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Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide

By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News
It’s hard to be skeptical in the face of reality. Yet, some still doubt humankind is having a significant and long-lasting impact on the world’s climate.

Still, the scientific facts that point to our role in warming the planet have become overwhelming. Even for those who don’t believe in climate science, the visual impacts of climate change are hard to deny. Massive forest fires, record high temperatures, extended droughts, melting glaciers, flooding caused by extreme rainfalls, and rising oceans are visual proof of changing weather patterns.

Last week we saw another highly-regarded report on the world’s warming and its causes released by the United Nations-appointed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published.

“The report says almost all of the warming that has occurred since pre-industrial times was caused by the release of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Much of that is the result of humans burning fossil fuels - coal, oil, wood, and natural gas,” the Associated Press reported.

Global temperatures have risen 2 degrees on average since the 1800s. They now are at their highest average in over 100,000 years, according to the IPCC. While some have argued that the temperature increases are just part of a natural cycle, the study’s authors say only a fraction of the warning has been natural.

The 3,000-plus-page report developed by over  200 scientists worldwide concluded that all five scenarios they researched see climate warming accelerating ahead of previous forecasts. Those five scenarios look at the impacts of five different levels of continued carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

We’ve already overshot by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit the increase climate scientists were hoping to limit warming to this century. And it is likely that little will be done to stop the Earth from seeing a devastating 3.6-degree average increase in global temperatures in the coming decades, according to the IPCC.

“(The report is) a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week.

“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” report co-author Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, said. “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

What are the consequences of a hotter planet? We are already seeing many of them.

Storms become more intense with more extreme rainfall events, more flooding, and stronger winds. Droughts become more prolonged, larger, and more intense.

Displacement of populations as droughts make the growing of crops that sustain them impossible will increase. They will also be forced to move because of a scarcity of water as wells run dry.

We will see more intense heat waves. Sicily set an all-time record high for Europe last week when it hit 120 degrees. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that July was the hottest on record globally in 142 years of recordkeeping. In the coming decades, some areas of the world could become uninhabitable due to extreme heat.

Extreme heatwaves that used to happen once every 50 years now occur once every 10 years. It’s likely to get worse for future generations that will see deadly heat waves every three to four years, according to the study.

As glaciers continue to melt at an accelerated rate, sea levels will continue to rise, displacing populations living on low-lying islands and along the coasts.

These displacements will result in refugees seeking new places to settle, creating tensions that lead to wars and riots. The U.S. military sees climate change as a threat to America’s security as countries are destabilized, and tensions rise over scarce resources.

Forest fires will increase in numbers and intensity due to the combination of more extended heat waves and droughts.

Our oceans are becoming more acidic, killing coral reefs with their incredible diversity of life – with that loss to be felt by mankind.

“This report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying, unprecedented in thousands of years,” IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett, senior NOAA climate adviser, said.

How will a warming planet affect Minnesotans? The impacts will be extensive.

We will see less snow and more rain, hotter summers, and more irrigation for crops. We will see more wells run dry and more restrictions on the water farmers can draw to water their crops. We will see municipal wells run dry and new ones drilled deeper.

We will see our landscape change.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a wondrous land of pines and lakes. Its beauty and seclusion provide an escape from civilization. Climate scientists say it is already changing due to a warming planet. In the coming decades, the trees surrounding the lakes will gradually disappear to be replaced by a savannah – “grassland with scattered oak trees.”

The USDA’s plant hardiness zones were moved more than 200 miles north in 2007, meaning plants that once could only thrive in southern Iowa now grow in southern and central Minnesota. With the warming climate, we will see more insects and invasive species able to survive in Minnesota.

It is dismaying how little regard so many have for the world they will leave their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We suspect that future generations will look back at our lack of action with disbelief and contempt – disbelief that we would leave them such a degraded Earth and contempt for our unwillingness to act in their interest.

There are no immediate solutions for the warming already built into the volumes of greenhouse and methane released into the atmosphere.

The solution, for now, is both easy and difficult. We must continue to transition to more renewable fuels. Wind, solar, and biofuels must replace oil and coal in running our vehicles, heating our homes, and operating our economy. It must be a global effort with America leading the way.

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