Climate Change Impacts
Problems: While the Earth’s climate has always cycled in response to regular planetary movements, we are currently living in a period of anomalous, rapid warming that, based on solid scientific evidence, has been prompted by additional releases of greenhouse gases (GHG) from human activities including extraction and burning fossil fuels for transportation, heating, and production of electricity; industrial activities; deforestation; and intensive animal and crop agriculture. In response to the initial warming from human activities, many self-reinforcing feedback cycles in natural systems are now exacerbating the warming, such as additional releases of methane, a powerful GHG, from arctic permafrost and ocean floors, wildfires, and melting sea ice and land ice that reduces reflectivity of light energy and increases absorption of solar heat into the darker ocean and land. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have continued to creep up each year with current CO2 concentrations exceeding 416ppm. (By comparison, in those natural cycles over the past 4 million years for which we have direct and surrogate data, the atmosphere didn’t exceed 300 ppm.) Humans have never lived in an atmosphere like the one we are living in now and with the warming conditions that are quickly following. In Florida, we experience this through hotter summers, warmer winters, rising sea levels giving sunny-day coastal flooding during high tides, salt water intrusion into our groundwater, and more severe storms that deliver much larger amounts of rain that evaporated from a warmer ocean. In more subtle ways, we are documenting changes in the timing of seasonally migrating organisms, and in the long-term shift northward of warm-climate species like mangroves.
Solutions: How to address climate change is as complicated as understanding the myriad causes and consequences. Solutions are roughly divided between “mitigation,” which reduces GHG emissions to slow the rate of change, and “adaptation,” through which we adjust our lifestyles to the inevitable changes that are already here. This is also often called “Resilience.” Some examples follow.
Mitigation strategies promote:
- Producing fossil fuel-free electricity, preferably solar in Florida.
- Building energy efficient houses and commercial buildings that require minimum electricity.
- Supporting electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles with regional charging infrastructure.
- Designing complete streets to encourage pedestrian, cycling, and public transit options.
- Protecting forests, grasslands, inland wetlands, marshes, and mangrove forests and the soils beneath them to maximize carbon dioxide uptake and organic carbon sequestration.
- Supporting local farmers to reduce total miles that food travels from farm to fork.
Adaptation (a.k.a., Resilience) strategies promote:
- Protect and restore coastal dunes, mangroves, marshes, and other living shorelines to serve as a buffer against storm energy, to intercept nutrient pollution, and to facilitate natural processes of new land formation
- Identifying and planning for retreat of coastal and low-elevation infrastructure liabilities in the face of rising sea levels.
- Building stronger communities through the arts, education, and events to nurture a spirit of cooperation that must emerge during crises.
- Investing in local food production to ensure food security.
- Protecting freshwater supplies.
- Expanding capacity of clean, locally produced electricity.