Impacts of the Erratic Beast

boy hood water

Coming from a family of Bangladeshi immigrants who want better opportunities for their children and for them to know their roots, my parents made sure my sisters and I knew our culture, language, and traditions.  My parents took my sisters and I to Bangladesh at a very young age so we can fully emerge ourselves into our culture.

This past summer I visited Bangladesh for the third time.  It was truly a wonderful trip like all of the other times I have visited.  However, during this trip I noticed the impacts of climate change; the Erratic Beast.  Bangladesh is a beautiful country with so much green scenery but it will soon be gone due to rising sea levels.  There was an interesting and thought-provoking film released about the impacts of climate change specifically in Bangladesh called Bangladesh: A Climate Trap.  It is a climate trap because of rising sea levels, weather patterns changing, and biological systems being affected with the rise of CO2 levels.

In Spencer R. Weart’s book, “The Discovery of Global Warming”, he address the influences which cause impacts of the Erratic Beast.  In 1980, it was found that CO2 played a vital role in climate change.  Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrates are also influences.

With the melting of ice caps, many countries and islands will soon disappear…

Woman With Arms Outstretched


The Impact of Human’s Hamartia on Climate Change: Procrastination at it’s Finest


In a discussion about climate change with my father, I mentioned the dire circumstance of Earth’s future and the necessity for change on a global scale. He smiled at me and said with a shrug “Heather, they were saying that stuff when I was at school. And look, nothing happened, we are still fine and we will continue to be fine”.  I hate to admit it, but my father is a climate-change-denier.

Denial is a trait that we all share and exhibit to varying degrees, which can ultimately lead to procrastination.  When a hard-to-grasp or difficult situation arises, it’s easy to ignore the major issue and focus on the smaller ones.  In regard’s to climate change, human’s hamartia (fatal flaw) is denying that climate change is an issue, leading to the worldwide procrastination of changing our high-energy consuming lifestyles.  Fencer R. Weart discusses this dilemma through the historical analysis of scientist’s climate change discoveries in his book “The Discovery of Global Warming”.

Surprisingly enough, as far back at 1896, scientists already understood that global warming was occurring and human activities were responsible for contributing to atmosphere’s imbalance. Meaning that the academic world has been aware of climate change for 118 years and there has only been an increase in fossil fuel emissions.  It seems that as a race we are in severe denial about what is going on with our planet and the implications we are causing for ourselves for two major reasons. One reason is that climate change is a long-term issue that so far has not required immediate attention.  At least in American society, it seems that people would rather concentrate on the internal issues, such as gun laws and health care. These issues are important, but are more short term rather than long term.  Even though, the effects of global warming have not drastically affected our daily lives, there will be consequence for future generations around the world due to longevity of the feedback cycle.

The other reason is due to the orchestration of science is based on theory and uncertainties. People value certainty for when something is unsure it allows for people to believe there is another possible outcome or that action is not required because it COULD not happen.  For example, if the weather report predicts 100% chance of rain, then one will most likely wear a rain jacket; but if the report predicts for 50% chance of rain, one will most likely ignore the report. A problem that requires immediate attention will often receive action because it’s easier to act upon something that is more concrete. Throughout human history, the uncertainties have affected the credibility of climate change.  Even though, that’s how science works, people were able to foster in the unknown and say that even the professionals don’t know what is occurring.

When an issue is not set in stone and is at a global scale that requires an immense change in lifestyle, it is understandable why dealing with climate change has been pushed to the back- burner for over a hundred years. However, if we continue this extensive error in judgment about global warming, it could lead to our ultimate downfall.

The Short Past and Long Future of Global Warming

Adelie Penguins at Paulet Island
Adelie Penguins at Paulet Island


By Maeve Hogel

In 2005, when I was only 12 years old, I asked my parents for something extremely unusual; a trip to Antarctica. To be honest, I have no idea what sparked my interest in Antarctica, but my parents, being avid travellers, looked into taking the trip. After much research, they told me no because trips were only available in January and February, the heart of Antarctica’s summer and the middle of my school year. I vowed that day that I would make it to Antarctica someday. Little did I know that someday would be only a few years later in 2008. The retreating ice was allowing boats to arrive at Antarctica as early as December 25 at that time. For my 15-year-old self, this was the greatest news I had ever heard. However, once we got there, I started to understand that although this loss of ice and increased temperatures allowed me to take the trip of my dreams, it also meant decreased penguin populations and possible rises in sea levels all over the world. All of a sudden the concept of global warming, which was a hot topic of conversation at that time, seemed much more real to me. I was amazed that in just three years, there could be enough of a change to allow tourists to get to Antarctica several weeks earlier. It has now been six years since I was in Antarctica and the IPCC in its most recent report, last year, stated, “there is high confidence that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is in a state of net loss”. Today I looked at the National Geographic website, at the exact trip that we took, and saw that their tour dates now start as early as November 28th, almost a full month earlier then what was available six years ago.

I am amazed now, that in 2008, when I was just beginning to understand global warming, so was the rest of the world. The history of the discovery of global warming, although very complex, is relatively short. Spencer Weart in his book The Discovery of Global Warming” does a fantastic job showing the progress and evolution of global warming. Although he cites discoveries as early as the 1920s, the majority of discussion about global warming doesn’t begin until the 1970s and it wasn’t until the late 90s into the 2000s that these discoveries start to become accepted. Weart writes that “Business week called 2006 ‘the year global warming went from controversial to conventional for much of the corporate world”’ (Weart, 188). In every year since 2006, I think we have seen global warming becoming more and more conventional, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t still people who doubt its existence completely. The acceptance of global warming and the policies to prevent it have come along way in the very short period of time since its discovery, and hopefully will continue to evolve at such a rapid pace. However, it takes the efforts of every person and every country to combat such a global issue. As we look to what the future of climate change looks like, its important to begin to recognize the effects its already had in our very recent past and present, and you certainly don’t have to go half way around the world, like I did, to understand that.

Now That We Know The Planet Is Warmer, What Do We Do?

So let’s see if I can get this timeline straight: in 1824 Joseph Fourier began to question how the Earth’s average temperature is determined. He then found that the atmosphere is responsible for trapping infrared radiation that reflects off of the surface of the Earth. Fourier also decided that the atmosphere must let out some of the infrared radiation. In 1859 this phenomenon was tested by John Tyndall. Tyndall discovered that some gases such as Carbon Dioxide are not transparent to infrared radiation, as was the commonly held belief. He proposed that if changes in the concentrations of these gases (now known as the greenhouse gasses) could bring about changes in the climate system. His research was picked up in 1896 by Svante Arrhenius who, using crude data and a pencil showed that by adding Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere humans could change the temperature of the Earth.

Skip ahead to 1938, when Guy Stewart Callendar spoke on the topic of climate change before the Royal Meteorological Society. He argued that rising levels of Carbon Dioxide were leading to rises in global temperature averages. After World War II the U.S. office of Naval Research began to pour money into scientific research. Some of this research was very useful in understanding climate change. It was justified by the idea that in war, controlling the natural elements or at least predicting them could lead to victory. Roger Revelle was one of the benefactors of this funding. He and Hans Suess published a paper that while contradictory in writing showed the the oceans would absorb some of the atmospheric carbon but not all. After this publication it became obvious to Revelle and others interested in studying climate change that if carbon emissions were to increase exponentially, then real changes in the climate could be seen within several decades.

During the 1950s Charles Keeling was building an instrument that could accurately measure Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. In 1960 he published his findings, a rise in annual concentrations of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. This publication led to the recognition, that research into the possibility of Global Warming, was serious. Over the next two decades more funding was put into the hands of scientists researching elements of global climate change. These scientists began to organize and share findings at meetings and conventions. The field was becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. Certain environmental disasters and Earth Day also lent a hand to the credibility of the research. The public began to become informed, and concerned. This meant that the political sphere was getting involved too.

With a combination of interdisciplinary research, advances in technology, and interest from parties such as NASA it was becoming clear that greenhouse gasses resulting from human activity were leading to a warming planet. This led to several international conventions and agreements. In 1990 the first IPCC report stated that the planet has been warming and continued warming is extremely likely. That has really brought us to where we are today, heading into COP 20, with a big decision to make and not a large amount of time to make it. It is recognized by large governments what is going on. Parties are coming to the table, but they are not communicating.

Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming tells that tale that I wrote of above in much more detail. It describes the wrong turns that research took in the face of what appeared to be good evidence. It shows the influence war and political games had on the research as a whole. More importantly it leaves a message just at the end that tells how every single human being will need to adjust the way they live as the planet warms. Part of this begins with staying informed and informing others, it also means acting responsibly whether that means walking to the farmers market instead of driving to the supercenter, or choosing to act on behalf of the world’s citizens while sitting as a member of the United States Congress instead of on behalf of industry lobby groups.


Discovering Global Warming on the Delaware

Lambertville, NJ after Hurricane Irene– Image

In The Discovery of Global Warming, Spencer Weart tracks how the public opinion and science regarding the discovery of global climate change developed hand-in-hand. People started noticing changes in climate at the same time that scientists were discovering it. Living on the Delaware River in Lambertville, NJ, flooding is a part of our annual weather. There are of course bigger flood years than others and some years where there is only minimal flooding. My family and I belong to a traditional haul-seining fishery in town, where we became involved through my mom’s research. Even though my family lives on a hill, making us lucky compared to those downtown, being connected to the fishery, which lies on an island in the river, means we are constantly aware of flooding. Growing up here included flood days, hurricane flooding, municipal sewage failure, and free ice cream when water ruined the ice cream shop’s electricity. Being involved in a 150+ year old fishery, I hear about record flooding past my measly 19 years. The “flood of ‘55” is especially legendary but lately we’ve gotten more and more that I can remember. Notice even the flood of 1955 occurred over fifty years after industrialization, meaning not even it is free from climate change speculation. We’ve also had dry years where there is barely enough water to make a worthwhile haul and my friend in 5th grade could walk to the middle of the river with the water level below his chest. Although single-time events like floods and droughts cannot be attributed to global warming in particular, it seems as though they have been occurring more frequently. The increased frequency could be a result of changed precipitation patterns due to the global climate changing.

Sometimes it may seem as though events occur more frequently when one experiences them in their own life time so I decided to research the frequency of flooding in my area. Although clear records could only be found starting at 1955, a history of the Washington Crossing Bridge near my home was taken down by floods in 1841 and 1903. Although the bridge was newly made of steel, to strengthen it, the 1955 flood damaged the bridge enough to warrant a 3-month closure, indicating comparable levels to the 1841 and 1903 floods (Samuel, 2008). This gives a time period of about 50 years, give-or-take, between major floods. Compare this to my lifetime (1995-present) where notable floods occurred in 1996, 2004, 2005, and 2006. It should be noted that in researched history, no other floods are deemed notable between the 1955 and 1996 floods (Erminio 2006 and U.S. Army Corps). Although it is still possible that the three floods in a row could be an anomaly, they still raised hoopla in my hometown, along with Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, that climate can be threatening and global climate change must be taken seriously.

References Cited

History of Delaware River Floods

History of Washington Crossing Bridge

Flooding Studies by Army Corps of Engineers