Climate change’s effects on SW Ohio are focus of Oxford presentation

OXFORD – A two-degree difference in temperature does not seem like much, but when it is measured on the Celsius scale over a national scope, it could spell disaster, a speaker told a group at the Oxford Senior Center recently.

Jonathan Levy, director of Miami University’s Institute for the Environment and Sustainability and associate professor of geology and environmental earth sciences, told of the coming effects of climate change on Southwest Ohio. The program was hosted by the Oxford Seniors Ecology Club. Levy was introduced by Joan Potter-Sommer, who said the group meets on the second Wednesday of the month after starting in 2017. They will not meet in August but resume in September, she said.

Levy presented a series of slides with data about precipitation levels, extreme weather events, carbon dioxide levels and other factors but opened with an explanation of climate change being a global issue not solely a local or regional one.

He cited a comment made by U.S. Senate candidate from Georgia Herschel Walker a week earlier. That comment assumed the U.S. has cleaned its air but it would be pushed aside by still-dirty air from China, negating the expense already incurred here.

Walker’s comment was: “Since we don’t control the air our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then now we got we to clean that back up.”

Levy began his presentation saying of that comment, “That is a total misunderstanding of the issue.”

He continued by saying carbon dioxide is the largest threat causing rising temperatures around the earth.

“The main thing is the increase in carbon dioxide. It is at its highest level in 800,000 years. There are times over millions of years there have been higher concentration of carbon dioxide but the steepness of the curve now has not happened before. It has happened at unprecedented speed,” he said. Adding methane is also a contributing factor but there is less of it, although it is more concentrated. “China and India are not doing much, but they have lower per capital CO2 emissions than here.”

That curve is a reference to a chart on one of his slides which shows the increase in concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. All three can be seen to be rising in levels in the atmosphere with carbon dioxide taking the sharpest upward turn, followed closely by methane which starts as the lower of the three and then passing nitrous oxide and rising along with carbon dioxide although the CO2 levels are higher at the end.

Another evidence of the warming trend is illustrated in a pair of graphs showing the rapid shrinking of land ice masses – Antarctica and Greenland – between 2004 and 2017. Another chart shows the rising sea levels between 1880 and 2015.

Other charts showed the rising population numbers on U.S. coastal areas as the numbers of people on those land areas have grown since 1970, the increasing strength of Atlantic hurricanes, more extremes in one-day precipitation totals and the increase in fires over a 40-year period as temperatures rise. That latter one is coupled with drought conditions in the western part of the country.

While lack of water plagues the western states, the opposite problem is growing in the Midwest as greater and greater amounts of precipitation fall here.

Levy cited the following projections regarding precipitation here:

· Ohio will generally see wetter winters and springs

· Increased flood risk

· Warming temperatures will lead to less snow, more rain

· Projected increase in frequency, intensity and duration of extreme precipitation events, including mesoscale convective systems

· Intensification of Great Plains Low-Level Jet

· Increased water vapor from higher temperatures

Levy cited a prediction that a rise of 2 degrees Celsius would throw climate into a bad balance that would make parts of the world virtually unable to recover.

“We are not going to keep it under 1.5 degrees Celsius. It’s not going to happen,” he said.

He presented this quote from a book “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells regarding that 2-degree Celsius increase:

“As temperatures rise, this could mean many of the biggest cities in the Middle East and South Asia would become lethally hot in summer, perhaps as soon as 2050. There would be ice-free summers in the Arctic and the unstoppable disintegration of the West Antarctic’s ice sheet, which some scientists believe has already begun, threatening the world’s coastal cities with inundation. Coral reefs would mostly disappear. And there would be tens of millions of climate refugees, perhaps many more, fleeing droughts, flooding and extreme heat, and the possibility of multiple climate-driven natural disasters striking simultaneously.”

The effects could be worse for the Midwest than other parts of the country as noted in another study, he cited with the author writing, “Observed changes in annual average maximum temperature for the Midwest over the 20th century… have been less than 1°F. However, future projected changes in annual average temperature… as well as in both warmest day of the year and warmest 5-day 1-in-10 year events… are higher for the Midwest than in any other region of the United States.”

There will be a big effect on farming, too, Levy said. With Ohio’s major crops being corn and soybeans for export, he predicted wide-ranging effects.

“It will affect agriculture here, for export. Most of the food supply is not done locally and it will all be affected,” he said. The problem will have social justice overtones, too, as the effects will not be felt equally. “Food prices will go up. Most of us can weather increased prices, but some can’t. I’m worried about that. Plenty of us work outside. Those people will be disproportionately affected. People with respiratory problems will be disproportionately affected.”

Potter-Sommer said everyone should be concerned about the problem, especially as it relates to worsening conditions into the future.

“I’m thinking about children and grandchildren,” she said.

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