What Is Climate Change And What Can We Do About It?
By the time you read this, much of what’s written here will be outdated.
Not because I am a slow writer… (I’m not that slow. I use four fingers to type!)
…nor because I’m a lazy researcher… (Are you kidding? Twitter has everything!)
…nor because I am not a “real” climate scientist. (I’m an ocean scientist, but hey, the ocean has a climate of its own, you know.)
None of these.
The reason much of what I write here will be outdated by the time you read it is because the history of the planet is being rewritten right before our eyes.
Every week brings a new epic weather event.
Every month hundreds of thousands of acres of coral reef, seagrasses, rainforest, grassland, Arctic tundra and glacier disappear.
Every year the number of dead animals and dead humans piles up…
Because of human-driven climate change and its consequences.
Climate change is happening so fast across so many different parts of the world that even a hyperactive news cycle can’t keep up.
Much of the world’s suffering at the hands of climate change flies under the radar. Nothing to see here, move along.
The climate change news that rises to the top—the massive wildfires, the devastating floods, the deadly heatwaves, the supercharged hurricanes —occupy our attention for less than a month (;; Wu et al., 2011.)
Well, thank goodness that’s over with! What happened on Real Housewives last night? (To their credit, many reality TV stars work to assist climate victims…just don’t ask how I know that.)
My point being…that in the year that it takes an author (me) to write, edit and publish a short book such as this one, dozens of new climate catastrophes will besiege the planet.
(Insert new climate catastrophe here.)
Need an example?
Since I started writing this book in June 2019, two heatwaves in Europe—one from June 24-July 2 and the other from July 21-July 28—killed more than 1500 people. (But, in case you’re keeping score, that’s 10 times less than the 2003 European heatwave that killed some 15,000). Paris hit 108.7°F (42.6°C) on July 25.
And though Europe represents just a fraction of the globe, temperatures everywhere were hot. The average global temperature in July 2019 was the hottest ever…following a record-breaking June 2019.
Even normally-mild Hawaii set temperature records…in the 90s.
August-September brought catastrophic, record-setting Hurricane Dorian (see below) which destroyed parts of the Bahamas.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (part of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an international humanitarian organization), at least 7 million people were displaced by more than 950 separate weather-related disasters in 2012 countries…in the first half of 2019. Yes, that’s record-breaking.
When might new records be broken?
Tomorrow. Next month. Next year.
That’s how human-caused climate change works. Like a bad horror movie, the weather keeps getting worse and worse and worse and worse.
Let’s hope we don’t get down to the “final girl” ()
Oh, and for the record…the last five years have been the hottest five years on record.
It’s hard to keep up.
And while examples of hard-to-keep-up-with, climate-related catastrophes pile up year after year after year, they all send the same unmistakeable message:
Climate change is bad. Really bad. Right here. Right now.
So even though you may not be reading in these pages about the most latest, most catastrophic climate-related events, just know that the examples featured here give ample evidence of the impacts that climate change is already having.
The planet and people in a neighborhood near you are suffering.
On the bright side, people are starting to change and scientists are developing a much better understanding of how Earth’s climate system works…the role of the ocean, ice caps, land surfaces and biota as they interact with the atmosphere. (We’ll learn a lot more about these topics in the chapters ahead.)
This improved understanding allows scientists to better predict what Earth’s climate will be like in the near future (say, the next 25-50 years). And combined with better computing power, scientist can now scale down global climate predictions to specific regions of the globe. The combination of global climate models and regional climate models enables the development of a range of possible outcomes for a given region…like where you live. These projections, as they are called, provide critical information upon which your local officials and you can act.
But that’s getting ahead of our story.
Where This Website Will Take You
This online edition of Our World Ocean aims to provide a basic understanding of the ocean and how it works as a system. I use some of this content in the oceanography classes that I teach at Fullerton College.
Throughout the book…and in the final chapters (still being written), I'll talk about Earth's climate and climate change.
But where I hope to really succeeds is
– to provide each of you —and especially the younger among you —with the confidence to talk about the ocean and climate change with your friends, families, neighbors and politicians.
– to equip you with enough knowledge and understanding to make smart decisions regarding the welfare of you and your family in the near future.
– to help you to figure out the lower-carbon-energy-use path that works best for you and your family.
– to inspire you to add your voice to the chorus of voices that demand substantive change from the few who have the power to do so.
Heady stuff, for sure…but we’ll cover all of it in detail in the pages ahead.
And one more thing…I hope you’ll see the time you spend reading this book as an opportunity to engage in a conversation…with me, with yourself, with people close to you—physically, emotionally, spiritually…friends, family, neighbors—and with leaders in education, culture, business, politics and religion.
We’re not going to solve the problem if we can’t talk about it.
Turns out there are some pretty good ways to talk about climate change…as you shall see. (But if you can’t wait, check out Allana Harkin’s piece on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: ).
Finally, I hope to persuade you that life is about progress, not perfection. We’ll be working on the climate crisis our entire lives as will the generations ahead of us.
Because this journey isn’t about saving the planet or the human race, it’s about learning how to integrate humanity with nature. To live as nature does, where energy comes from a renewable source—the Sun, our planet’s internal heat, winds or waves—and where waste becomes obsolete…where one industries’ wastes are another industries’ resource…where materials move cradle to cradle instead of cradle to grave.
When we learn to live sustainably on our planet…then and only then will we be capable to move beyond our planet…to colonize other worlds.
Because once we figure out how to obtain unlimited energy and matter, we’ll be ready to travel to infinity and beyond.