Turn down the heat, please!

To the Editor:

In our area we hear and read a lot about water. Naturally, it's all around us. It's important to our economy and the lifestyles we love. But plumes contaminating the aquifer or nitrogen-spawned marine growth, or mercury fish poisoning, though serious problems in need of solutions, are in the big picture relatively modest threats.

A full century ago a Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, colorfully warned the world, "We are evaporating our coal mines into the air." Now, burning coal for electricity, heat, or industry has made Earth's air contain 390 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide, but climate stability is out of balance beyond 350 ppm. That has begun the melting of the tundra to our north, which is serious because that melting permafrost releases methane, which is 20 times as harmful as CO2. A domino effect of these pollutants changing our climate is already well under way.

Climate change is not a future event. We've been in it for several decades. It's why continental rainfall is up 7%, flood damage up 5%, extreme weather events up 20%. Forest fires set by lightning are up 6%.

Mountaintop snowcaps and glaciers are disappearing. That is deadly news to people in many places. Tim Barnet, a Scripps Oceanographic Institute climatologist writes, "In NW China there are 300 million people relying on snowmelt for their water supply. There's no way to replace it until the next Ice Age." An event rendered impossible by climate change.

In California the Sacramento Bee columnist Tom Knutson wrote, "The Sierras is a water faucet in the sky, a 400 miles long, 60 miles wide 'reservoir held in cold storage' that supplies California with more than 60% of its water." Already that snowpack has shrunk by more than 10%, will be 40% smaller in 2050, 90% by 2100.

Data cited here is found in Middlebury College's scholar in residence Bill McKibben's newest book, "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet."

He points out Earth's (that our old planet) is experiencing rapidly changing conditions: the Arctic ice cap is disappearing, oceans are acidifying and warming (goodbye lobsters and oysters!), the Amazon rain forest is shrinking (trees eat CO2),  US/Canadian boreal forests are being chewed into oblivion by pine beetles that can now survive in the warmer winters, some Pacific islands are now relocating their peoples to mainland refuges.

This Eaarth is our planet now, We've only a decade or two to stabilize it as it is now by getting carbon dioxide down to 350 ppm. Otherwise life on this superheated planet will exceed Dante's fiercest imaginings. I'm glad 'm an octogenarian!

Richard C. Bartlett
Cotuit, MA

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