Climate Chaos: The Public is Fed Up!

Image by Markus Spiske.

Climate change is having adverse effects on many places around the globe. From massive, unprecedented floods in San Diego to record-breaking warm December weather in Minnesota, and 2023 being the hottest year on record in the United States so far, our world is changing before our eyes and not enough is being done to save ourselves from total destruction.

Climate change is also believed to be the underlying cause for the unprecedented 2023 drought that drained major rivers, fueled huge wildfires and threatened the livelihoods of millions of people in the Amazon rainforest, according to scientists.

Last year, the Amazon River and several of its tributaries reached their lowest levels in 120 years of record-keeping – an extremely worrying phenomenon.

A study published by the World Weather Attribution initiative through an international collaboration among scientists found that a severe drought would likely have occurred even if we hadn’t so profoundly changed the climate. However, fossil fuel pollution contributed to its “exceptional” ranking, the highest category in the U.S. Drought Monitor classification system.

We already know that significant changes in the Earth’s physical and ocean environments are caused by increased greenhouse gases caused by human activities, but a recent report in the Advances in Atmospheric Sciences journal reveals just how much we have affected our planet.

In 2023, both the sea surface temperature (SST) and the heat content of the upper 2000 meters of the ocean (OHC) hit the highest levels ever recorded. The ocean’s heat content in 2023 was higher than in 2022 by a significant amount of energy (measured in Zetta Joules). This increase in heat was most notable in the Tropical Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the southern oceans, the highest since the 1950s. Additionally, a strong El Niño hurricane storm in 2023 led to a record high global sea surface temperature, significantly warmer than the previous year.
There was also an increase in the uneven distribution of temperature across different ocean areas and in the difference in density between layers of the ocean in 2023, both reaching their highest recorded levels.

In short, the average surface temperature of the world’s oceans was about 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in the second half of 2023 than it was in 2022, which was itself a record-breaking year.

While this type of planetary change seems new to us, climate fluctuations in the past has caused the destruction of millions of people.

Even the Justinian Plague that ravaged through Roman Italy killing hundreds of thousands in 541 CE to 590 CE has been linked to extreme temperature drops in the region, according to scientists. The Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 CE and the Plague of Cyprian from 251 to 266 CE also devastated the Roman population. And, according to new research from the universities of Bremen and Oklahoma, these plagues all had one thing in common: they were linked to a changing climate as extreme cooling took place.

But unlike in the past, today, there are some tangible steps we can take to mitigate the effects of climate change and perhaps save the future of our civilization.

For instance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently released a draft plan for a major project that could change the entire Embarcadero in San Francisco. They proposed a $13 billion project that would elevate the embarcadero and install flood barriers in other parts of the shore designed to protect the city from flood damage due to rising sea levels.

The project would raise the Ferry Building and roads along the Embarcadero by seven feet. It would also place flood barriers in zones along Aquatic Park and Heron’s Head Park.

On the other side of the U.S., if East Coast shipping ports were submerged and stopped working, it would disrupt supply chains throughout the U.S. These ports handle goods worth trillions of dollars each year. Scientists expect sea levels to rise by 2 feet by 2100, which could flood many ports and coastal towns.

A recent study by the United States Geological Survey, using satellite data, suggests that the northeastern U.S. coastline might start changing in the next decade or so.

Over 67,000 people living on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. – let alone millions of people living on coastlines around the globe – are at risk from rising sea levels, hurricanes, and other climate-related dangers. These could drastically alter or erode the coastal landscape soon and cause a massive human migration.

However, many people have decided that governments are not doing enough, and they are now taking things into their own hands. Activists have taken to blocking roads and several have even taken their protests into the public eye by defacing famous works of art.

As just one recent and high-profile example, two climate change activists from the French organization “Riposte Alimentaire” hurled soup at the protective glass in front of the world-famous “Mona Lisa” painting by Leonardo da Vinci in Paris’ Louvre Museum on Sunday.

“What is more important? Art or the right to have a healthy and sustainable food system?” shouted the activists before being led away by security guards.

The public has grown complacent and people concerned that governments are refraining from taking the necessary course of action to mitigate the climate crisis are fed up.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.