By FRANK CARINI
The buildup of carbon monoxide from running a car engine in an enclosed space such as a garage can kill you. Carbon monoxide, produced every time a fossil fuel is burned, is a toxic gas that has an indirect impact on atmospheric warming by elevating concentrations of greenhouse gases.
The first car was invented more than 130 years ago. Last year in the United States alone 276.1 million cars were registered. Worldwide, there’s an estimated 1 billion cars.
That’s a lot of carbon monoxide emissions. Plus there’s planes, trains, ships, and boats. Tractors, trucks, tanks, and bulldozers. Motorcycles, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, and leaf blowers. There’s also backyard barbecues, ovens, heaters, and dryers. It’s not surprising then that nearly half of the carbon monoxide in the atmosphere comes from the burning of fossil fuels.
The burning of coal, natural gas, and oil also produces carbon dioxide and methane, the two most prominent and powerful greenhouse gases.
That’s a lot of climate-altering emissions, and the United States is historically responsible for more emissions than any other country. From 1850 to 2002, the United States generated 29.3 percent of the planet’s cumulative carbon emissions — the European Union was second at 26.5 percent, according to the World Resources Institute.
The United States is no longer the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, as China surpassed us more than a decade ago. Of course, some of China’s emissions are from the production of goods to satisfy the consumption desires of the United States and other nations. For 152 years, from 1850-2002, China was responsible for 7.6 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions.
The world, with the United States leading the way, has been poisoning the skies for nearly two centuries. Science tells us we’re creating a warming world that is putting the future of humankind at risk, triggering a sixth mass extinction, and degrading human and environmental health.
Several recent reports, authored by professionals, and non-fake news stories provide a glimpse at the impact our activity is having on the planet:
An Aug. 1 headline in The Washington Post tells us that the melting “Greenland ice sheet poured 197 billion tons of water into the North Atlantic in July alone.”
Canadian weather services reported last month that the temperature hit a record 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit at a military base and weather station at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, 508 miles from the North Pole.
A July 28 report by “PBS NewsHour” noted that, “As temperatures soar, a ‘heat dome’ is coming to the Arctic.”
In the 20 years from 1980 to 2000, Alaskan wildfires burned nearly 14 million acres. In the past 19 years, wildfires in the 49th state have burned more than 28 million acres, according to a July 31 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
On July 8, a month’s worth of rain deluged the Washington, D.C., area, resulting in one of its most extreme flooding events in decades. The record-setting rainfall unleashed 4 inches of water in an hour.
Despite this growing amount of evidence, we’re still too afraid to talk about climate change — even those who accept this reality had to debate whether the 2020 democratic presidential candidates could debate climate change during their made-for-TV spectacles. But doing nothing, by protecting the status quo and special interests, is far more frightening, at least for those not concerned about concentrating power and wealth.
We should be speaking openly, and with a deep sense of urgency, about climate change. We know what we have to do to mitigate its impact, but we have allowed those with their heads buried in the tar sands to dictate the conversation. We don’t want to upset monied interests and their cabal of deniers, even though it is they who offend with their lies and deception. They scare people with social-media postings about fallen wind turbines. They express concern about the mess ground-mounted solar arrays will leave behind. They claim wind turbines cause cancer and lower property values.
Wind turbines can fall down, and unscrupulous solar-energy businesses could leave behind messes for others to clean up. Just like natural-gas pipelines can explode, coal mines can collapse, and offshore oil rigs can blow up. Future generations will long be dealing with nuclear waste. We know without question that the burning of fossil fuels emits a smorgasbord of air pollutants that are harmful to both the environment and public health. Disadvantaged communities live near fossil-fuel facilities.
The cabal and their wealthy overlords claim renewable energy costs too much, but they conveniently ignore the hidden costs associated with polluting the planet by the continued burning of fossil fuels. They scream about subsidies for solar and wind, but don’t mind taxpayer money being used to keep coal mines open and ignore the fact the United States spends 10 times more on fossil-fuel subsidies than on education.
They purposely confuse weather and climate. They argue that the climate is always changing. True, but they ignore the fact that the burning of fossil fuels — and other human activities — has accelerated changes that once took hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of years into a few millennia. Life can’t adapt that quickly.
Industrialization, and the burning of fossil fuels, began in earnest in the 1800s. Since then, while we’ve accomplished many great things in a very short amount of time, our impact on the planet has been significant.
It’s about time we finally take responsibility, by admitting to the damage we have inflicted and by putting partisan differences aside to address a problem that supersedes debate about health care, the minimum wage, and impeachment.
Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.