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Climate Disruption: A Scientific Call to Action

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Dr. Andrew Gunther, Ph.D., used this title for his remarks to about 70 people on April 18 at Our Lady of the Rosary Church (Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish, Palo Alto). His talk was co-sponsored by the parish’s Green Committee and the Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action group.

Dr. Gunther told of the early beginnings of inquiry into and development of climate change science. He said most of the additional heat resulting from the presence of harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) is stored in oceans, how warming water quickens the pace of ice melt and weakens oceans’ ability to retain carbon dioxide. When the area of ice fields shrinks, their ability (90%) to reflect the sunlight is diminished, causing more energy to be absorbed, warming the oceans. This results in a self-reinforcing loop. Before our modern times, the deep ice fields, ice caps and permafrost remained pretty constant with their deep freeze temperatures. In geologic times there were no thermometers, so scientists used “proxies” – other indicators, such as tree rings, corals, deep-settled sea sands, stalactites and air bubbles in Antarctica ice cores. These proxies showed indications of little GHG until our industrial era’s heavy use of fossil fuels for mass production. Deforestation also results in increasing CO2 and is responsible for 20% of human-caused greenhouse effect.

There have been temperature changes, but Dr. Gunther, with charts and graphs, demonstrated that the heating trend and the GHG trend have been always upward since the industrial revolution, the GHG spike strikingly so.

We are seeing the harm. Sea level rise and ocean acidification, coral death, dead trees, harmful insect migration, algae blooms, methane eruptions from thawing permafrost, shift in hurricane paths, droughts, floods, storm surges, health care costs, civil turmoil, refugees, wars, revolutions – and more.

Fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) are the problems. Gunther predicted we’ll be using them for a long time, but at last we’re making the essential move to wean ourselves. This is the 195-nation 2015 Paris accord, an agreement to start to hold temperature rise to 1.5C – 2.0C degrees from pre-industrial levels. There are some encouraging signs but nothing to get back-patting about. Big business seems to see the need; super-size companies are on board. In Congress there is a growing, evenly-divided bipartisan group, the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus; former Secretary of State George Shultz and other Republicans are advocating a revenue-neutral carbon fee. Many states have programs independent of federal policy.

Dr. Gunther agreed with the scientific community that time is of the essence. Start fixing it now before it becomes unfixable. He quoted Apollo Astronaut Rusty Schweikart who saw planet Earth from space, “We aren’t passengers on Spaceship Earth, we’re the crew. We aren’t residents on this planet, we’re citizens. The difference in both cases is responsibility.”

In closing Dr. Gunther asked, “Do you really want your children or grandchildren to ask you, ‘Why did you do so little when you knew so much?’ ”