We need to act to avoid climate change

November 4, 2013 

Climate change will arrive soon in South Carolina. Or maybe not – if people act sensibly worldwide to do something to prevent it.

A recent study concluded that by 2047, average yearly temperatures in South Carolina will be consistently higher than in any year since 1860 because of climate change. If emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases continue to increase worldwide, South Carolina’s climate would be subtropical by that year.

Some might not be alarmed that South Carolina might have weather similar to Brazil’s in about 30 years. But the change would bring a variety of unpleasant changes, such as more heat-related deaths, stunted agriculture, the rise of tropical diseases such as mosquito-borne Dengue fever and harm to wildlife, particularly aquatic animals such as striped bass and brown shrimp.

Another example, the Eastern brook trout, is plentiful in Upstate streams where water temperatures usually are below 70 degrees. But the fish can’t tolerate water much warmer than that, and if streams heat up as a result of climate change, brook trout will leave South Carolina and head north.

Critics might say that pegging the change in South Carolina and elsewhere around the world to a specific year is both scientifically impossible and alarmist. But University of Hawaii scientists who conducted the study wanted people to be aware that the threat of climate change isn’t generations away; it’s just around the corner.

They do say, however, that if emissions are reduced, the year of what they call “climate departure” could be as late as 2069. But they also stress that skeptics are not likely to have to wait that long to see the results of climate change because countries farther south will experience the changes much sooner.

Parts of Indonesia, for example, should feel significant results from climate change by as early as 2020. In essence, countries at that latitude could serve as real-life laboratories, showing areas farther to the north what to expect in 2047.

The climate change deniers will dispute the findings of this report – and hundreds of others – warning of the harmful effects of climate change. They say there is no need to worry.

But ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus isn’t being brave or independent. It’s being foolhardy.

There is no harm in becoming more energy efficient, the most productive way to reduce greenhouse gases. There is no harm in encouraging clean alternatives to the use of petrochemicals to produce energy. There is no harm in focusing research and ingenuity on ways to clean up the environment.

And there could be enormous payoffs, such as better health worldwide, less impact on plants and animals, fewer extreme weather incidents.

The harm is likely to come in doing nothing. Climate change is likely to affect not only the welfare of plants and animals but also global security and strategic alignments.

The ill effects of climate change – such as long-term drought and water shortages – already have been shown to increase tensions in areas where unrest is rampant. The Middle East, especially Egypt and Syria, provides plentiful examples of that.

Climate change isn’t a partisan issue. Sensible Americans need to unite in support of the best judgment of the scientific community, face this issue head on and be good stewards of the planet.

And we need to get started well before 2047.

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