There are days when I get seriously concerned about whether or not we will move substantially forward in the fight against climate change.
Despite all the dire news that comes into my mailbox, I have also been encouraged to read about research that continues the efforts to understand and document scientific findings.
I recently received information from Dartmouth College about the work coming out of its Environmental Studies department. I read three of their abstracts. One looked at how climate change is leading to the rise of ocean surface temperatures, thereby increasing the possibility of fish accumulating more mercury. Another looked to land issues, and how climate change is impacting the forests of North America.
I spoke with two experts from Dartmouth to discuss what the findings mean: Aaron S. Weed, a Postdoctoral Research Associate and a lead author on the study about forests, gave me a primer on the importance of trees in the environmental equation. In addition to being a source of timber, recreation, and water storage, they play a major role in renewing the air supply by removing the carbon dioxide and creating oxygen. Warmer temperatures change the balance of nature, altering the “bio-diversity” of forests. “ Assistant professor of geography (under which climatology falls)
Jonathan M. Winter spoke to me about the National Climate Assessment, recently released in draft form. Since 1895, there has been a 1.5 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature. The most recent decade has been the hottest on record. Over the next several decades (by 2040), we will see a 2 to 4 degree Fahrenheit warming in most areas. By 2100, the low-end projection will be 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, with the high projection at 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit of increased warmth. Each region of the country will be impacted differently. Winter will be warmer with more rain, and summers will be warmer as well. Climate change will worsen asthma by 2020, with an increase in ground level ozone due to warming. Beyond the science, I was intrigued by a series of papers examining the impact of climate change on Indigenous peoples in the United States, from “socioeconomic vulnerability to human rights.”
I was struck by the thought provoking premise presented by Nicholas James Reo and Angela K. Parker in their essay entitled, “Re-Thinking Colonialism to Prepare for the Impacts of Rapid Environmental Change.” Four hundred years ago, European settlers came to North America, where Native tribes had developed a way of living that was integrated and respectful of their environment. They employed sustainable practices in hunting, farming, and in their use of land and water resources. Reo and Parker maintain that the practices of the colonists set in motion a wide spectrum of changes in the environment and health that led to disease, overharvesting, deforestation, and invasive species.
When indigenous communities were decimated by disease and eventually alienated from their known environments, land tenure innovations based on deep, local ecological knowledge, disappeared. Colonists, and their extractive systems aimed at key animal and plant species, became the new shapers of cultural landscapes. Rapid ecological degradation subsequently ensued, and New Englanders created a difficult project of stewarding a far less resilient landscape without help from indigenous land managers who would have known best how to enact ecological restoration measures.
Polluting the air with unregulated carbon pollution from power plants, fracking, toxic dumping, mountain top coal removal, the XL Pipeline, to name a few, are some of the shortsighted actions that affect our climate. Who will pay the price? It will be our children — and the currency will not be monetary.