Top Environmental Problems in US Right Now- Carbon Emissions

The environment’s wellbeing goes hand in hand with sustainability- as many ecologically related topics do. We know that all living things depend on natural resources provided by Mother Earth, and if humans continue their current ways- the world will be closer to destruction than ever before, simply in the matter of a decade or two.

With America being one of the top emitters of CO2 (5.41 GT in 2018- second most in the world), their climate karma is bound to catch up. Recent talk is revolving around the massive ice sheet in West Antarctica, which, if melted, would contribute to 11 feet of sea level rise. In 2014, we learned that our actions have put the ice sheet in such a position, that it would likely never turn around. 

In an article from the Washington Post, Chris Mooney explains “Humans have a hard time conceiving of the incredible scale of an ice sheet, so the consequences of such a change can be lost upon us. But in a new paper in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers — Forensic Engineering, researchers Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., and John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. — summarize what we now know about West Antarctica. That includes a finding that may serve as a wake-up call for Americans in particular.”

If West Antarctica completely collapses — something that would likely take centuries, but begin now — the predicted 11 feet of sea level rise will not be evenly distributed across the ocean. The United States will experience a much higher rise in sea level than other parts of the world, possibly exceeding 14 feet. “Call it geophysical karma — we’re the nation most responsible for global warming and, at least in this particular case, we’ll get more of the consequences.”

Although America is currently ranked second highest in the list of carbon emissions, from  1850 to 2011 we were number 1. Research conducted by the World Resource Institute shows the United States alone produced 27 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the world. No other country even came close, with America producing more than all the nations in the Europe Union combined. 

While America is now in charge of a lower percentage of carbon emissions, carbon released from 150 years ago is still collected in the atmosphere. This means the current status of emissions released from the US will continue its impact for the next 2 centuries (at least). 

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Updated August 20, 2020

Gravity plays a huge role in the Ice sheet Crisis. The Ice in West Antarctica is measured to be about 500,000 cubic miles long, with some sections over 1 mile thick. The ice’s density creates a huge gravitational pull (thank you, Newton), which directs water to be higher surrounding the ice sheet. 

West Antarctica is so massive that the ocean is pulled up towards it, slanting up around the continent. However, if the sheet loses a significant portion of its ice, the gravitational attraction will weaken, and sea level will fall near the ice sheet even as it extends and grows across the global ocean. But the water would not spread out evenly, instead, locations farther away  would experience higher sea level rise- with North America experiencing the brunt of the impact. “The water that had been held close to West Antarctica spreads out across the ocean,” explains Penn State glaciologist Richard Alley, “and we’re far enough away that we weren’t in the ‘pile’ that was held close to West Antarctica when the ice sheet was there and its gravity attracted the water to make the pile, but we get our share of the water from that pile when it spreads out” (Mooney).

Mooney interviewed Jonathan Bamber and Harvard University’s Jerry Mitrovica to understand the approximate damage America will eventually face. Both scientists calculated similar numbers- “According to Bamber, at the high end, the U.S. might get about 25 to 27 percent more sea level rise than the global average. So multiply 11 by 1.27 and you get just shy of 14 feet. (Not every part of the U.S. coast gets exactly the same amount, of course, due to local factors.) Regarding coastal areas, Mitrovica says “The peak areas are 30 to 35 percent higher.” So here, you could conceivably be pushing toward 15 feet.” Climate Central researcher Benjamin Strauss has calculated that “12.8 million Americans live on land less than 10 feet above their local high-tide line.” On a further, generalized area scale- nearly 40% of American population lives on the coastline. Clearly, the damage of 15 feet of increased sea level is unfathomable. 

To conclude, the effects of the melting West Antarctic ice sheet will hurt America the most- but the country has the finances to shift to more sustainable methods on the level of corporations. Regarding money, the same can’t be said for poorer, less fortunate countries who will face the same  repercussions brought on by the big guys. 

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