Thursday, April 24, 2014

Climate Change Blows Hot and Cold

By Devin Hartmann

Here in the Northeast, the past winter seemed to have been one of the worst and longest in decades. While globally the winter was fairly average we seemed to have gotten the worst, seeing snow almost every week through January and February with snow showers up to late March. If this has been any indicator of what to expect for the following years we are in for some pretty cold winters.

On March 28, the Obama administration announced a strategy to reduce methane gas emissions.  While most of the emissions coming from the United States are from burning coal oil and natural gas in the form of carbon dioxide, methane makes up about nine percent of the greenhouse gas pollutants; it is over twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Release of the methane has recently been linked to hydraulic fracturing, with the gas leaking from drilling sites at 50 percent higher than originally thought. Within the past few years natural gas has become more popular, gaining support from the Obama administration for its reduced production of greenhouse gases. However, certain environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, oppose fracking, declaring that the methane released outweighs the benefits of the gas obtained from the process.

A White House official said that the Environmental Protection Agency would be looking into significant sources of methane and similar greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector starting this spring. The official added that by the fall the agency “will determine how best to pursue further methane reductions from these sources.” If the EPA decides to increase regulations it would complete them just before President Obama’s term ends in 2016.

While the United States is starting to address the methane problem, a panel was held in Yokohama, Japan addressing climate change. A report was released by the panel stating that the problem of climate change would grow worse at alarming rates unless greenhouse emissions are lowered to a more suitable level. The report and panel were held by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically evaluates climate science. Ice caps are melting, coral reefs are dying, heat waves and heavy rain are worsening, and these are just some of the conclusions the panel has made that can be linked to climate change.

Rising and more acidic oceans are effects of the absorption of carbon dioxide that has been given off by cars and power plants. Organic matter in the Arctic is starting to melt as well, which will eventually decay and add to the greenhouse gases released.

The report predicts population displacement and mass migration from the heavily affected areas. Conflict for land, useable water, and even food are all also a possibility as an indirect cause of climate change “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

While this all seems like a perfect story for a disaster movie, the hard truth is that this is an actual possible outcome. As the water levels rise, coastal and island dwelling populations might have to be relocated, potentially causing overcrowding and poverty. Along with the acidic increase in the oceans that could cause migration and in some cases extinction for fish species, food sources would also start to dwindle.    

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