Dr. James McClintock: Think locally, and act globally on climate change

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 28, 2022

Climate change is no longer hiding in plain sight. Increasingly, we see its local impacts — the ones we live with day in and day out.

For instance, while driving to work recently, I exited the highway and was shocked to find that the guardrail-less gulley along the exit road had grown to a jaw-dropping four-foot depth. A split-second driver error could result in a dangerous plunge. Paradoxically, the exit ramp led to one of wealthiest cities in the southeastern United States.

Torrential rains, super-charged by human-induced climate change driven by our dependence on fossil fuels are attacking the critical infrastructure of American cities.

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Here in the southeast, we live with increasing frequency of life-threatening flooding — like the flooded street that 60-year-old Joseva Speed encountered on March 16 under a Birmingham, Alabama, highway overpass.

The drainage capacity of the low-lying underpass was no match for four inches of rain. The waters swept Joseva away while he was trying to open the door of a family member’s flooding car. He lost his life right in front of a 409-bed, acute-care hospital.

Here in the southeastern United States, flash flooding is but one of the clues as to what the future holds if we do not address the agents of climate change.

Without additional action, rising seas will continue to gnaw away our shores, and hurricanes and tornado-infested storm fronts will grow more potent.

Beyond the derailing impacts on the earth’s essential ecosystems, more extreme heat days, insect-borne diseases and allergens will threaten human health.

Reacting to this no longer theoretical health threat, research centers such as the Center for Climate Change and Health, sponsored by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, are cropping up internationally.

Despite the deep challenges of global climate change, hope is increasing for a sustainable future evidenced by the actions of individuals, governments and corporations.

Buying into the mindset of apocalyptic inaction is counterproductive. Action on climate change over the past decade has been especially promising. More than one hundred countries have lowered their carbon footprints by developing cheaper-than-fossil fuel wind and solar renewable energies.

Smaller, more affordable nuclear power plants have sprung up. Energy-conserving construction practices and energy-efficient modes of public transportation have risen. There has been an explosion in the production of electric vehicles offering the public powerful, low-maintenance cars and trucks immune to the rising prices of gasoline.

Take a minute and step outside. Inhale deeply and enjoy the smells of spring grasses and flowers. Listen to the birdsong and the distant chatter of children playing. We can all make a difference. Do it for them.

Dr. James McClintock is Professor of Polar and Marine Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

— This column appears courtesy of The American Forum