Warming up on Earth Day

Apr 192006
Authors: Meg Burd

For many of us, Earth Day is the time of year when environmental concerns move back into the forefront of our thoughts.

Issues such as global warming and climate change brought on by greenhouse gasses become important topics as Earth Day (this Saturday) offers all of us a chance to once again discuss these issues – issues we must understand in order to promote healthy and safe ecological conditions for both the future and the present.

Indeed, many suggest that recent examinations are becoming more and more of a concern for the present.

“From the latest measurements, all that new heat in the atmosphere is being matched with an equal decline in the rate of sea evaporation,” notes Ned Martel in the New York Times.

While it is often easy to think of global warming as something that only impacts the so-called “natural world,” examining the way these changes impact human populations might influence many of us to take the consequences of pollution much more seriously. With looming humanitarian crises looming as a result of the effects of global warming, attention to this growing issue seems absolutely necessary.

In a broad sense, global warming could result in crises for many countries; as such warming leads to natural disasters all around the world.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-sponsored group representing the scientific consensus on climate change, says that rising sea levels could cause not just erosion, but flooding and salinization of soils and freshwater,” reported the NPR program Living on Earth. Such erosion could lead to major mudslides that could claim many lives, as well as a lack of drinking water for populations.

While this might seem distant, a look around the globe demonstrates some places where such crises are already occurring.

“Photos illustrate how the seasonal melting of the Greenland ice sheet has increased 16 percent from 1979 to 2002,” reports Frank Davies in the Orlando Sentinel. “Hunters, fishermen and herders say the warming trend has made the weather unpredictable and endangered their livelihoods.”

Livelihoods and indeed entire populations are being threatened in other island areas as well.

“Throughout the Pacific Ocean, tropical islands are feeling the early effects of global warming,” said Steve Curwood on the recent Living on Earth report.

For the Republic of Kiribati, an island nation located halfway between Hawaii and Australia, these effects are becoming more and more dire as time wears on. A coral island atoll, scientists suggest that these areas are some of the most susceptible to climate change.

Inhabitants of Kiribati are already complaining of things such as erosion, and are seeing serious flooding. Freshwater for the inhabitants of the island has also come under threat, with the freshwater that floats atop the heavier salt water edging closer and closer to contamination.

“Every inch the ocean comes up pushes a freshwater lens 40 inches closer to the surface, until it disappears entirely,” notes Aaron Selverston in the Living on Earth story.

Continuing with the report, Oxford graduate student Natasha Kuruppu explains that “People will get sick if saltwater keeps intruding into their freshwater, because you can’t drink it, it’s too salty. And then your internal organs won’t function properly…basically, people will start losing their lives if there’s no water in Kiribati.”

Located only 6 feet above sea level, scientists predict that if glacial systems melt and sea levels rise, Kiribati will be buried under a flood of water within the next decade. Relocating an entire nation’s population would be an epic humanitarian crisis that could impact the lives of a tremendous amount of people.

Even with such examples as Kiribati, many in administrative positions seem to neglect the global warming that appears to very visibly be threatening populations on the planet.

“Scientists from NASA and other agencies have complained in recent months that the administration has stifled their ability to speak openly about global warming,” Davies reported in the Sentinel story. “James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the administration tried to cut off his access to the public after he advocated cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, a contributing factor in global warming.”

While NASA administrators now say researchers are allowed to speak out under the new guidelines, many of the Washington administration’s policies seem to suggest that these opinions are not particularly being taken into account.

With these situations looming, Earth Day seems the ideal springboard for all of us to take action on both an individual and political level. Besides watching our own consumption and waste production, encouraging the administration to listen more closely to many experts as well as to adopt more effective policies with regard to the environment is one step Earth Day can encourage us to take.

Meg Burd is a graduate anthropology student. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian.

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