My Turn/John Bos: Earth will survive, but will we?

  • John Bos

Monday, July 10, 2017

No one can argue with David Kempf’s observation (Letters, May 2) that “the earth is 4.5 billion years old and has survived anything you can think of and is not going anywhere soon.”

That said, I will decline Kempf’s plea to me and to William Gran, whom he labeled as “global warming alarmists,” to “please stop lecturing us on reducing our carbon footprint with your articles to The Recorder and making us feel guilty about the way we live our lives.”

I was gratified to see that Mr. Gran also chose to decline Mr. Kempf’s request to write no more. His spot-on May 23 My Turn essay about our climate-deaf president’s executive order to “suspend, revise, or rescind” President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is a frightening preview of what we can expect from this profit-before-planet administration. I wonder if Trump’s stand on the EPA is the kind of action David Kempf called for on March 22, 2016, in the Recorder in which he wrote “I feel we need an alpha male as in Donald Trump to grab the helm to steer us on the right course and “Make America Great Again?’”

Trump’s decision to pull America out of the Paris Climate Accord is steering us alright, like steering the Titanic into one of the Arctic’s fast-disappearing icebergs.

No matter, Mr. Kempf is right. Our planetary home has indeed survived natural catastrophic assaults millions of times worse than the increasing man-made catastrophic assaults we are daily inflicting on the earth and ourselves. William Falk, editor in chief of “The Week” magazine, recounts “one pivotal day 66 million years ago” when a “six-mile-wide asteroid slammed into the earth off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The explosion,” Falk writes, “as powerful as millions of nuclear bombs — kicked up billions of tons of vaporized rock, filling the sky with a dark cloud that blotted out the sun for decades.”

The results of this pre-Homo sapiens event in the history of our 4.5 billion-year-old earth are interesting to compare to the current degradation of our planetary home by the very people who live on it. One of the many catastrophic impacts of the pre-history asteroid crash was a 50 degree drop in global temperatures. The dinosaurs that dominated the planet died off for lack of food. “Their disappearance,” Falk writes, “led to the rise of mammals, and eventually to the evolution of Homo sapiens.” Recent actions affecting climate change by the current White House suggests that our evolution as a political species may be in question.

Karen Harpp, an assistant professor of geology at Colgate University, noted in “Scientific American” in 2002 that there are many reasons that large volcanic eruptions have such far-reaching effects on global climate. It is estimated that the earth is home to 1,500 active volcanoes. “First,” Harpp explains, “volcanic eruptions produce major quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas known to contribute to the greenhouse effect. Such greenhouse gases trap heat radiated off of the surface of the earth forming a type of insulation around the planet.

“The greenhouse effect,” Harpp writes, “is essential for our survival because it maintains the temperature of our planet within a habitable range. There is no doubt that volcanic eruptions add CO2 to the atmosphere, but compared to the quantity produced by human activities, their impact is virtually trivial: volcanic eruptions produce about 110 million tons of CO2 each year, whereas human activities contribute almost 10,000 times that quantity.”

There is not space enough in this article to chronicle all the ways in which we Homo sapiens are jeopardizing future life on our planet. Here’s just three ways about how humans are responsible for climate change and environmental degradation. Google these topics for more details.

Mountaintop removal mining has already destroyed more than 500 mountains encompassing more than 1 million acres of Central and Southern Appalachia. For more than a decade, dumping of mountaintop removal waste into streams has occurred under a loophole created during the Bush Administration. In 2002, a new definition reclassified mining waste as permissible “fill material” under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Check out Oklahoma where former Attorney General Scott Pruitt, now head of the Environmental Protection Agency comes from. Oklahoma is now the most earthquake-prone state in the continental U.S. What’s more astonishing is that nearly all of Oklahoma’s earthquakes are man-made. Before 2009, there were, on average, two earthquakes a year in Oklahoma that were magnitude 3 or greater. Last year, there were 907. That’s right, 907. The earthquakes that are occurring in enormous numbers are the result of wastewater injection from fracking. And get this: most Oklahoma oil wells produce more toxic, briny water than petroleum.

The environmental impact of transport is significant because it is a major user of energy, and burns most of the world’s petroleum. This creates air pollution, including nitrous oxides and particulates, and is a significant contributor to global warming through emission of carbon dioxide, for which transport is the fastest-growing emission sector.

There’s so much more. But whether or not you feel guilty as David Kempf does, please explore for yourself how we are damaging our once pristine planet. Our planet will survive as Mr. Kempf assures us, but my concern is whether we, like the dinosaurs before us, will survive as a human species and for how long. Or are we guaranteeing our extinction?

John Bos lives in Shelburne Falls, writes frequently about climate change. He invites comments and dialogue at john01370@gmail.com