Climate change and its effects on Houghton

Mason Liagre, Lode Copy Editor

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According to climate scientists and NASA, increased global temperatures lead to increased evaporation, affecting the water cycle in the form of more frequent and severe rainstorms. An intense rainstorm lead to flooding in Houghton in the summer of 2018. This well-known calamity damaged the beloved Tech Trails, destroyed homes, left structural damage to our roadways and claimed several lives. Readers are likely already familiar with the level of damage, having seen what happened to Agate Street or the Taco Bell sign. Both amateur and professional video can be found online chronicling the event and its aftermath. Up to seven inches of rain fell on Houghton during the storm, according to the National Weather Service (a branch of NASA). Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of disaster in the area. However, the community came together in an inspiring manner after the catastrophe. Numerous donations of food and cleaning supplies were made for the victims that needed them. In addition, the Health Department and the National Guard were brought in to help with repair and recovery. Climate change is usually thought of as a remote issue, certainly not one that could affect your daily life in the here and now. The fact is that it’s much closer than one might think. Its impact may already be felt in your hometown, and stopping it worldwide will require drastic action in the immediate future.

The Paris Agreement is a document drafted in 2015 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed by 195 countries. It concerns the problem of man-made climate change and how to mitigate it by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The Agreement includes requirements that all involved parties report on their levels of greenhouse gas emissions and what they have done to scale back on them. The stated goal of the Agreement is to limit global temperature change to 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

However, recent findings indicate that this is not enough. A special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that a better goal would be limiting the change to below 1.5 degrees to prevent disastrous weather events and serious impact on human and natural systems. In addition, the global amount of CO2 in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million in 2013 and is now above 409. Though these numbers may seem trivial, they represent a steep change since the Industrial Revolution and are already causing real problems.

Statistics are one thing, but the real effects of climate change are already being felt, likely in your hometown. Dr. Edward Maibach, a public health and climate change communications expert from George Mason University, asserted at a recent conference that “Climate change is happening here, now, in every community in America.” Increased levels of carbon dioxide and rising temperatures lead to drought and heavy rainfall. These are the number one and number two causes of crop damage.

Food shortages and starvation follow these if they occur on a large scale. Communities in lower socioeconomic regions would bear the brunt of this, but everyone needs to eat and no one can avoid a global food shortage. This still may be hard to imagine for some, but other effects are being felt closer to home.

It can’t be said with certainty that the flood Houghton saw over the summer wouldn’t have happened without man-made climate change. But knowing what we know about the link between greenhouse gas emissions, temperature, and weather patterns, it’s highly likely that it at least increased the severity of the storm and will lead to similar events in the future. The aforementioned IPCC gave us 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. It’s undoubtedly a problem that needs to be dealt with now. According to Dr. Edward Maibach, this is a “global problem that requires a global solution.” And yet this global problem is felt in small, local ways as well. For example poison ivy, the itchy three-leaved plant, becomes more toxic with higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Climate change is not a distant problem in either time or distance- it’s happening here and now.

*Note: This article ran 11/15/2018