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More than an atomic-bomb detonation per second, every second of every hour of every day. That's the amount of excess heat being absorbed by Earth all the time due to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. It's no wonder the world's climate is suffering.

One of the things we hear most about is sea-level rise. Two scientific studies out just this year deal with the oceans, which absorb at least nine-tenths of this extra energy. For more than a decade, a fleet of nearly 4,000 floating robots has been measuring ocean temperatures around the world, at both the surface and at depths of up to a mile, and they have documented that the temperature of the seas is increasing more than 40 percent faster than had been predicted in the 1990s. Ocean temperatures have set a new record almost every year since the turn of the century.

It's no wonder that the rising sea levels are a result of increasing ocean temperatures: Water expands as it warms, and polar ice is melting ever faster as warm water thaws ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland. And entire communities where the inhabitants' ancestors have lived for generations--for instance in Alaska, on Pacific islands, and on Isle de Jean Charles (Louisiana)--are having to relocate because their land is being submerged. In addition to this flooding, rising ocean water levels cause salt water to intrude into sources of drinking water and agricultural land, forcing more evacuations.

In Bangladesh, where more than a quarter of the people live on the coast, conditions are especially dire. Ocean floods, increasing salination of water and agricultural land, cyclones and severe rain storms, and river bank erosion and mudslides (resulting from erratic and increasing rainfall and increasing glacial melting in the Himalayas) all contribute to the misery. The Environmental Justice Foundation cites a prediction that by 2050, one of every seven Bangladesh inhabitants will be displaced by climate change; up to 18 million people may be forced to move due just to sea-level rise.

A critical question is what to do with these refugees. What will happen to them and others from around the world whose lives are upended by increasing sea-level rise, floods, and droughts? If the hundreds of thousands of refugees recently in the news have been a problem, consider the millions that would be displaced as they lose their access to water and arable land.

Arkansas, though not subject to coastal flooding, will not escape changes in water and other effects of heat-induced climate change. Falls and winters will see increased rain, but springs and summers will be drier, leading to less water on an annual basis. This will lead to increased flooding during times of heavy rain but less water during the growing season. During the growing months, higher temperatures will increase the need for irrigation, but less water annually will lead to a decrease in the groundwater (like the Alluvial Aquifer along the Mississippi) needed by our farmers. Heavy precipitation from larger storms will impact the quality of our waterways since greater runoff will increase sediment, fertilizer, and agricultural waste carried into those streams.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to prevent a global catastrophe. We can and should, of course, each live more responsibly by doing things like not wasting electricity and water. But for the needed major changes, we need to convince our politicians to act.

The will of the people (nearly 60 percent of the population is now concerned about global warming) is starting to be heard in the nation's capitals. In the U.S. House of Representatives, bipartisan HR763 (the "Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019") has been introduced to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by putting a price on atmospheric pollution without financially burdening the population. It is expected that a companion Senate bill will soon be introduced.

Additional causes for optimism are the formation of a new House panel to deal with climate change (also to be bipartisan) and a change of emphasis of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology; the committee's first hearing stressed the need to respond to global climate change.

What can we do? We need to contact our representatives--by phone, email, or snail mail--to urge them to support these actions. We must remind them that action now will decrease future costs and alleviate worldwide suffering while decreasing uncertainty for financial transactions and increasing employment. It will be a win-win-win-win solution.

Arkansas' representatives are Congressmen French Hill, Steve Womack, Rick Crawford, and Bruce Westerman; and Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton. Phone numbers and links to all congressional members' websites can be found at govtrack.us/congress/members.

We can make a difference, but only if we act now--not waiting for the next election, or even six months.

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Dr. William Melchior of Little Rock is retired after 50 years of doing laboratory research in biochemistry and molecular biology, during which he made extensive use of scientific literature from around the world.

Editorial on 03/08/2019

Print Headline: Act on climate

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