One year ago today, Super Storm Sandy tore up the Eastern seaboard, flooding communities, devastating our coastline, starting new conversations around the topic of climate change and weather influenced by rising ocean temperatures. In the last year, it seems like there are more statistics and articles about climate change in every paper and magazine, some confusing and difficult to comprehend. W2O board member Laura Parker Roerden takes a look at a new, easy to understand, tool for understanding climate change :
Not too long ago I received an unusual request from a friend of mine. She was condo shopping in a seaside New England community and wanted to know if I had any inside information on which shorelines would be inundated by what dates because of rising sea levels associated with global warming. Of course, she wasn’t joking. There is a lot of talk about curbing emissions and attaining a smaller carbon footprint, but the elephant in the room is when will it be too late? How might global warming affect me? How do I protect my home and workplace? What exactly is at stake and when is the critical time? Should I worry now?
A group of graduate students supervised by Dr. Camilo Mora at the University of Hawaii at Manoarecently applied climate models towards creating a way of thinking about temperature increases in a way that everyone can understand. Dr. Mora’s team calculated what they called a “climate departure” year—that is, the date in the future when the coldest year would be warmer than the hottest years in the past. The results, also published in the prestigious journal Nature, suggest that after 2047 (plus or minus a five year margin of error) more than half the earth’s surface will experience an average annual temperature hotter than anything that occurred since 1860 when records began being kept. To put that in context, think back to the hottest summer you can remember and come 2047 that will now be the coolest. Individual cities differ in the timing of their climate departure: 2063 for Moscow, 2046 for Bejing, and 2031 for Mexico City, and 2047 for Washington, D.C. for example.
But what can being aggressive now about curbing carbon emissions buy us? The researchers also calculated the answer to this question for specific cities and found that curbing such carbon emissions, while not expected to stop the warming, could actually slow it down by twenty-five years or so. Using Washington, D.C. as an example, our best efforts to curb carbon emissions could push out the climate departure date from 2047 to 2071.
According to Dr. Mora, buying such time might make the difference for both human and natural communities to adjust to the coming challenges of climate change. This is particularly important for tropical marine communities, such as the coral reef, which lives in a narrow temperature regime. More time would also mean more critical scientific data and research. So thank you, student researchers, for helping us put the challenges of climate change on a timeline.
Buying property by the ocean is the ultimate luxury but with it comes risk and responsibility. As more and more people seek out coastal land to develop, the landscape is altered and becomes more vulnerable. If you are hoping to one day have beach front property, according to this Time Magazine article, you might just be “living dangerously by the sea.” The good news for my condo shopping friend and all of us is that there is plenty we can do right now to protect our communities for the future, by reducing our emissions that contribute to the warming of our oceans and planet.
W2O board member, Laura Parker Reorden also is Executive Director and founder of Ocean Matters.
More on Climate Change here.