September 2015 | by Kurt Olson
Written by Kurt Olson, Professor
Here’s a quick quiz for that stage full of Republican presidential candidates led by the real estate magnate, reality T.V. star, and well-coiffed man about town. What do the following have in common and what are the potential consequences for non-billionaires: thousands of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Europe, shrinkage of the Sierra Nevada snow pack to 3% of its normal size, and the catastrophic drainage from a sub-glacial lake in Greenland of some 6.7 billion gallons of water?
Answer: Global climate change is not a hoax. Amazingly, when questioned about his position on climate change, Mr. Trump one-upped fossil-fuel friendly Oklahoma Senator Inhofe, who once famously asked whether “man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people?” Trump has tweeted that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” So, it’s not only a hoax, but it’s also the product of the latest foreign bogeyman, China.
Even rational people who are not reality T.V. stars, reasonable people who believe the climate is changing, probably wonder what this has to do with the Syrian refugees. Like countless dry places, Syria has been wracked by a decades-long drought. As fields dried up, farmers streamed into Syrian cities where they have not been welcomed by Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, who considers them a threat to his already-embattled regime. Like Mr. Trump and his Mexican wall, European leaders must scamper to erect barriers because they will confront an ever-growing stream of environmental refugees as crops dry up or floods fill third-world basements.
And who cares about the shrinking Sierra Nevada snow pack? Southern California is also in the throes of a decade-long drought. Even in relatively moist times, LA and other SoCal cities have relied on persistent snow from the Sierra Nevada mountains to water their crops and replenish scarce drinking water supplies. For scientists who measure such things, the sight of sparse snow patches rather than snow fields in these mountains betokens desperate times ahead. For the rest of us, expect produce prices to keep rising as farmers watch cash crops wither on the proverbial vine.
And now on to what used to be a really cold, wet place – Greenland. Scientists who study the cryosphere (icy places) have become concerned as increasing volumes of meltwater seep under the glaciers in formerly frozen places. Because of the way the sun strikes Earth, temperatures are rising faster at the poles, and this has caused melting permafrost, sinking buildings, and displaced people as the waters rise and storms become both more frequent and more destructive. The rapidly increasing melting in Greenland has scientists very worried because the Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest body of permanent ice in the Northern Hemisphere. As the warm meltwater flows from the surface of this sheet to the bedrock beneath, the sheet’s stability is compromised. Scientists who study ice tend to be a rather conservative lot, so when they talk about catastrophic events like the draining of 6.7 billion gallons of water, owners of beachfront property should have dinghies ready. Oh, and Trump and Inhofe should look for a bigger Ark.