We are already facing global climate change, but Rear Adm. Jonathan White says we can still battle the issue.
The Climate Exploration Series held its latest event Thursday with a discussion on the effect climate change will have on the U.S., its Navy and the rest of the globe.
The series is meant “To enhance the knowledge and awareness of Earth sciences for learners of all ages through the development of quality educational materials and programs,” according to an Ohio State website.
The event at the Byrd Polar Research Center, which was free to enter with an RSVP, included a webinar so that people could take part remotely. About 300 people participated in the webinar, said Jason Cervenec, education and outreach director for Byrd, who served as master of ceremonies.
“Climate Change and National Security” was the first in the series, featuring White as a keynote speaker, who spoke to an audience of more than 100 people.
“The world and climate are certainly changing,” said White, who gave the example of a Buddha statue in the Himalayas that saw flooding for the first time in its 2,000 years of existence.
White — who serves as oceanographer for the U.S. Navy — said climate change is mainly about water, which is why the Navy is affected by it. He said the three main climate impacts are the Arctic, coastal infrastructure and global security.
“We’re in the green space now, climate change is happening but it isn’t having great impacts yet,” he said, stating people need to act now rather than wait to get into the “yellow space.”
White made several references to college football in his speech to add levity to the major concerns with our changing climate. After bringing up a projection map of the U.S. that showed the effect of melting ice caps revealing a submerged Florida, White said maybe the Big Ten would be happy with some of the SEC gone.
Rather than Naval ships, White said that leadership, partnership, stewardship and other such “ships” will be necessary to tackle climate change.
Among proposed solutions, White said we could not afford a sea wall along all the coasts of the U.S. and that we would need to be more strategic and focused that looking for one big fix.
The Arctic Council — an intergovernmental forum of Arctic nations — has been very successful in creating agreements among arctic nations, White said.
“If pro is the opposite of con, then what is the opposite of progress?” White said, quoting Mark Twain, in response to a question on the lack of U.S. participation with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an agreement that outlines the responsibilities of nation’s ocean use. “I believe within ten years, we will have ratified UNCLOS,” he said.
The first speaker, Franklin County commissioner Paula Brooks, gave a briefing on the Bipartisan White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.
As a member of the volunteer task force, she said that Franklin County has been a leader in sustainability, with the largest solar panel installation in Ohio. She then discussed the rise in temperature in recent decades and the 37 percent precipitation increase in the Midwest since 1950.
“If we do nothing, in 10 to 20 years … the annual cost will be $150 billion a year (nationally),” said Brooks, on the costs of dealing with climate change. She also said that the U.S. needs to scale up its spending to deal with future workforce and infrastructure issues linked to the climate change.
Alex Thompson, associate professor of political science at OSU, then talked about the future of arctic governance.
Due to the melting of the arctic ice cap, Thompson said that there were several potential sources of tension between countries like the U.S., Russia and Canada, who all have territory near the North Pole.
These sources include issues regarding resources, navigation through the Arctic, maritime boundaries and environmental protection.
“We don’t need to freak out, we aren’t dealing with uncharted political territory here,” said Thompson on the changing arctic dynamic between the world’s most northern countries.
Before White spoke, Michael Breen, executive director of Truman National Security Project, also spoke on energy security. As a lawyer and veteran, Breen said he spends his time thinking about human society and security, “from Ebola to ISIS.” Breen said that climate change creates more instability, which in turn leads to more conflict.
“Climate change can feel like a fuzzy, abstract thing,” said Breen, who illustrated the link between fuel and security with a story about protecting a fuel convoy.
Breen said that use of solar panels can not only increase fuel efficiency but also save lives, and that the U.S. should start to take a lead internationally on the issue of climate change.
After White’s talk, the speakers joined Ellen Mosley, paleoclimatologist
at the Byrd Polar Research Center, in a panel conducted by Ann Fisher, host of WOSU’s “All Sides with Ann Fisher.” They took questions both from the moderator and those submitted from the audience.
The questions included whether people should be focused on adapting to climate change or working to mitigate its effects.
“We want people to quit smoking, but we still want to (find) the cure for lung cancer,” said White in agreement with Mosley, who said people should not focus solely on one aspect.
“We need to talk about more things than just investing in green energy,” said Katie Connolly, a fourth-year in environmental science, after the event.
Connolly said that she found it important to see a high-ranking member of the armed forces talk about climate change, as it can be a taboo subject among conservatives.
The next event in the Climate Exploration Series, which started in September, will be “Computer Modeling, Climate Change, and Impact on Birds,” which will take place Oct. 23 at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center.