Paying the Price of Global Warming, One Degree at a Time

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A portrait of Dr. Mark Botton taken on April 5, 2017 in his office at Fordham Lincoln Center. (EMMA DIMARCO/THE OBSERVER).

By COSIMA BALLETTI-THOMAS
Contributing Writer

“We’re all in this together. So even if you are the most environmentally conscious person there is, if your neighbor and everyone else is not progressive then it sort of nullifies the goodness that [you] do. You have to get everybody into the lifeboat.” These are the words of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) Professor of Biology, Dr. Mark Botton Ph.D.

Why should we care about the endangered animals, depleting stratospheric ozone, melting glaciers and rising sea levels? Because beyond individual forests and lakes and tundras, we are living in one vast ecosystem sustained by each and every organism and substance. This global ecosystem that is home to millions of species is being threatened by the phenomenon known as global warming.

Dr. Botton is a professor of biology in FCLC’s department of natural science and the co-director of the Environmental Science program. After receiving both a bachelors and masters degree in biology from Stony Brook University and Brooklyn College, Botton completed his PhD in zoology from Rutgers University. Aside from teaching, Dr. Botton focuses on coastal ecosystems, with his focal point being horseshoe crab biology and conservation.

While Dr. Botton’s profession does revolve around ecosystem and environmental conservation, he  acknowledges that there are global warming skeptics, commenting that “Nothing in science is ever an absolute truth. [But] the fact that you can find a few scientists who have differing opinions doesn’t nullify [something].” Truth is based on the evidence, and the evidence that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising is abundant. Rising carbon dioxide levels lead to rising global temperatures and sea levels because, according to Dr. Botton, “As things warm, the volume occupied by those molecules [increases] and contributes to [this] rise.”

When prompted about why he thinks global warming skepticism exists, Dr. Botton explained, “In a glass of water you don’t notice rising sea levels because it’s such a small amount but in the oceans you deal with a huge amount of water [where] even a few degrees [causes] expansion. If you look at pictures, you can see that the glaciers are melting. I don’t think there’s any way you can spin it so that that’s not a true statement.”

More specifically, Dr. Botton delves into the eastern coast conversation on global warming, noting, “We’re a coastal city, we know what’s [going to] happen.” He furthers adds that with low-level areas such as Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, what might appear to be a miniscule change to the public eye can actually contribute heavily to the coastal environment, using Hurricane Sandy as an example. “The damage from these coastal storms cause inundation, flooding in areas that didn’t use to flood, and that’s true along the whole east coast.”

One of the main topics for debate is whether or not we, as a global people are responsible. To this, Dr. Botton contends, “It’s not a question of whether or not global temperatures are increasing, its how much of that is a natural cycle versus [an unnatural one]. The evidence that humans are a significant contributor to the increase in CO2 levels [causing] the increase in temperature and sea levels is compelling.” He states, “Everything in science is based on the weight of the evidence, and here, the weight of the evidence is very clearly on the position that sea level rise and global warming are real phenomena and that in some way are tied to the additional emissions of carbon dioxide from internal combustion engines.” In addition to carbon dioxide, the other main greenhouse gases or, gases that trap heat in the atmosphere include methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.

Despite his stance, Dr. Botton does make a point to perceive the discussion from another lens. He articulates, “I think most of the people who take a contrary view [acknowledge that] it may be occurring, but that it’s not really that much of a problem. People will say ‘alright well the summer will be a little hotter and the winter a little milder, that’s not such a big deal’ [until] parts of the city start to become uninhabitable from flooding.”

Dr. Botton specifies flooding as the factor most likely to drive political interference. Already, former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has devised a comprehensive map that shows how far above sea level certain bureaus are. As Dr. Botton previously stated, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, and even parts of lower Manhattan are low-lying areas and are therefore at higher risk. Dr. Botton upholds, “It’s true that if you’re only looking at something over a short time frame it’s hard to see a long term trend. One of the things about getting older is that I‘ve been around some of these locations long enough to see what’s going on.” One of these locations is Delaware Bay, the southernmost part of New Jersey. When he first started studying there, Dr. Botton described it as having vast areas of forest; however, rising sea levels have led to salt water infiltration, causing the forest to perish.

Reflecting on his experience at Fordham, Dr. Botton remarks, “I get the sense at least among the student population that there is no large number of people that are global warming skeptics.” He does recall, however, a student a few years ago who rejected the legitimacy of global warming. “I pulled a couple of graphs out of what’s called the I.P.C.C. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). I said ‘look, here’s data that shows that CO2 levels are going up and here’s data that shows that temperature and sea levels are going up. Is it reasonable to think that they’re in some way completely unconnected?’ I don’t know whether I convinced him or not but you lay out the facts and then ultimately people will make their judgement.”

Dr. Botton concludes, “My job is not to tell students what to think but to present them with objective data and say ‘okay this is what the scientific consensus seems to be.’ It’s not up to me to impose my values on them but just to give them the way to sort through the information in a way that you can come to an intelligent decision.”