Experts at NASA have predicted that 2016 will be yet another year of the highest temperatures on record, and climate scientists from the World Meteorological Organization confirmed on Monday, Nov. 14 the same forecast.
Many climate change supporters grew nervous for what is to come for the United States climate action after the presidential elections last Tuesday, Nov. 8. With President-elect Donald Trump in the position to take on the leadership role of the nation, the environmental protection initiatives may very well flounder.
Trump actively dismisses global warming as nothing but a hoax that was created by the Chinese to make U.S.manufacturing non-competitive. He has vowed to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which currently has 192 countries and states signed agreements to hold the increase in global temperatures below 2-degrees Celsius.
Of those 192 states, China, the U.S. and India are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, totaling near 42% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
The chair of the Global Studies department and professor of Geography, Dr. Mikhail Blinnikov, noted that Earth as a whole has warmed .01 degrees Celsius in the past 10 years.
“This is equivalent to moving from Minnesota to southern Missouri in climate terms,” Dr. Blinnikov said. “What you don’t hear much about though is Minnesota as one unit warmed up almost one full degree Celsius in just the last 10 years. This is primarily due to much less severe winters, but also in part to warmer and longer summers. So we are already almost in Kansas, climate-wise.” he said.
The water distribution in Minnesota is also changing – dryer areas are getting even drier, with wetter areas getting even wetter.
“This was all predicted by climate models already in the 1980s,” Dr. Blinnikov said. “The biggest challenges in the next few decades will be avoidance of extreme heatwaves and coastal flooding. Miami alone needs over $100 billion in investments on that latter front, the most vulnerable place in the USA.”
Rose Bennett, a St. Cloud State University alumni with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in G.I.S. (Geographic Information System) said that global warming is the largest threat we currently face as a species.
“Half of humanity lives within 60 miles or so from the coastlines,” Bennett said. “It will cost trillions of dollars to relocate people or mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. We’ll see more severe weather patterns with greater frequency. A massive drought in the plains states could wreak havoc on food prices and aquifer levels,” she said.
G.I.S. is a tool that can help advance climate action efforts in these specific instances. “From predicting coastal changes due to rising sea levels to monitoring and communicating air quality data including CO2,” Bennett said. “It’s an invaluable tool the world over.”
Bennett understands why some larger businesses would like climate change to not be true, but thinks it is incredibly shortsighted for Trump to want to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
“Climate change denial at this point is, at least for world and national leaders, willful ignorance or actual malfeasance,” said Bennett. “Our leaders shouldn’t waffle on this issue. The U.S. needs to lead on it globally or it’s just going to get worse.”
According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, under the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the average temperature across the contiguous United States has been in a gradual rise since their records from 1895.
St. Cloud State University international student, Talha Mirza, speaks about climate changes in his home country in southwest Asia.
“The climate in Pakistan is getting dry, hot and gets less rain as compared to past years,” Mirza said. “Global warming is a big threat because of the life on our planet – pretty much everything – depends on the climate.”
“Donald Trump is an idiot if he doesn’t see that climate change is real,” said St. Cloud State University student and President of SCSU Geography Club/GTU (Gamma Theta Upsilon), Angela Mundis. “Personally, I am offended that he doesn’t care about the world that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will someday live in.”
In the recently released documentary directed by Fisher Stevens, Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio visits scientists specializing in climate change, and all of them point to the one solution to reverse global warming: renewable energy.
“Fossil fuels are amazing, they’ve done so many wonderful things, but now we just have to move on,” said Stevens. “I hope we’ll see a collective shift in how people get their energy and live their lives because that’s what it’s going to take.
We should absolutely be using more renewables,” said Mundis. “ There are so many renewable sources that will never run out! Our dollars should be spent on new technology for clean energy. I believe solar power is the most underutilized source of energy along with wind and geothermal. I believe this is one of the main issues, but not the only one to focus on for a solution,” she said.
Dr. Blinnikov is known for his short-term study abroad program in Costa Rica over winter break at St. Cloud State University, with study topics including, biodiversity conservation and sustainable ecotourism development.
He explains that Costa Rica was 100% self-sufficient in electricity in the first half of 2016, due to higher than average rainfall over parts of the country, therefore helping deliver very strong hydropower reproduction from Lake Arenal. There was also a strong performance in geothermal, wind, and even solar energy generation.
“They (Costa Rica) still must import fuel for cars and trucks and are not 100% carbon neutral,” Dr. Blinnikov said. “They have a rather unique position, because they are a small country with no real winter, and they also are blessed with lots of geothermal and hydropower options.”
Other countries who have similar energy processes include Iceland, New Zealand, and Norway. Dr. Blinnikov said the U.S. may not be able to mimic Costa Rica’s renewable energy success but can look to them for useful lessons on how the infrastructure for renewables can be funded.
“I do think we need to invest more in renewable efforts,” said Bennett. “But I think that can only be one tent pole in a more comprehensive plan that includes nuclear energy, re-working agricultural practices to be actually sustainable, and investing in electric vehicles. Basically, Elon Musk is on track to save humanity if we help him,” she said.
Elon Musk wears many hats, but he is most well known for being the co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors. He strives to scale down global warming through sustainable energy production, while also wanting to reduce the “risk of human extinction” by making human life multi-planetary with the intention of establishing the first human colony on Mars.
During Dr. Blinnikov’s time at the University of Oregon, Eugene, receiving his M.A. in Environmental Studies and Ph.D. in Geography, he attended a seminar of Dr. Patrick Bartlein, a leading U.S. climatologist.
“In 1995, he said that if he had only 5 minutes to testify before U.S. Congress about the top issue for the country and the world, that would be the imminence of significant climate change in the first half of the 21st century,” Dr. Blinnikov said. “He emphasized that we will see things that are unimaginable from the 20th-century perspective.”
In “Before the Flood”, former NASA astronaut and current Deputy Director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate and Acting Director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA/GSFC, Piers Sellers stated, “If we stopped burning fossil fuel right now, the planet would still keep warming for a little while before cooling off again.”
“Global warming is a huge threat to the human race,” said Mundis. “If we start now, we might be able to slow down the process, but it will take every nation coming together and doing their part, and that is highly unlikely.”
The “Before the Flood” crew recommends going to CarboTax.org to see your carbon footprint and not only receive suggestions on how to lower it but to check the option to pay a voluntary carbon footprint tax to offset your climate impact, based on your monthly carbon use. For someone whose carbon footprint is 7.6tonnes of climate pollution, your monthly contribution would be less than $15.00 and would go directly to forest conservation footprints in three continents.
“The single biggest impact is to stop driving alone from home to work,” Dr. Blinnikov said. “Walk, bike, or take mass transit instead. Choose where you live based primarily on that. Flying less frequently would help a lot too.”
Other common ways to help combat climate change that Dr. Blinnikov mentioned are to live in a more efficient home, specifically something smaller like an apartment; eat less red meat and any meat in general; buy locally produced items in minimal packaging and save water, electricity, and heat when at your residence.
“Climate change is scientifically proven to be happening,” said Mundis. “It might seem hopeless, but as an individual, we can do our part in recycling, reducing water waste, driving less, and cutting down on the energy we use. We can also elect real leaders who see the importance of this issue.”