"The question for all of us is 'What kind of planet do you want to live on?'" asked Dr. Gabe Filippelli, a professor of urban sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis. He spoke at the City Market on Wednesday as part of the Science on Tap lecture series.
According to Filippelli, Hurricane Sandy was "the wave of the future of climate change", as is the drought in the Southwest and Great Plains states. How is this possible? Because when it gets warmer, pressure zones stabilize. The high pressure zones become desert areas, while the low pressure zones are prone to superstorms.
"We understand the science and physics of climate change, and those are not particularly complicated," said Filippelli.
Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the primary "greenhouse gas". It "absorbs heat energy like nothing you've ever seen ... substantial enough to cause global warming."
As it gets warmer, evaporation increases and ice melts. As a result, there is more water in the ocean, which raises the sea level and causes coastal flooding. Coastal flooding sends salt water considerable distances inland, resulting in damage to the ecosystem.
It also causes cities to become warmer than their surroundings. According to Filippelli, cities are already 2 to 3 degrees warmer than their surroundings.
The warmer temperatures affect crop yield and increase winter temperatures. How does this affect alternative medicine? By affecting which herbs can grow in Indiana, and by when we plant.
"Changes are coming," said Filippelli. "Global warming is a fact."
According to Filippelli, CO2 in breathable air was at 370 parts per million in 2002. Now, it's 396 parts per million. The "doomsday" scenario is 450 parts per million.
"It has always changed," said Filippelli of the CO2 level in the atmosphere, "But it's never changed this quickly."
Global warming can also cause environmental impacts that affect infertility and birth defects. Scarcity of rain can lead to scarcity of water, which can lead to political instability. Political instability and climate change both can contribute to the extinction of medicinal plants.
According to Filippelli, last year's corn harvest was 35 percent less than normal due to climate change. Basically, it was too hot to germinate.
"Scientists are pretty confident about this, but people like me weren't communicating with people like you," said Filippelli. "There's no belief associated with this, it's just the data. ... Climate change and the changes it's causing are more subtle than the Cuyahoga River catching on fire."
A discussion of the lecture can be viewed at provocate.org. Science on Tap is held the first and third Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the Tomlinson Tap Room at City Market.