IN A PRESS CONFERENCE ON climate change, President Obama stated that: “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.” And while the internet fought over the semantics of that statement, now that we’re living in 2015 we’re experiencing the beginning of what scientists and ecologists are viewing as the oncoming climate change apocalypse.
1. Record-melting heat waves are actually cooking our planet.
It’s hard to refute the idea of “global warming” when our planet is getting certifiably warmer, with record heat waves breaking across Pakistan, Iran, India, Europe, and Japan that have melted sidewalks, and already literally killed thousands of people.
2. Severe droughts and falling water levels around the country and around the world are taking a serious toll.
We know that California is in the midst of the worst drought in the history of California, but what’s getting remarkably little press is the fact that Washington is also in the midst of one of the worst droughts experienced in recorded history, that Puerto Rico is actually rationing water (in what, frankly, sounds like the closest to Mad Max reality has ever been), falling sea levels have affected cargo shipments and boat-traffic on the Danube, and in Brazil, South Africa, and North Korea droughts are having palpable and devastating repercussions on reservoirs and food production.
3. Carbon is becoming a very real problem with far-reaching consequences.
As a factor of the drought, the world’s forests are no longer able to capture and process as much carbon as they would under normal climate conditions, which we know already barely puts a dent in the human-related carbon impact as-is. And believe it or not, the jeopardy of our “clean breathing air” is not the worst bi-product of this problem. It turns out the majority of our CO2 is subsequently left to dissolve into our oceans, producing carbonic acid that is literally changing the pH and acidity of the waters, wiping out devastating amounts of plankton (a keystone species in virtually all marine ecosystems), and even dissolving the shells of small aquatic snails.
4. The majority of the Earth’s oceans have never been this hot, for this long, and it’s changing everything from marine life to the weather.
Several months ago the tragic photo of Alaska went viral, capturing the largest ever mass migration of walruses south in search of Arctic ice, but what was demonstrated in that photo was just the tip of the rapidly-dwindling iceberg. In the North Pacific, a new and inexplicable mass of warmer waters between Hawaii, Baja California, and Alaska have all-but-cooked keystone species, wreaking havoc on those renowned biodiverse marine ecosystems and driving native species further and further (sometimes thousands of miles in the case of the blue marlin) in search of more habitable waters. It’s also lead to one of the largest widespread declines in reefs in recent history, with estimates of possible permanent loss at upwards of 6% by the end of the end of the decade.
As the oceans continue to warm and ice shelves continue to melt, large pockets of hotter and cooler waters are continuing to form scattered across the oceans, shifting the temperatures and patterns of the prevailing winds and jet streams that have, according to some scientists, directly impacted weather diversity and contributed to the long, dry spells of California’s drought, and the harsh and extreme winters we’ve seen across the country the last few years. And this is exactly why climate scientists are extra worried about the oncoming El Niño that’s formed out in the Pacific.
5. And it’s all coming to a head with the salmon.
I know, it seems outrageous to think that the impact on salmon could possibly be on-par with the thousands of people dying under the oppressive heat waves or the collapse of whole marine ecosystems, but follow me for a minute. Another keystone species, salmon are responsible for the nontrivial contribution of nitrogen to the coastal environments they habitat and spawn from. Nitrogen, being the main nutrient for protein production in plants as well as a key ingredient of photosynthesis, is essential for helping along all of those trees who aren’t drawing enough CO2 out of the air. And as the water across the West Coast of the US continues to heat up and water-levels continue to lower, the salmon now literally require teams of conservationists to physically truck them out to waters deep and cool enough to give them even a halfway-decent shot at survival. But in the effort to keep the salmon from going completely extinct, they’re also being transplanted into completely new and different environments and out of the ecosystems that depend on them.
So rapidly dwindling salmon means less coastal nitrogen in places like California. Less nitrogen, coupled with the low waters that are killing off the salmon are affecting forests’ abilities to remove carbon from the air. Increases in CO2 have a certifiable impact on atmospheric insulation (contributing to the overall heat of the planet), and are promoting the acidification of our oceans. As the oceans continue to heat up and the ice shelves continue to melt, those hot-cold pockets will continue to form, wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems and pushing weather patterns to the extremes, including (but not limited to) widespread droughts.
And that brings us back to the dwindling salmon.
I couldn’t begin to propose how we’d go about fixing climate change, or halting what already seems like rapidly falling dominos aimed at the eventual collapse of a habitable planet for all living things. But what I can say is that whether or not 2014 was the “hottest year in recorded history,” 2015 is well on its way to breaking all the records, and who knows where we’ll be in 2016. And if by now somehow you’ve still managed to convince yourself that climate change isn’t really happening, then the only thing I know of that pairs well with your blissful ignorance is an extra-tall glass of water and a nice big salmon fillet.