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Earth Matters How climate change will affect our state

October 13, 2018

Environmentalists often talk about the effects of climate change in vague terms of the changes it will bring on their children’s and their grandchildren’s lives.

How does a dozen years sound? Or 22 years? Does that get your attention?

Those are the time limits included in the new report on climate change issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. It states, in definitive language, that we have that amount of time to at least keep the worst effects of climate change at bay.

“It hits hard,” said Mitch Wagener, professor of biological and environmental science at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.

And it will hit here.

The general consensus is that climate change will make southern New England a warmer, wetter, stormier place to live.

“We’re already had storms that are greater in frequency and intensity,” said Chris Collibee, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

It will mean changes in agriculture, in the fish that swim in the Long Island Sound and the birds that nest in our trees.

It means Long Island Sound could rise by as much as 20 inches by 2050, according to the Connecticut Institute for Reliance and Climate Adaptability — a huge change to the state’s coastline and its ecosystems. The state and coastal towns are now using that figure when they plan for coastal development, said institute director James O’Donnell.

It could even mean a change in the microbial life in our soil.

Hannah Reynolds, an assistant professor of microbiology at Western, said there’s evidence prolonged droughts will diminish the soil’s microbial life. Wetter, warmer weather will let bacteria and fungi — good and bad — flourish.

“It’s the humidity that’s important,” she said.

And it will cause massive disruptions in global agriculture, which will eventually come round to us.

Manoj Misra, an assistant professor of social sciences at Western who studies world agricultural practices, said some countries, like Bangladesh, are already living with climate refugees. People are abandoning cyclone-ravished coastal villages there and moving inland. Much of Southeast Asia, he said, lives under the same threat.

“There are billions of people there,” he said. “It’s a poverty-stricken region and people don’t have the infrastructure to help them.”

Misra said he’s read the recent UN report and is pessimistic about the world having the will to make the radical changes the report calls for.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said.

The UN formed the IPCC in 1988 to study climate change, and has issued five major reports on the issue since then.

The report issued last week involved 91 scientists from 40 countries reviewing 6,000 scientific studies.

Its conclusion is this: Global temperatures have risen about 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial levels. That’s enough to make global warming the reality we’re living with today.

If the nations of the world make radical changes to reduce the amount of greenhouses gases they now release into the atmosphere by 2030, those changes could check the rise in temperature to about 1.5 degrees C, or about 2.7 degrees F, by 2040.

That will still profoundly alter the world’s ecosystems as we know them today, the report said. But it will mitigate some of the damage and give society a chance at adapting to the new world.

If left unchecked, the report said, temperatures will rise by 2 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F, by 2040. That will bring about profound, disastrous changes to the world.

Since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, his administration has responded to any and all climate change warnings by doubling down on the use of the fuels — primarily coal and oil — that cause the problem and by ignoring science in general.

Which leaves states like Connecticut carrying on the work the federal government refuses to consider, the DEEP’s Collibee said.

It’s promoted the use of electric cars and renewable energy. It’s one of 16 states, plus Puerto Rico, pledging to abide by the goals of the 2015 Paris Accords, the international climate treaty that the Trump administration ditched in 2017.

But it cannot do this work alone.

“Public water, and air pollution know no boundaries,” Collibee said. “This is a local problem. It’s a state and national and international problem.”

And Wagener of Western said if people consider the damage climate change will do to people’s lives, it’s not only an environmental problem.

“It’s a moral issue,” he said.

Contact Robert Miller at earthmattersrgm@gmail.com

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