A No-Nonsense Look at Climate Change

Aug 20, 2018

By Frank Sargeant, Editor

(This is the first of a three-part series on climate change, a controversial issue that puts anglers, hunters  and other outdoors advocates on the front lines in what has become a political hot-button not only across America but around the world. It's also rapidly becoming a business issue for those of us in the fishing, hunting and boating industries. Today, we look at what it is, if it is, and why it has become a political issue rather than a practical problem that requires solving.)


Earth has no thermostat.

Good thing, too, or my wife would constantly be turning it up.


But global warming, AKA climate change, is no joke. In fact, the terms have become such memes they get initial capital letters and exclamation points: 

Global Warming! 

Climate Change!

When it comes to truths that have to be held self-evident, there's no question there are getting to be more hot times in the old towns most nights. In the new ones, too. Amazingly, 17 of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001.

Buffalo, the new Miami Beach . . . .

Snook, manatees and lionfish are headed for the Carolinas. Bull sharks are pupping in Pamlico Sound, and great white sharks are giving seals and walruses a taste of Jaws in the Bering Sea. 

Snook, once confined to the southern half of Florida and Central America, have been showing up farther north each year as winters become less severe, probably as a result of world climate change. (Photo Credit Snook Foundation.org.)

Glacier National Park almost isn't, and the Snows of Kilimanjaro ain't lookin' so good, either. Greenland is turning green, actually. 

Permafrost is proving temporary, and polar ice caps are melting into beanies.

Parts of the ocean are becoming more acidic than a Rosie O'Donnell monologue. Acid is tough on coral reefs, oysters and clams, all prime fish habitat as well as a basic part of the ecosystem.

Melting ice and thermal expansion (or something) is causing sea levels to rise. 

I watched it come up over three inches in 30 years on Tampa Bay. I'm not getting any taller--wadefishing is becoming problematic on my favorite redfish flats.

Invest now in your beachfront Orlando condo . . . .

Florida's governor just declared a state of emergency due to horrendous red tide blooms on the southwest coast, and blue green algae is just as bad on the state's southeast coast, both fed by excessive nutrients too long ignored but exacerbated by excessive heat and lengthy summers.

All this stuff is not just a life-style issue: It's tough on tackle sales, boat sales, charter fishing--and ultimately on waterfront property prices and the taxes that support the coastal infrastructure.

Could it all be just a global temperature glitch?

Most who should know say it's not, that there is an undeniable increase in the average temperature around the globe, as evidenced by all of the above, and that it's happening much faster than it does in the normal warming and cooling cycles Earth has gone through for millions of years. 

So it appears the Big GW is happening.

The question is, whodunnit?

Causes of Climate Change

 We are on the Orient Express of Climate Change, and nobody wants to fess up.

There's a lot of finger-pointing, but just like Mom used to tell us, when you point the finger, three are pointed back at you.  Of course, Mom used to tell us that if we picked up a toad we'd get warts, and that beer was bad, too . . . .

(I distinguish pointing the finger, here, from giving the finger, as has become the standard response from both sides on Climate Change anytime they encounter each other. Mom would have had a much sterner response to that, to be sure.)

It seems pretty clear, though, that the alleged man-made part of the change, the recent dramatic upswing, is the result of two major factors. One is burning fossil fuel, coal and oil, mostly in power-plants and internal combustion engines starting big time with the Industrial Revolution around 1850. 

Researchers say a major part of the CO-2 in the atmosphere comes from burning coal, gas and oil to generate electricity, as well as from the exhaust of internal combustion engines used in everything from lawn mowers to locomotives. (Frank Sargeant Photo) 

The second is third-world deforestation in which massive swaths of forest are cleared, a double whammy in which huge carbon sinks--the trees and vegetation--are removed, and then the rubble is burned adding to the CO-2 in the atmosphere. Firewood used in less developed countries is also a factor.

So is cow flatulence, which produces methane--no biggy if it's one cow farting, but when you add up all 1.5 billion currently on the planet, that's a lot of cheese being cut on a daily basis. Chickens and fish don't fart, or make you have heart attacks--is there a message here for us?

What It's Doing

Those who know, we hope, say the result of this is to put a sort of thermal blanket on the Earth, holding in the sun's heat, and thus increasing the global temperature. Overall, the global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.07°C (0.13°F) per decade since 1880 and at an average rate of 0.17°C (0.31°F) per decade since 1970, according to NOAA. Not much, but enough to cause big changes, researchers say.

This graphic from NOAA indicates average warming around the globe in 2016 compared to long-term averages. Every year since the turn of the century has shown similar change. (Credit NOAA Environmental Information)

(Emissions also make it hard for living creatures like humans to breathe, but that's a whole other matter. As writer James Baldwin says of sex and money, if you have clean air you don't think much about it. If you don't, you think of nothing else.)

As outdoors folk and conservationists, we are on the front lines of this. The fish and wildlife we pursue and the wild places we love show the results of significant climate change first, long before there's any impact on the folks whose shoes never step off pavement.

I'm seeing some changes that look awfully suspicious in recent years, and I'll bet you are, too. 

I know a lot of us don't want to hear it -- so we don't.

It's easy to ignore, for sure, by the time you run the kids to football, baseball, soccer, and scouts, get yourself to work regularly, enjoy an occasional dinner out with your spouse and friends and then try to find enough time on weekends to slip in a little fishing or hunting as well as church if you're so inclined.

But this stuff--and a lot of it seems pretty self-evidently true, despite a red herring here and there--is going to cause all of us a lot of problems in the not-too-distant future--and not just because it means trout can't be stocked in summer anymore across the Appalachians or that stripers won't survive in southern rivers like Florida's St. Johns. If it's half as bad as some say it will be, it could affect pretty much all aspects of our lives, and of course a lot more so for our kids and grandkids and those after them.

The good news on this is, there's growing evidence fixing it to the best of our ability will actually save us money, as well as making the planet cleaner, safer and a more pleasant place to live.  And, yeah, better for anglers and boaters and hunters and the industries they support, too.

The Politics of Climate Change

Before we start down the road of why Climate Change appears to be happening -- and it can get boring as catfishing if you're not a large fan of climate science (well, maybe not that boring) -- let's touch on the politics of the thing, because that so far has been bigger news in the U.S. than the issue itself. 

We have to have a good bit of faith in science generally to live our everyday lives--turn on the lights, start the computer, open the refrigerator, drive to work--all that stuff runs on scientific principles realized in engineering. So do outboard motors and side-scan sonars. But when it comes to Climate Science, I like many of you am more into the "prove it" stage, because a lot of the really bad stuff they say is going to happen is well into the future.

Do they actually know what they're talking about?

I'm starting to think maybe, yeah, for the most part, they do, and that we definitely need to start paying a bit more attention than most of us have so far. We'll look at some of the evidence in Part 2, but it's pretty solid. It sucks, but there it is.

One of the biggest reasons many of us have been suspicious about all this is because it first came to truly national (and international) attention with the publication of An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore--a prominent liberal politician, to say the least--released in conjunction with a movie of the same name in 2006, read and seen by millions who had never before heard of Climate Change.

Mr. Gore got some things wrong--neither polar bears nor Adelie penguins are disappearing, for example-- but he got a lot right in this book. Many of us, however, never forgave the idea for coming from a liberal. (Actually, though Al Gore may have invented the Internet, he did not invent Global Warming--that concept apparently first came from a scientist named Charles David Keeling in the 1950's.)

Most scientists, in any case, are not swayed by political leanings in their professional life--if they were, they'd soon be out of a job because data is data, and no Republican data or Democrat data are permitted or you lose your membership card to the Academy of Science, which I gather is somewhere between Bassmaster and the IGFA for science folks. (There is such a thing as selective publication of data, however, and we'll review that a bit later.) 

We'll take a closer look at all this tomorrow, but for the time being, paddle with me a while down this bayou with an open mind, and hopefully we can together arrive at some semblance of truth in the Climate Change issue as it affects us as outdoors families and citizens of Planet Earth, and maybe get a few ideas about what can be done on the personal level to help turn the ship.

(If you'd like to respond--and I'll bet quite a few of you would--email me at Frankmako1@gmail.com. Remember, as Mr. Rogers said, it doesn't cost extra to play nice.)