When someone asks me if I believe in climate change, my answer is: No, I believe in facts and the facts clearly show that our planet is warming due to human emissions of greenhouse gasses.
If you have not heard about "climate change" by now you are not from this planet. Climate change means something very specific to us here on the Gulf Coast. Study after study shows that global warming threatens low lying coastal communities, like ours, with many dangers, not just rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes, but also biological dangers such as toxic algal blooms and "flesh-eating bacteria."
Yet there is little public discourse with our local politicians on the subject and news media often add to the confusion by publishing facts alongside groundless opinion -- as if both had equal validity. Because of where we live, on tidewater, on a hurricane coast, this situation requires some plain talk, even if it makes politicians and editors uncomfortable. Let's look at some facts.
One simple law of physics known since 1859 underpins global warming science; it is not a theory. We have known since 1896 that rising levels of carbon dioxide cause our planet to heat up. Major oil companies have many of the best scientists in the world, yet these companies no longer dispute the reality of man-made climate change.
While our citizens remain confused, and politicians hide, major corporations are planning for the new climate reality.
For instance, in October, Cosco, a large Chinese shipping firm, announced it will begin shipping over the polar route from China to Europe.
The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are designing ships to patrol the rapidly opening Arctic Ocean -- some of which may be built at Ingalls. Recently, Exxon and all the major European oil companies have called for action to reduce carbon emissions. Clearly, much of the world has gotten the climate change message loud and clear.
Now, although the cause of climate change is well understood, it's devlishly complex to predict exactly what will happen, and when.
Where such impacts will appear, however, is less complicated. Dangerously rapid sea-level increase, you see, will hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast hard.
Models based on NOAA data show that we have already added so much CO2 to the atmosphere that we have locked in enough future warming to cause much of the Bayou Casotte industrial complex in Pascagoula to be under the mean high water mark at some point in the future, as well as large sections of St. Martin, Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis.
That train has already left the station and we cannot stop it.
And if that's not enough, science suggests that a warming Gulf of Mexico is already causing increases in plague-like infestations that threaten our critical tourism industry.
Flesh eating bacterium made much news this past summer. In a recent report, Dr. Jay Grimes, Professor of Marine Microbiology at GCRL, notes that, "Vibrio vulnificus populations are increasing as water temperatures rise. The rising water temperatures promote the increase in Vibrio being found in waters where they were not previously perceived as a threat".
Global warming will also bring more toxic algae blooms or "red tides" of the type that closed beaches and oyster beds recently. Stephanie Moore of NOAA's West Coast Center for Oceans and Human Health, told National Geographic, "We found that, not only will the risk for toxic algal blooms increase within the present-day bloom season, but the bloom season itself will also expand." Again, global warming will hit us where we live, in tourism and seafood revenues.
Global warming, thus, means very specific things here on the Gulf Coast: more coastal flooding, increased risks to property and vital infrastructure, closed beaches and oyster reefs, reduced tourism revenues.
These are uncomfortable realities, but they are real, no matter how much we wish they weren't.
The debate about climate change is dominated by the extreme right, who claim it is not happening, and the extreme left which will only accept unrealistic solutions. It is time for the sensible center to demand our elected representatives engage in plain talk about climate change and what must be done to protect our beautiful coast. Solutions such as a revenue neutral carbon tax, that offsets the cost of changing energy sources while keeping the federal government's hands off of our money is the solution favored by economists, the oil companies and by Citizens Climate Lobby.
Contact Bill Curtis, a Biloxi native with a doctorate in chemistry from USM and the leader of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter of the Citizen's Climate Lobby, at firstname.lastname@example.org