Stolen: Let’s get serious about climate change |

Stolen: Let’s get serious about climate change

by Joanne Stolen

There is no doubt that the climate has changed even in my generation, although some critics and naysayers claim that we humans are not to blame, but rather it is a natural cycle. I’ve heard this buzz even among some of my friends and acquaintances. They make fun of Al Gore and those who rally around him. Climatologists attribute it to more than one factor: variations in the Earth’s orbital characteristics, atmospheric carbon dioxide variations, volcanic eruptions, and variations in solar output. Of the three, man has undoubtedly affected atmospheric CO2 variations.

In my old neighborhood in New Jersey, old pictures of the early 1900s showed ice festivals on the river on Presidents weekend with cars, carriages, skaters and ice boats. In the 20 or so years I lived there, it was a rare winter when the river froze completely. Days in the winter when we had enough snow to cross-country ski were getting less and less. I remember a few times when, if you didn’t get out in the morning to ski, it would melt by afternoon. A local ski area where a lot of kids use to learn to ski closed down because there weren’t enough days they could even make snow to keep going. In north Jersey where I ski patrolled, I remember one winter where we skied every weekend in the rain. That’s why I live in Summit County now!

Let’s look at some basic biology. Trees and green plants absorb carbon dioxide to convert it to carbohydrates that we and other living species ingest for energy and nutrients. Those trees and green plants give off water and oxygen. We have cut down vast acres of temperate and rain forests. It is hard to estimate how much forest we have lost, but for example, in the past 40 years alone, 90 percent of the wet lowland forests in western Ecuador have been cleared. These vanished forests were once home to 10,000 species of plants, and about 2,500 of these were found nowhere else in the world. If the forest is fragmented into small pieces surrounded by agriculture and development, there are not enough individuals in each area to reproduce and as a result many species are vanishing forever. We are aware of this in our neck of the woods, as we are called on to design wildlife corridors across our highways so wildlife can travel safely. Some estimates are that tropical rain forests once covered 25 million square miles. A clear example of deforestation and climate change was pointed out in Jared Diamonds book “Collapse.” Easter Island, from records of seeds and pollen, was once densely forested. The natives cut down all the trees in order to build tracks to haul those statues down from the quarries in the mountains to the coast. Then the grass lands and bushes were further demolished by grazing sheep. The island is now largely barren rock – and arid. He gives numerous examples of how societies failed, following environmental destruction.

So some of you naysayers about climate change call environmentalists “tree huggers.” We’d better love trees more – what’s wrong with conserving the natural environment, and recycling? You have to admit that natural resources are limited, or don’t you care about future generations? As the human populations explode we are continuously putting stress on the environment and fighting over scant resources. Some scientists estimate we now need 1-1/2 earths to sustain the current population. What happened to the zero population growth movement? Humans are driven by hormones not neurons! We need to educate people more to get those neurons firing!

Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.

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