Back in the early ’70s, a TV commercial ran for chiffon margarine. Mother Earth, a delightful woman wearing a long white dress and a fresh white floral tiara in her hair, was fooled by company into thinking it was butter. This angered him, so he turned the lush green forest into an arid desert while growling, “It’s not good to fool Mother Earth”. Turns out the Chiffon people were up to something. Mother Earth is truly capable of changing the climate. Ads about hydrogenated cottonseed oil though, nature reacts to many inputs, one of which is us.
In the 4th century BC Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle noticed that when a swamp in a certain area was drained, it became more susceptible to freezing. This is perhaps the first to mention the effects of human activity on climate. He also speculates that forest clearing could lead to temperature increases as well. In the mid-1800s Sir Henry Bessemer received a patent for a process, named after him, that revolutionized steel production. This process reduced the cost of producing high-grade steel and was the key to moving the planet from the Iron Age to the Steel Age. It brought the world into the Second Industrial Revolution. However, at the end of the century, it gave pause.
In 1896 Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, first warned that changes in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could change surface temperatures. Then, in 1938, British engineer Guy Callendar attributed the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations to fluctuations in global temperature. In the last 800,000 years this level of carbon dioxide has, for the most part, soared by about 200-300 ppm (parts per million) except for the last 150 years (the emergence of the Second Industrial Revolution of 1870). Currently, it is at 420 ppm. The increase is directly proportional to the growth of human-created emissions and is not slowing down.
One thing you get from margarine commercials alongside laughter is reactive Mother Earth. When Edwin L. Drake drilled the first US oil well in 1857, there was no woman in a long white dress who slapped her hand with a ruler and sent her to a time out with a hat on her head. It was just the first “pin” in his skin. There were millions of holes today and Mamma wasn’t happy.
Nature is the study of balance and its maintenance, and I’m sorry to say, we’re just a tiny branch of the smallest willow tree in the grand plan that is this planet. The problem is that we think that we are not so small. There are quite a number of us who think that we are above or even separate from nature. There are also those who do not want to be disturbed. Those who want to take the money and run. They are (really yours) who pat us on the shoulder, trying to tell us that the clock is ticking. Those who fear the rate will slow down. And sadly, those who go to great lengths to tell us “There’s nothing to see here, guys”.
Earth is controlled by the laws of Physics. It was a title bestowed upon by someone far more knowledgeable than I was of the laws that govern the universe. Physics has been around since the Big Bang, maybe even before. It lies at the core of earth science (another name for nature). Men have studied it for several thousand years. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t know all there is to know about it. Among those who study climate change, a process closely linked to physics, 97% agree that unless we make immediate and dramatic changes to the way we live our lives, we will all suffer significant hardship by the end of the century.
Here in Jacksonville, this means thinking beyond resilience. We have to think about sustainability and mitigation. We have to plan for the worst case scenario. When we’re planning all those beautiful riverside developments that everyone talks about, there has to be a discussion about what the worst thing that can happen with regards to climate change is and plan with that in mind.
In 1964 Jacksonville, pretty much, took a direct hit from Hurricane Dora. It was a category 3 hurricane. Irma, in 2017, was a weak category 1 hurricane. We all have our memories of those two incidents. There are reasonable people discussing the idea of creating a new category 6 hurricane similar to the hurricane that devastated Hawaii in 2019 where wind gusts were recorded at 191mph.
Could it happen here?
In 2012 Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the Mid-Atlantic state. It was 1,000 miles in diameter, the largest ever in the Atlantic at the time. A 32-foot wave was recorded in New York Harbor. Storm surge about 14 feet
Could it happen here?
Climate scientists project sea level rise of up to 8 feet globally by the end of the century.
What does that mean for us?
It is folly to think that something that has happened elsewhere could not have happened here. The Atlantic Ocean stretches along more than 300 miles of the Florida coastline. Those with the necessary knowledge say to expect more storms and they will be more severe.
Now there’s the Northwest Passage. All of us of a certain age will remember in our collective History and Geography class this discussion. Of course, the main reason for its appearance was because the ice had melted. It’s still melting in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica. The projection grapples with the rate of melting, not its existence.
Mitigation and sustainability measures will be very expensive. Better to plan for more than six decades than one. Doing what we are doing now only increases the cost and severity of the results.
Hopefully, just hopefully, I will, along with the efforts of many, many others, enable my grandchildren and you too, to live on a planet as beautiful as it is today.
But… Tick-Tock people, Tick-Tock.