If priorities are misguided, proper allotment of time and resources to address existential problems, global and national, is impossible. Anthropogenic climate change and global warming were recognized as fact by the scientific community over fifty years ago. But because of two-party political dysfunction and distorted priorities little was done. Because water covers 71 percent of Earth’s surface, one of the many hazards of global warming is that a single degree Celsius uptick in average global temperature can cause an 8 percent increase in evaporative atmospheric moisture. Where evaporation is supercharged by heat, droughts occur. In areas conducive to condensation, that cumulative moisture becomes heavy precipitation. Given the planet’s current temperature trajectory, it’s no surprise Connecticut just completed its rainiest July since 1905, when meteorological records first were kept. The wet month also contributed to high, often dangerous humidity when combined with searing heat. Deluges and flashfloods not only destroyed lives and personal property, but severely damaged crops in northwestern Connecticut, upstate New York, Vermont, Nova Scotia, Berlin, Beijing and scores of other locales around the globe. Surfeits of rain, sometimes exceeding seven inches an hour washed away buildings, bridges, highways and other infrastructure. Vermont alone suffered $5 billion in damages, and we’re barely mid-summer.
Continued record-breaking temperatures (over 115º F in Europe) and prolonged heat waves, reaching 110º F for weeks in the southern U.S. and Mediterranean regions, have been key contributors to water shortages, wildfires and hundreds of human deaths. In addition to mobile phones made inoperative by temps, 12 counties in Washington State are suffering drought emergencies, and in Syria water level drops and pollution have reduced fish populations by 90%. Canada has been on fire for months destroying vast natural habitats and vulnerable wildlife within. Air quality over much of the continent has been compromised by smoke. More recently, Algeria, Spain, Italy and Greece have been ravaged by drought-induced fires, as have the Canary Islands and Swiss Alps. Despite Herculean efforts and losses of lives, including firefighters’, abatement is limited.
Hot oceans amplify these weather-intensified catastrophes by drastically “bending’ the jet stream, resulting in heat domes. Contorted-airflow wind shear can sometimes dampen formation of storms, but in general, rising heat and atmospheric energy over the oceans increases sea levels and feeds cyclonic intensities of hurricanes and typhoons. Global ocean surface temps in June were the highest in 174 years of data collection, with emergent El Nino patterns worsening the long-term trend. In Manatee Bay, 40 miles south of the tip of Florida, oceanographic buoys recorded a shocking 101º F seawater temp (comparable to hot tubs). That spells disaster for many marine organisms, especially coral reef communities and fish populations already distressed by global warming. As water temperatures rise to unprecedented levels in uppermost water columns, we’re seeing an oceanic heat wave affecting 40% of the seas. Already, since 1975, days with water temps above 90ºF have increased an alarming 2500% off the Florida Keys. Further coral mass die-offs brought on by heat could be devastating given 25% of all marine animals, including dolphins, turtles and sharks, depend on reefs for survival. Like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Florida Reef Tract (North America’s only barrier reef) has already lost 90% of its live coral cover since the 1980s. As global warming continues to worsen, routine economic losses are projected to exceed $1 trillion a year. Yet, despite culpability, fossil fuel corporations haven’t been held accountable to either pay restitution for the harm or fund long-term restoration, assuming remediation long-shots are feasible. Bottom line: thanks to our relentless carbon emissions, the “seven seas” are losing an ability to act as environmental buffers, softening impacts of excess heat and carbon dioxide we humans produced.
For decades, global oceans soaked up 90% of the warming caused by humanity’s CO2, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. They’ve also acted as carbon sinks absorbing enormous amounts of atmospheric CO2, much of it produced by centuries of hydrocarbon-intensive, ecologically destructive human activities. But the day of reckoning has come for nonrenewable energy production, meat-intensive diets, congested highways and profligate economies overly dependent on coal, oil and petroleum byproducts. The oceans, our ecological protectorates turned cesspools, are less effective buffers. Each year, about 25% of the CO2 emissions humans produce are absorbed by the oceans, the Southern Ocean closer to 40%. But massive gigatonnage of carbon dioxide absorbed from our industrial greenhouse gas emissions, internal combustion engines, etc., especially the last 150 years, has pushed the planet’s oceans inexorably towards CO2 saturation. Their ability to keep up with our atmospheric pollution is waning. Increased CO2 in the oceans also alters seawater chemistry by first forming carbonic acid and then dissociating into bicarbonate and hydrogen ions, making the seas more acidic. That lowering of pH has made marine and freshwater environments less tolerable, even deadlier to many species, whose gills, shells, and exoskeletons evolved for a higher, more favorable pH range.
Bear in mind: while water is much more difficult to heat than either air or land, it’s also much harder to cool. Today’s changes will have a lasting detrimental effect on biodiversity, accelerating the on-going mass extinction we’re causing. Other cascading effects could be unparalleled. New lines of scientific research are studying how global warming affects ground beneath cities. Heat released by buildings and subterranean transportation on especially hot days creates “subsurface heat islands” which can deform soil, rock and building materials. And while bone-dry conditions are dangerously lowering the Mississippi, Colorado and Ohio Rivers here in the United States, Antarctic sea ice has melted to its lowest recorded expanse for this time of year, even though, in the southern hemisphere, it’s winter. That means rising seas are worsening, encroaching on 680 million people around the globe living in low-lying areas and almost 2 billion more (one quarter the human population) residing in half the world’s coastal megacities.
Given so many salient forecasts for disaster, a sane society would redouble its efforts to reduce carbon emissions and redirect misspent resources to ameliorate climate change. Instead, the Senate, in bipartisan derangement, is likely to approve an $886 billion military budget, an all-time record. Factoring in nuclear weapons spending through the Department of Energy and other hidden costs, the total tops $1 trillion. It bears repeating that the United States’ bloated “defense” budget exceeds that of the next 11 countries combined, most of whom are allies. Three times China’s military spending, it’s completely unnecessary and out of control, considering the Dept. of Defense (DOD) remains the only major federal agency unable to pass an independent audit. Last year, the DOD couldn’t account for over half of its assets, which top $3.1 trillion. Much of that additional military spending goes to Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, TransDigm; Boeing and other enormously profitable defense contractors, making our military (and its government controlled production) the largest corporate welfare, socialist enterprise in the world. As Senator Bernie Sanders, who opposes the defense authorization bill, astutely observes, defending the American people is less about pouring money into the Pentagon than it is assuring everyone has access to quality healthcare and housing, good and extensive education, decent standards of living and, above all, a habitable planet. Dwight Eisenhower drew the same parallels in his presidential farewell address when he warned of the military-industrial-(congressional) complex.
Consider as well that, despite all the money and saturation bombing America threw at North Viet Nam, we nevertheless lost the war. And despite combined military might of allied forces during World War II, the outcome of that combat really boiled down to a few intellectual accomplishments. In addition to radar advances helping to win the Battle of Britain, mathematician Alan Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park used logic and an early computer to decipher encrypted messages produced by the Nazi’s Enigma Machine. Turing’s code breaking, combined with sonar advances, broke the U-boat stranglehold Germany had over North Atlantic shipping. An equally important breakthrough, if not more so, occurred in the Pacific. Overmatched U.S. naval forces won the Battle of Midway, perhaps the most impactful battle of WWII, because Joseph Rochefort, an obscure code-breaker, was officer in charge of communications intelligence. Working in a windowless Hawaiian basement, Rochefort deciphered encrypted Japanese fleet messages in the nick of time. Japan’s Imperial Navy, planning to finish the job started at Pearl Harbor, was advancing on Midway Island with overwhelming naval and air (i.e., carrier fleet) superiority. Once Midway was taken, providing an unsinkable airfield, Japan could island-hop, pushing back U.S. forces until the Hawaiian Archipelago was theirs. Instead, Japan was defeated at Midway, and the U.S. used a similar strategy, taking the Solomon Islands after a hard-fought Guadalcanal foothold.
Rochefort’s code breaking and decryption enabled Admiral Nimitz to ambush Japanese forces just as their attack began, resulting in the loss of four major Japanese carriers, virtually sealing the fate of the Pacific theater. Without that victory, Australia may well have fallen to Japan, U.S. forces would have withdrawn to America’s mainland, and reinforcements would have been needed from the European theater. As a result, Roosevelt and Churchill would have probably abandoned their “Germany First” policy, Lend-Lease aid to the UK and USSR would have been reevaluated, and American participation in the Battle of the Atlantic, the European theater and even North Africa indefinitely curtailed. Many historians conclude D-Day would have been pushed out two or more years. That delay would have enabled Germany to commit more resources to defending France and combating the Soviets, developing (in large numbers) the advanced weaponry that came too late in the war to be decisive, such as jet-propelled Messerschmitt fighter planes and stealth bombers and Type XXI submarines (after which the USS Nautilus was modeled).
“It is forbidden to kill;” Voltaire is credited with saying. “Therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Charlie Chaplin elaborated on Voltaire’s perspective on war as Monsieur Verdoux, the eponymous character of his 1947 black comedy film inspired by serial killer Henri Landru. Awaiting execution for his crimes, Verdoux says to a journalist, “One murder makes a villain…millions a hero. Numbers sanctify my good friend.” In the movie, his final court remarks are equally penetrating. “As for being a mass killer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown women and children to pieces, doing it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison.” The Breen Office, censoring Hollywood productions at the time, forced Chaplin to delete the following: “To be shocked by the nature of my crime is nothing but pretence…a sham! You wallow in murder…you legalize it…you adorn it with gold braid! You celebrate it and parade it! Killing is the enterprise by which your System prospers, upon which your industry thrives!”
July is expected to be the hottest month in recorded history, one in which thousands of Beijing residents were driven from their homes by powerful typhoons. Hungarian physicist Edward Teller and other scientists warned of these kinds of global warming events 60 years ago. The dire projections spurred Exxon-Mobil and Shell to conduct their own research on greenhouse gases and climate change in the 1970s. Kept secret, oil company findings bore out the conclusions of Teller, Charles David Keeling and other scientists at the forefront of efforts to combat global warming. For decades, fossil fuel executives refused to publicly acknowledge what their researchers confirmed. Furthermore, they lied about existential threats posed by global warming and climate change, perpetrating a longstanding and carefully coordinated campaign to discredit climate scientists for sake of profits. Now, the entire planet is behind the eight ball. Justifiably, Bernie Sanders has asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to bring lawsuits against fossil fuel companies. More importantly, the U.S. and China must stop listening to “cold war” hawks and work in unison to save the biosphere.
The first, most logical step is to trim military spending and reapply those funds combating climate change and reducing carbon emissions. Lessening from 737 to perhaps 800 + military bases across the globe, where we station half a million troops, spies, contractors and dependents, would be a good start. The official count of overseas installations is murky, omitting espionage bases and garrisons in former parts of the Soviet Union, such as Kyrgyzstan, with an eye to control Caspian Sea oil. To that point, Chalmers Johnson has written several books on how crippling U.S. militarism has become, transforming this once largest industrial power into a “continuous war” economy, producing mostly weapons, gluttonous for oil. As Johnson asserts, all those bases manifest U.S. “force projection” but the residual effect is ill will. Peripherally, networks of brothels, bar brawls, sexually violent crimes, hit-and-run accidents and racially-religiously motivated slurs against civilians are imperialist provocations for blowback. Congress’ capitulations to the Pentagon are distortion of priorities, wasting large chunks of taxes which would better serve addressing climate change and global warming.
Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.