caps, and ice loss in areas like Greenland and West Antarctica. Thermal expansion and the melting of the polar and glacial ice caps are direct results of global warming; however, unlike the melting ice caps, thermal expansion is reversible if carbon emissions were severally cut back. The melting ice caps are adding more water into the ocean and there is impossible to take that water back. Similarly, ice loss in Greenland and West Antarctica also means more water is flowing into the ocean. Compounding the issue of more water being added into the ocean and the “expansion” of water, the sea level is rising at an alarming rate.

Moreover, if the ice caps are melting then the ocean must be heating up to some extent. Heating of the ocean affects the weather, namely referring to the progression of tropical storms into hurricanes. Hurricanes form in warmer bodies of water. As areas of water heat up, water vapor rises into the air creating thunderstorms. Wind currents then begin to “push” around the storm, thus giving the storm more energy. At 39 mph winds, the thunderstorm is officially a tropical storm, when wind speeds exceed 75 mph the storm is a deemed a hurricane. It is important to understand how hurricanes form because as the ocean heats up, the rising temperature gives these storms more energy, thus become more dangerous. Climate change may not cause more hurricanes, but it may cause more dangerous hurricanes, such as category 4 and 5 hurricanes, to form more frequently. For example, four of the five costliest hurricanes to hit the U.S. have occurred since 2005; these hurricanes include Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Sandy, and Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Maria, while it did not hit the U.S., was so strong a new category of hurricanes may be needed to classify it. If more category 4, 5, and possibly 6 hurricanes form, then there could be more damage to coastal areas, infrastructure, and may put more people in danger. For example, Hurricane Maria, arguably a category 6 hurricane, has decimated the electrical grid in Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico may go months without power. It is somewhat bothersome to not have power to watch the news, but to not have power for hospitals is devastating.

The issues of rising sea level and stronger hurricanes combine to make flooding worse and more frequent. As sea level rises, water will consume more land. In addition, if there is an increase in more powerful storms that carry more water and energy, they will leave behind more water further inland. Damage of flooding becomes worse when the infrastructure meant to drain the water overflows, like in Florida. For example, the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey may take months to recede fully- thus having the potential to destroy whole communities. Moreover, the event of the flood receding may cause additional damage. For example, in Puerto Rico after some of the flood receded, it eroded chunks of land beneath houses. Flooding also perpetuates issues of fixing power lines and transportation.

The following is an image of a house after flooding caused by Hurricane Maria receded:

While there is no universal solution to issues of rising sea level, hurricanes, and flooding, potential solutions do have the characteristic of flexibility in common. For example, past and present solutions to hurricanes and rising sea level are mainly hard defenses. Hard defense are generally man made constructs, such as bulkheads, coastal barrages, and rock walls, used to as a “shield” to stop storms. However, such defenses erode over time, and there is no way of knowing if they will work until the storm arrives. Therefore once it is apparent a hard defense has failed, it is too late to take additional protective measures. On the other hand, soft defenses, such as marshes, and coral reefs, absorb the energy of storms, and move with storms and rising sea level. In addition, soft defenses grow over time and protect against land erosion. For example, marshes have protected the northern coastline of Florida for years. The downsides of soft defenses include the amount of time they take to grow and their inability to be effective on a large scale; marshes would have to extend mile off the coastline of NYC to be effective. However, instead of relying on only hard defenses or only soft defenses, an optimal solution is to use both together. Relying on one or the other is repeating the same mistake of waiting until existing defenses fail and not being able to take additional protective measures. Moreover, we cannot only rely on hard defenses and soft defenses to stop invading sea level and hurricanes because the issue of flooding if they were to fail still holds true. Like hard defenses, there are fixed systems to help mitigate flooding. For example, Tokyo, Japan has a massive canal system that diverts water from Tokyo called the G-Cans Project. The G-Cans Project is a series of underground tunnels that total 3.7 miles long, and vertical shafts that measure 580 feet long, 59 feet high, and 256 feet wide. This network is capable of channeling 12,500,000 L of water per minute. However, for cities like New York City where a major portion of underground real estate is used up, the scale of the G-Cans Project may not be possible. Nevertheless, the format of the system may still be useful because, similar to soft defenses, there is infrastructure that moves with flooding. For example, the POP-UP parking garage moves up and down with water from sewers, thus combing a parking garage and water reservoir. The technology used in the POP-UP garage can also be applied to other architecture that follows the Archimedes Principle. For example, vertical farms, extensive “tower” farms that raises and grows various foods in a controlled environment, using this technology would also be able to move with floods, thus protecting our food sources. However, “POP-UP technology” is still fixed to some extent. Carrying the ideas of flexibility further, Floating City App created floating schools using refurbished shipping containers. These floating schools are solar powered, and include a classroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. On the other end of the floating infrastructure spectrum, even floating airports have been created. In 2000, Mega Float created a floating airport in Tokyo Bay, Japan that measured 1000 meters long. The airport was so long that it rode multiple wave cycles at once that canceled each other out, and allowed the airport to remain stable. Since the airport was not viewed as necessary, it was dismantled in 2003. However, floating airports are not the limit of floating infrastructure- whole cities could be manufactured to float. Floating cities have the potential to solve the issue of rising sea level and flooding because there would no longer be a worry of losing land, the land would move with the storm.

The following describes the possibility of floating cities:

Stepping back from issues of rising sea level, hurricanes, and flooding, the cause of them is the increase in the temperature, which, alone, is also a threat. By 2100, the Persian Gulf could experience temperatures exceeding 170 degrees Fahrenheit causing the area to become uninhabitable. Areas within the Persian Gulf, such as Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Bander Abbas, some of the richest cities in the world, would have to be abandoned. By 2100, 3 out of 4 people could face deadly heatwaves. Rising temperature will be especially prevalent in cities as a result of the urban heating affect. The urban heating effect states that because of the large amount of human activity within in cities, cities become hotter than the surrounding rural areas. Moreover, the pavement used in cities and human activity does not allow urban areas to properly release the heat absorbed throughout the day at night, thus retaining a high temperature. Immediate solutions to impending dangerous heatwaves include green areas and cooling pavement, in addition to currently implemented cooling centers. Cooling centers are public areas, such as a public library, that offer A/C to the public; however, cooling centers only cool the one building and not necessarily a part of the city. Green areas, by using foliage, create more shade, and thus mitigate pavement heat absorption and lower the overall temperature of an area. An extreme version of green areas are forest cities. Forest cities make plant life an integral part of architecture by covering whole buildings in foliage. By implementing a “jungle,” cities are able to combat the urban heating effect. However, heatwaves are not a problem limited to urban areas. Rural areas, specifically farms, will have to deal with drought because of rising temperatures. In 2012 farmers in the West and Midwest, because of a drought, lost billions of dollars in crops. Additionally, as temperatures increase, vital amounts of food may be lost. If water becomes constrained, it will need to be used efficiently; “spongy” soil is a potential solution. “Spongy” soil retains more water and reduces run off, and therefore gets the most use out of water during drought and collects water during storms. The soil could also be used to cultivate the green areas in the urban areas discussed earlier. Moreover, the soil would complement the use of vertical farms by optimizing the use of water. The rise of global temperature will affect the entire world. People can move to escape rising sea level and floods, but there is no “escaping” rising temperature.

We examined the impact of rising temperatures in developed cities, but they also have an effect on animals in areas without a large human populace and our National Parks. The animals rely on the resources their environment is able to provide them. However, with the increased ocean temperatures and the melting of the ice caps, their ecosystems are being severely disrupted. For example, marine animals, like penguins, in the northern hemisphere are attuned to arctic temperatures and an abundance of krill in the water. The krill are also accustomed to the colder water, but when the temperature of the water rises, they elect to move to where there is cold water. The penguins in that region with a krill-based diet now need to alter their diet to something else. There are many dangers like the lack of nutrients in other shellfish or the potential risk of it being poisonous or otherwise detrimental to their health. Animals are innocent bystanders in our path to destroying the natural resources and we need to take the necessary measures to cut our impact in their environments. One way, albeit extreme, is to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It has many environmental benefits and cuts back on the suffering animals face. We can also take larger steps to cut back on emissions that are a leading factor of the temperature rise. The rise in temperature is also affects Glacier National Park, for the reasons stated in the paragraph above. Another park that is being affected is Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River flows through the whole park, but over the years, it is clear to see the decline of the water level. Some of this is due to the erosion, but a majority is the rising temperature causing evaporation. The water is disappearing before our eyes and we are turning a blind eye. What will happen when the water dries up and the ecosystems throughout the canyon are left to scramble for a new water source? We need to take action before we lose these national treasures.

The rise in temperature is also causing something that seems straight out of a sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie- zombie diseases. These are diseases that have been hidden in ice for years, encased in permafrost. We are not equipped or ready to deal with anthrax, small pox, or even a variation of the plague. It is not all that surprising that miners want to push aside the dangers of these diseases to access mineral and petroleum deposits. However, we need to acknowledge the dangers these diseases present and how they could affect our world. A recent outbreak of anthrax in Serbia illustrated the peril of allowing this issue to go unsolved. Many died because a deer encapsulated in ice thawed and, with it, a strain of anthrax. It contaminated the soil and the water, which led to poisoned crops. We also face the issue of refugees carrying local diseases, like dengue fever or malaria, into other countries where citizens’ immune systems are not accustomed to these new diseases. The warmer temperatures are the force behind some refugees leaving their homes, but it can also allow the diseases like Lyme disease and rat lungworm to survive in places they never could before. Therefore, any disease that can thrive in warmer temperature may soon have increased outbreaks- not just the ones already listed. If multiple outbreaks occurred at the same time, we would not be equipped to handle the aftermath.

Global warming is not the only causation we face. Another driving motion of climate change is pollution. While it is expected that we discuss the pollution of the ocean or streets, those types of pollutions are not destroying our atmosphere- space junk is. Space junk refers to the remains of objects that have entered space, and became trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Because of the increasing temperature in the lower atmosphere, the temperature of the upper atmosphere decreases, causing a contraction of that layer. When the atmosphere contracts, air is removed and less friction is in the upper atmosphere. Therefore, the space junk would not be able to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up, so they remain on the outer layer of our atmosphere. If this junk remains in the atmosphere, it can hit other satellites and create more debris, which can then hit another satellite and make more debris and so on. There is no long-term solution for the dealing with space junk, but there is a satellite created by CleanSpace One that can grab debris and bring it back down to Earth, so it can burn upon re-entry. The downside to using this satellite is that the satellite can only be used once, as it burns upon re-entry as well. Another, more lasting solution, would be the use of materials that break apart gradually after they are exposed to ultra-violet rays. Other satellites that are helping us combat climate change are cube satellites. These satellites were created to scan the Earth’s surface and collect data about which areas are more prone to hurricanes, how hurricanes form, and they are significantly cheaper than normal satellites. These satellites have a shorter shelf-life, which means we will have to replace them more often. However, that also means we can update the software regularly and modify design whenever necessary. If we used the data from these satellites to fuel a flood-predicting AI, it would be able to learn better with the extra information. Other types of AI can also be used to discover new and more efficient ways to combat climate change.

We are currently in an administration that refuses to acknowledge or believe in the scientific fact that climate change is occurring. Despite most of the country (and even world) knowing and accepting the truth that Earth’s climate is changing, Trump and many of his top appointees refuse to acknowledge it. This proves unpleasant and profound implications for the United States too, as not only do we risk physical damage like many of our coastal cities or even Puerto Rico with the numerous hurricanes we have had, our economy and leadership is also shaken, as our nation’s leader refuses to believe something so matter-of-fact as climate change. Earlier this month, at the Paris Accord, the agreement in which nations stand to acknowledge and deal with climate change, had even Syria sign, leaving the United States as the only country in the world that has not sign it, and will not sign it so long as Trump sticks by his ideals (or stays in office). The previous administration set several acts in motion in efforts of reducing greenhouse gases and our effect on the climate, all of which have been contested by Trump, in efforts to repeal those laws, to no avail as of yet. His idea that climate change is a “hoax” is baffling as his energy secretary Rick Perry, even notes that the “science is still out on whether or not human activity is the primary driver of climate change” (japantimes.co.jp). The EPA under Trump is rolling back on the climate change initiatives like noted earlier, including the Clean Power Plan or Clean Air Act, set forth by Obama and his administration. Scientists and federal agencies part of the National Climate Assessment in the US Global Change Research Program have published extensive research on the subject matter and are considered the most comprehensive and authoritative statements on climate science by the US Government. Even the US military is very cognizant of the existence of climate change and its potential to cause havoc to the world and also cost several hundreds of billions of dollars to deal with if something is not done to prevent or minimize the effects. It is embarrassing for a country so advanced and aware of world problems, to refuse to accept the existence of climate change, something that has extensive research on to prove.

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