Archived Outdoors

Climate change – deadly serious

Isle de Jean Charles, LA being swallowed by the Gulf., Karen Apricot photo Isle de Jean Charles, LA being swallowed by the Gulf., Karen Apricot photo

The last installment of “The Naturalist’s Corner” began kind of tongue-in-cheek, referring to climate change in Trumpian terms of a global hoax. But climate change is no hoax and it’s not amusing… it is deadly serious. I ended the last column talking about the alarming rate of sea level rise over the last century, “ … global sea level rose nearly 8 inches in the last 100 years or so and the rate of sea level rise has nearly doubled in the last two decades and has been rising every year.”

And the world’s oceans are not only rising, they are becoming warmer and more acidic. The top 2,000 feet or so of the ocean’s surface have warmed by almost 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. Acidity levels in the world’s oceans have increased by about 26 percent over the last two centuries.

Some of the effects of rising heat and acidity in the oceans include the “bleaching” of coral reefs. Coral reefs around the globe, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, are dying, impacting thousands of marine species that depend on those coral ecosystems. Warming seawaters are changing fish migration patterns, disrupting fisheries around the world. And climate and oceanic scientists warn of a disastrous positive feedback loop — acidification of oceans decreases the amount of sulfur released into the atmosphere, which in turn reduces the reflection of solar radiation, which in turn creates more warming and acidification.

 I think the signs of global warming — increased atmospheric and oceanic temperatures; glacial and arctic sea-ice melting; sea level rise and more extreme weather events, to name a few, are abundantly apparent. The fact is all these climate changes are occurring in concert and all have accelerated at a never-seen-before pace, which coincides perfectly with the Industrial Revolution and the growing and accelerating level of greenhouse gas emissions points to one culprit — welcome to the Anthropocene. 

Regrettably we, as a species, tend to have an uncanny ability to shrug off any calamity that doesn’t affect us, personally. And climate change, like so many natural and man-made disasters, will affect and is affecting the most vulnerable first. Poor regions of the tropics and subtropics are among the most vulnerable because they have limited resources to try and mitigate climate change. According to Scientific American — a 3-foot sea-level rise would submerge 20 percent of Bangladesh, displacing more than 30 million people. But you don’t have to go all the way around the world to see effects of sea level rise. The combination of subsidence — the literal sinking of ground, generally caused by the removal of water, oil and/or natural gas — and sea-level rise created the first climate change refugees, not in Bangladesh, but in Louisiana, in 2016, when the state received $52 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to relocate a community of Native Americans from Isle de Jean Charles — where they had lived for more than 180 years — because the island was underwater. And in Arctic Canada entire Inuit villages are sinking as the permafrost they were built on is melting. 

All this is happening in real-time, folks. And for the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world to walk away from the Paris Agreement and declare climate change a hoax is shameful at best…criminal at worst. 

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If all greenhouse emissions stopped today, global warming would continue because of positive feedback loops like ocean acidification, water vapor and others. It’s past time to act.

(Don Hendershot is a naturalist and a writer who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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