Climate change is a “hot button” issue that a lot of people feel very strongly about. I normally stay away from these polarizing topics, but every once in a while I feel compelled to inject my opinion. And this is one of those moments.
(Disclaimer: Although I am a marine biologist, I am in no way a climatologist. The following article is based on personal opinion only. I have reviewed scientific documentation to form my own conclusions.)
Climate change is occurring, whether you choose to believe it or not, and most people wouldn’t even argue this fact. But the real debate comes when the finger pointing starts. Is global climate change natural and cyclical? Or is it man made? Well, the answer is both. The climate, due to external and internal influences, has naturally fluctuated for millions of years. Additionally, human activities have increased the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
The climate is naturally affected by a huge variety of things. Solar activity, ocean salinity, ocean currents, and weather systems are just a few naturally occurring things that influence how warm or cool our planet gets. Sunspot abundance on our sun has been shown to drastically affect global temperatures. The more spots present on the sun’s surface means the sun is more active, and therefore putting out more radiation. This obviously causes the earth to warm. A lack of sunspots, on the other hand, causes mild cooling of our planet.
Ocean salinity and ocean currents are sort of intertwined. Water that is higher in salinity is more dense, and therefore sinks below less saline waters. As the more dense water rises, it cools becoming more dense. The warmer, rising water gets to the surface and cools off, releasing heat into the atmosphere. This heat exchanging system in our oceans helps keep temperatures down. But, the heat exchanger is entirely dependent on ocean currents, which themselves are affected by salinity, temperature, and water levels in the ocean. Needless to say, it is a delicate and highly complex balance. When global temperatures rise, the polar ice caps melt, releasing millions of gallons of fresh water into the ocean. The influx of fresh water will drive down salinity. If the salinity drops too far and the water level rises just enough, the currents and heat exchanger will break down, altering weather patterns and making the heat exchanger ineffective if not non-existent.
Weather patterns such as El Nino and La Nina, along with other phenomena, also affect our climate. I’m not exactly well versed in the effects of these two weather systems on the global climate, but if I’m not mistaken, the presence of a La Nina event will also temporarily drive down global temperatures. But these events are temporary and seasonal. When the La Nina event dissipates, it will no longer be driving down global temperatures.
The Human Impact and What We Can Do:
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been polluting the environment with massive amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. Additionally, the need for wood-based products and land has driven humans to tear down forests at alarming rates, forever losing undiscovered new species of plant and animal life. Trees that scrub CO2 from the atmosphere are no longer present. CO2 in the atmosphere and in the oceans rises.
We are great at generating pollution. Automobiles, coal plants, electrical plants, and everyday living all generate CO2. But we can do certain things to decrease our personal impact on the environment. I’m not talking about getting rid of your possessions and “going green”. But using more energy efficient appliances, carpooling, and trimming some of the excess are just a few things you can do. Not everyone needs a gas guzzling V8-powered vehicle. Not every celebrity needs a private limousine. We can all alter our lives slightly to give up unnecessary things or not take unnecessary trips in the car. A lot of electricity providers are moving to 100% renewable energy sources. My local provider for example offers 100% renewable energy from wind and solar sources for maybe a penny more per kilowatt hour. On top of that, the rate is so low anyways it would be beneficial to switch. One other thing you can do is use various new technologies to make your home more energy efficient. The government is providing tax breaks for tank-less water heaters, energy efficient windows, and a whole slew of other things that will not only help the environment, but also decrease your electric bills.
The Effect of Global Climate Change:
A warming climate will have a severe negative impact on the things we love most. As saltwater aquarium keepers, the one thing we value most would probably be the natural reef. Coral reefs are easily impacted by human activities. Runoff from agriculture causes algae blooms, dynamite and cyanide fishing kills reef life, and debris in the ocean kills other animals. But CO2 production causes several other issues.
For starters, the mere presence of CO2 drives down the pH of the ocean water. Ocean acidification is a growing problem and will cause hard corals to not be able to grow properly. Another issue is increasing water depth. As the climate warms, more and more water will be introduced into the oceans, causing a greater distance to be placed between corals and sunlight. Corals, most of which are photosynthetic to some extent, rely heavily on sunlight. Most of the corals near the top of the water will be fine, but corals at deeper depths will not be able to capture enough light energy and will starve out. These two previously mentioned problems pale in comparison to the next one on the list…temperature.
Increasing global temperatures, the more discussed problem among climate change, and the one with the greatest impact on coral reefs, is the primary concern for many marine biologists and ecologists. Corals are delicate creatures when it comes to water parameters. They require a very narrow range of these parameters in order to live and thrive in both the home aquarium and in the wild. The temperature of our oceans is climbing, and corals are suffering. Massive bleaching events occur, killing countless coral colonies in the process. But it doesn’t stop there. When corals die, the tiny creatures living on the reef die alongside the corals, or leave for “greener pastures”. Then other reef communities get stressed due to not being able to support the influx of more fish and invertebrates.
My Issues With Climate Change:
I personally have several issues with climate change legislation in its current form, and most of it is aimed at politicians. Many politicians stand to gain large sums of money if any sort of climate bill passes through the US Congress. Al Gore, who is not a scientist by any means, is simply a celebrity who passes himself off as being the climate change guru. Additionally, most of the politicians involved in legislation are hypocrites. They fly around the world in private jets, parade around town in large caravans of gas guzzling vehicles, and own many homes, with each having a huge carbon footprint. They live a lifestyle that has gotten our environment into trouble, and they should be the first to change. It would be like a pastor preaching about how bad it is for husbands to cheat on their wives, with them going out and doing it themselves. This is what a lot of ordinary, working-class people see. And it infuriates them. Many people just want to live their lives the best way they can without people getting in their business.
Regardless of all this though, we all need to make an effort to better this planet. It’s the only one we have.
Even though many people don’t feel CO2 is a greenhouse gas, do you still want to continue pumping it into the atmosphere? What if you are wrong? What will happen if the sun’s activity increases and the La Nina activity dissipates? If we continue down this path in a haphazard fashion, we will find out the hard way just how significant our impact on the environment really is. It may not come from CO2 or global warming directly, but our wreck less approach to the environment will bite us in the butt one day.
Our reefs are very important to us, not only a source of beauty, but to also sustain our hobby. They play vital roles in the ecosystem and feed countless millions (if not billions) or ocean dwelling organisms around the globe. I’m not asking anyone to drastically change their lifestyle, but please keep in mind what impact your actions make.