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By Karl Reitz, Ph.D.

Although some scientists warned about the dangers of the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for many years, it did not receive widespread attention until the mid-eighties.  Because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acted in a way similar to how the glass around a greenhouse holds in the heat, carbon dioxide and other gases like methane were called greenhouse gases. Similarly, the effect on the earth was called “global warming.” However, because the effects of atmospheric warming did not necessarily result in uniform warming and sometimes even resulted in local extreme cold, scientists advocated a change in terms. The term “climate change” became the term most often used to cover a whole host of changes, which include warmer dryer conditions in some places, more severe storms in others and even the possibility of extreme cold waves.

Another change is now occurring. Scientific American recently announced that it would no longer be using the term “climate change” in its publications and instead use the term “climate emergency.” Others are using the term “climate crisis.” As with the change from “global warming” to “climate change,” this more recent change is the result of a growing consensus among scientists that the word “change” does not adequately reflect reality.

The reality is that world governments have not done enough in response to both predicted and actual changes to the world’s environment. Actual changes include loss of glacier and arctic ice, the rise in world average temperatures and the increase in acid levels in the ocean. Incorporating these changes into the current predictions result in some truly frightening possibilities like ocean level rises close to 100 feet, hundreds of thousands of climate refugees, and parts of the world becoming uninhabitable.

A recent study out of MIT shows that it is possible for the world to stabilize the atmosphere and keep the worst from happening by achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is doable, but it means significant changes in how we produce energy. A large majority of economists and policy experts agree that the biggest step we can take is to pass legislation assessing fees on industries that result in the release of greenhouse gases.  One such proposal is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act now before Congress.

Karl Reitz, PH.D., is an environmental science educator, a member of the South Orange County Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Education/Lobby, and a retired professor of social sciences from Chapman University.

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comments (2)

  • I don’t know Mr. Reitz, and I’ve never attended one of his classes. However, I doubt seriously if he put a photograph of a wildfire in front of one of his lectures. Then again, I wonder if he ever lectured about climate while a Social Science professor at Chapman?

    The climate is obviously changing. In fact, it has been changing for as long as I can remember, which is longer than I care to admit. Can we stop this change? Mr. Reitz seems to think so, endorsing the idea that 2050 is some kind of deadline. I have my doubts about that approach.

    What of the other deadlines that we have been under, those of Gore and the Democratic Party, (but not of the UN who pander to less-developed member countries) and those deadlines that have come and gone?

    If the climate is changing (it seems to be), then what can we do to adapt to the change? If all the world’s governments were, as one, to agree to stop climate change tomorrow, would that actually stop it? If we cripple ourselves trying to be “leaders”, what resources will remain to adapt?

    Of late, climate change is an issue designed to garner votes. It has nothing to do with climate.

  • Jim, the climate has, as you state, been “changing for what seems forever at times.” There is some truth in your statement. What you don’t seem to grasp are the time frames involved. Since you attempt to politicize Dr. Reitz’s remarks, I can only assume that you lack an understanding of science, or simply don’t believe in it.

    In the time between Earth’s formation 4.5 billion years ago and our arrival, about 250- to 300,000 years ago, the Earth experienced five extinction events, each with significant changes in climate and atmospheric CO2. These extinctions occurred over millions of years, not a few hundred.

    Our species arrived more than 64.7 million years after the last major extinction event. For about 800,000 years preceding the arrival of our Industrial Age in 1769, atmospheric CO2 levels averaged about 278 parts per million (ppm). Two things occurred over the coming 252 years:

    • Our human population increased from 771 million in 1769 to more than 7.8 billion in 2021, and
    • Our dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) grew.

    Together, we have had a horrendous impact on atmospheric CO2 levels, as they rose from 278 ppm to more than 417 ppm. That is the most significant and fastest change in atmospheric CO2 in more than 800,000 years.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Special Report 1.5°C in 2018, followed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 4th National Climate Assessment, a week later. Both reports concluded that we had 12 years to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. Beyond 1.5°C, even a half degree will significantly worsen the risks of severe droughts, floods, storms, and extreme heatwaves. Should this occur, the planet could become uninhabitable? Twelve years from the date of the report is 2030. It is now 2021, and we have nine years left to save our home from becoming potentially uninhabitable.

    On August 9, 2021, the IPCC published a new document with a far less optimistic frame. In it, the group says that the pathway to limit warming to the 1.5°C mark has narrowed and lays out only one plausible scenario to meet that goal—one that would require an extraordinary level of action, and even then, would offer no guarantee. We are out-of-time, if we continue to ignore climate change our grandchildren will inherit a planet incapable of supporting life. Is that what you want to leave your grandchildren?

    We can save the planet and keep it from becoming uninhabitable, but it is dependent on humanity working together and transitioning to renewable energy. If we don’t work together, we will simply go extinct.

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