Hurricane Irma – Which Lifestyle Habits Affect Our Weather

This is a sad and challenging time for all the people in Hurricane Irma’s destructive path. My prayers go to them and all affected. The devastation will take years to rebuild, and the scars left in people’s hearts will remain there for a very long time.

Weather catastrophes are very unforgiving, and very powerful, but are we really so hopeless in the face of these weather catastrophes?

Is there anything we can do to prevent such future incidences from occurring or at least from becoming more frequent and more forceful?

We are all aware of Newton’s laws, but what comes to mind now is Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When taken in the context of behaviors, we see that our actions will lead to specific equal and opposite reactions.

But what does this have to do with weather?

The actions we choose also have a direct influence on our environment and will create equal and opposite reactions.

For millions of years, different factors have been affecting the Earth’s climate. These include changes in the sun’s intensity (which affect global winds, precipitation patterns, and ocean circulation), volcanic eruptions, El Niño-Southern Oscillation, and concentration of heat-trapping gases in the earth’s atmosphere to name a few. But now we are experiencing unprecedented global warming with 2016 being the warmest year ever in recorded history. See figure 1 below:

Figure 1. Global Average Surface Temperature

Could human behavior be part of this cause?

The answer is “YES”!

Based on sound, evidence-based findings, scientists agree [1] that today’s global warming is primarily caused by specific human activities [2] that lead to increased release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

 

The top three human activities influencing global warming all have to do with our lifestyle choices:

  1. Carbon emissions from the burning of coal, gas, and oil in power plants and cars, trucks and planes trap heat in the atmosphere.
  2. Land-use change, especially cutting down and burning forests.
  3. The meat and dairy industry. The global atmospheric concentration of methane has increased dramatically from pre-industrial values and exceeds by far the natural range from the last 800,000 years (320 to 790 ppb) as determined from ice cores. See figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Global Atmospheric Concentrations of Methane Over Time:

 

A recent study [3] published in Nature magazine found that: “almost two-thirds of the impacts related to atmospheric and ocean temperature can be confidently attributed to anthropogenic forcing” (or in other words, to human activities).

So, human-induced climate change is real and projected to continue and even accelerate significantly if global emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase in the same pattern. See figure 3 below on the human contribution to global warming over time.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. This is how the IPCC reports have changed through time:

Figure 3. How the IPCC reports have changed through time on the human contribution to global warming:

But how does global warming affect our life on earth?

Even a modest average temperature rise is enough to cause a dramatic transformation to the weather which will have grave consequences on our planet, which we are already beginning to see and feel today. These consequences affect every ecosystem and living species on earth.

We will observe:

1. More frequent and more severe weather conditions such as Hurricane Irma. 

Higher temperatures will worsen many types of weather disasters, including storms, heat waves, floods, and droughts.

A warmer climate creates an atmosphere that can collect, retain, and drop more water, changing weather patterns in such a way that wet areas become wetter and dry areas become drier.

These extreme weather conditions also pose risks to public health and safety. Prolonged dry periods threaten access to clean drinking water, increase wildfires, dust storms, extreme heat, and flash floods leading to death or severe diseases.

Wetter conditions in wet areas will see heavier rains causing water bodies to overflow, also leading to death or serious diseases from drinking water contamination, hazardous-material spills, fungal infestation and unhealthy air, as well as billions of dollars in damages to life and property.

A warmer, wetter world is the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and foodborne and waterborne infections.

2. More deaths rates due to higher temperatures

It takes time to get used to high temperatures, and these will affect people who have more difficulty coping with them, especially young children and the elderly.

These populations are more prone to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heart and kidney diseases. In fact, extreme heat kills about two people a day in America [4], more than people die from natural catastrophes.

3. Fewer yields from land and desertification

Less yield from land due to higher temperatures that are less suitable for growing crops that require more water for growth. This places more stress on the land reducing yields with time and leading to desertification of areas rendering them unsuitable for growing crops. We have limited land for growing crops on earth and diminishing these areas will affect food prices and feeding of the growing population.

4. More pollution. 

The increasing ground level ozone created from greenhouse gas emissions increases smog levels which worsen the health of people suffering from cardiac and pulmonary diseases. Warmer temperatures also increase the levels of airborne pollen, not so fun for those suffering from hay fever.

5. More acidic oceans. 

Oceans are becoming more acidic, due to their absorption of some of our excess emissions. This poses a grave threat to marine life and to food from water bodies.

6. Higher sea levels. 

The world’s ice sheets are melting which has serious consequences on our life on earth. Rising sea levels will be one to four feet higher [5] than they are now, threatening coastal cities and lower areas, and will cover entire islands.

 

There’s no question that climate change is frightening. It is currently too late to change this since we’ve been emitting greenhouse gasses extensively for over a century.

But because we are the cause behind the depth of the situation, we can also be the solution.

It is within our power to make change by making lifestyle choices that will effect the overall outcome. The more of us making a change, the less severe consequences from climate change we will bring.

So what can we do?

  1. Reduce meat and dairy products from your diet to no more than twice a week. By doing this, you are immensely influencing greenhouse gas emissions, and slowing deforestation. The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other industry. But the world is doing very little to change this because there is a profound unwillingness of governments or civil society to intrude into people’s lives and tell them what to eat. But we will soon understand that this is the only way to go. It may not be easy to make these changes, but they will need to happen nevertheless. Learn more about how to make these modifications in a way that will also benefit your personal health here.
  1. Ride your bike to work or use public transport as much as possible. Work close to home and live near your children’s schools. If these are not options, then opt for a battery driven car. Because of their near-total dependence on petroleum fuels; cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight in the US produce nearly thirty percent of all US global warming emissions [6] more than almost any other sector except the animal farming industry. In global figures, about 15 percent of manmade carbon dioxide comes from cars, trucks, airplanes, ships and other vehicles.
  1. Recycle paper and use recycled paper options as toilet paper, office paper and kitchen paper towels. Yes, these all exist. Paper is the 5th largest industrial energy consumer in the world! Not only does the production of recycled paper use 65% less energy than the manufacturing of paper using raw materials, but it also reduces energy consumption thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling paper reduces the need for trees to be cut down.  One ton of recycled paper equals paper made from the cut down of 17 trees. Trees help to reduce global warming by capturing and holding carbon dioxide. Recycling paper also saves water because the production of recycled paper uses 80% less water than paper production from raw materials. This also reduces methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the treatment of wastewater. There are many types of paper to recycle including office paper, computer reams, books, newspapers, magazines, cartons, and catalogs.

We can be the change we need now. This change starts with one person after another working together for the common good. We don’t need to sit hopelessly and watch such immense suffering while such catastrophes occur.

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References:

  1. https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.shtml
  2. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter10_FINAL.pdf
  3. www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v6/n5/full/nclimate2896.html?foxtrotcallback=true
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.html
  5. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/future-climate
  6. https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources.html

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