Industrialization Affects Global Community, Weather Patterns

Sophia Ottoni-Wilhelm, Contributing Writer

2014 was the hottest year in recorded history, and scientists are scrambling over one another to attribute the temperature hike to something, or someone in particular. “Over the past 30 years or so, man-made emission centers have shifted from traditional industrialized countries to fast-developing countries in Asia,” NASA physicist Jonathan Jiang said in an interview on NPR last week.

China, one of the most populous countries in the world, is predicted to be contributing enough coal waste to affect the severity of winters in the United States. The National Academy of Sciences published a report on the effects of coal-fueled production on the atmosphere. Satellite imagery collected over the course of the past decade showed growing white-colored patches over China, resulting from coal-fueled production. The report stated that the aerosol patches would reach the U.S. and increase the harshness of the winter months.

China isn’t the only country contributing to our snowy streets — India, Thailand, Cambodia and many countries throughout Asia are exploding with economic productivity, feeding the consumer culture of the West, and it is undoubtedly unidirectional. Last year, the U.S.’s exports to China ($7 billion) were less than a third of what the U.S. imported ($29 billion), and this year, the gap will likely remain just as large.

The worst part is, those responsible for this mess — many of us here in the United States — aren’t the ones who pay the price. In September of 2014, a team of geologists from a variety of institutions, including Oberlin College, wrote a defense of the poorer nations that bear the brunt of pollution’s environmental fallout. It was published as a Letter to the Editor in Science magazine: “The meteorological instability that comes with rising temperatures, the likely increase in erosion and storm surge, islands constantly retreating from the sea, dwindling groundwater supplies, decreasing rainfall and rising sea level will all have disproportionate impacts on populations that are least responsible for the global carbon emissions that are at the heart of these changes” (“Island outlook: Warm and swampy,” Science, Sept. 19, 2014).

Politicians in our country question spending millions of taxpayer dollars on the research and prevention of the environmental issues predicted to result from climate change. In 2008, Republican Senator Trent Franks said, “While I am concerned about the potential effects of global warming, I have yet to see clear and convincing evidence that it exists beyond historical fluctuations.”

Others have the same view, such as Rep. Senator Devin Nunes, who said, “Scientists admit that they cannot be sure whether the Earth’s temperature is rising due to cyclical warming and cooling processes, or whether and how much humans are influencing it.”

While it is generally smart not to waste taxpayer dollars, climate change is not something to mess around with. As the Science article points out, the damage of an ever-growing global economy is felt in peripheral countries first, but my prediction is that it’ll head our way in no time.

When the cost is our planet, rivers, oceans and atmosphere, why risk it? The scientific community is in agreement about one thing: The environment reacts variably to stressors. Whether it is sea level rise, depletion of the ocean’s aquatic life due to over-fishing or increased frequency and magnitude seismic activity resulting from hydraulic fracking, humans are acting and the environment is reacting. We should be prepared, whatever the cost.