November 22, 2010
On November 9, 2010, more than 150 Rollins and Winter Park community members gathered in the Bush Auditorium to hear a presentation by Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. Discussing his recent book, Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth, Schweiger outlined the science behind global climate change.
Taking the audience from the shores of Lake Erie to the icebergs of Greenland, Schweiger explained the role of carbon emissions and oil consumption in influencing climate change. “Climate change is not one of those events that continues on a steady course,” said Schweiger. “This matter is going to be a defining issue of the 21st Century.”
Schweiger explained that scientists are currently drilling into ice cores around the world. With today’s technology, they can analyze the isotopes of oxygen that are present in the ice and can calculate the temperature and amount of carbon dioxide from the past 800,000 years. According to their data, the presence of carbon dioxide has increased from 180 parts per million during the Civil War era to 290 parts per million today. At the rate that carbon dioxide is being emitted today, scientists predict that it will soon reach 500-600 parts per million. “Our political leaders, both democratic and republican, are failing to take control,” said Schweiger.
Another impact of climate change is the prevalence of forest fires. As the tundra warms up, it becomes much more susceptible to fire. The United States has recently seen a four-fold increase in the number of forest fires. In 2004, Russia experienced 900 individual fires causing more than 28 million acres of the Siberian Forest to burn and resulting in 15,000 deaths.
Noting that 2000 to 2009 was the hottest decade on record, Schweiger warned the audience of the impact of climate change on ocean levels. “As the Arctic Ocean warms, there is a melting of that region,” said Schweiger. “There is an enormous amount of permafrost stored in the area adjacent [to the Arctic Ocean]. Greenland is adding three Nile Rivers to the oceans each year. There is enough ice in Greenland to raise sea levels by 21 feet – 100 million people will be displaced for every one meter the sea level rises.”
The rise in temperature also affects other weather-related events. For instance, lightning strikes increase by 10 percent for each one degree rise in temperature, and the rise in the temperature of ocean water fuels hurricanes and increases their severity.
Addressing the BP oil spill, Schweiger explained his appellation regarding the decision to use 150 million gallons of dispersants to take the oil off the surface of the ocean and drag it to the bottom. “Oil on top is decomposed by the sun, oxygen and bacteria,” said Schweiger. “But now that it is in the bottom in the dark, it can’t decompose.”
Concluding his presentation, Schweiger presented a quote from Genesis 6:19, “Keep them alive with thee.” He charged the audience to consider the planet’s future inhabitants — plant, animal and human— reminding them that their actions today would literally create the world their children would live in tomorrow.
Schweiger’s book, Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth, is available at the Rollins College Rice Family Bookstore.