- Some Facts about Global Warming
Over the century, the average temperature of the air near earth's surface has risen a little less than one degree Celsius. IPCC has estimated sea levels may rise 18cm - 59cm in the coming century. Since the 1980s the Western Arctic is warming 3.5 times more than the rest of the globe. There are disrupted changes in weather conditions across the globe that has led to increased floods, storms and forest-fire significantly. Other costs can comprise of higher or lower farming yields, glacier withdrawals, lesser summer stream flows, genus extinctions and boosting in the ranges of sickness vectors. These drastic changes are result of increased level of Greenhouse gases, of which, carbon dioxide, is a major constituent. These gases trap infrared rays and hence heat up the earth's atmosphere abruptly. There is a hue and cry around the world to undertake measures to reduce the ill-effects of Global Warming and avert it further. This chapter is an attempt to focus the attention of readers towards the issue of global warming, its causes and aftermath and various initiatives taken by different agencies, forums and panels worldwide to curb the menace of Global Warming (Mendelsohn, Nordhaus et al. 1994).
- Average global temperatures increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the 20th century(Sanera and Shaw 1996).
- The United States contains only 5 percent of the world's population, but contributes 22 percent of the world's carbon emissions.
- Between 20 and 25 percent of carbon emissions come from deforestation and land use change(Logan, Régnière et al. 2003).
- The Golden Toad (Bufo periglenes) is thought to be the first species to go extinct because of climate change.
- Personal cars and trucks in the United States emit 20 percent of the United States' carbon emissions.
- Air conditioning and heating account for almost half of electricity use in the average American home.
- Climate change is linked to stronger hurricanes, more droughts and increased coral deaths from bleaching.
- Climate change is linked to an increase in disease-carrying pests that lead to the increased spread of diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, lyme disease and West Nile virus
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There are numerous factors that are responsible for the phenomenon of Global Warming. Unfortunately, all the factors are residue of human activities.
A growing population at a fast pace is one of the biggest contributors to heating up of the earth's atmosphere. According to the study of World Bank, the population in 2008 was 6,692,030,277 and will reach to an estimated figure of 7 billion by 2012. Growing population indicates an urgent need of more land, food and water, which are basic physiological needs. But there are limited resources that have led to over-exploitation of nature and its resources. There are several strings attached to the growing population that has led to the misuse of resources, which are already scarce, at all levels (Lenton 2000). As mentioned above, greenhouse gases viz. carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are mainly responsible for Global Warming. But what are the reasons behind the increasing level of greenhouse gases?
The power plants designed to produce electricity are one of the major sources behind increasing carbon dioxide level. The fuel used in the power plants is coal that produces around 1.7 times as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy generated compared to burning of natural gases. With liberalization of economies, more and more opportunities are created that has lifted the standard of living, and growing number of vehicles and commercial and residential structures all around are a clear proof to it. According to the estimates, 20% of carbon dioxide is emitted by the vehicles on the road and putting up the structures meant for different purposes is equally a major source of carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere.
Methane, another greenhouse gas, released from growing rice paddies, bacteria in bogs and fossil fuels is around twenty times as effective as carbon dioxide in global warming. The processing of nylon and excessive use of fertilizers in the fields is responsible for the higher emissions of nitrous oxide, hence pushing the warming effect further. The other notable cause of Global Warming is deforestation, cutting down of trees and utilizing the patches of land for different self-interest purposes. Deforestation is accountable for 25% of emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Greater urbanization is one of the major reasons for deforestation, as urbanization demands better infrastructure facilities. According to the United Nations, by the year 2008, over half of the world's population - roughly 3.3 billion people - will settle down in cities. With the growth of large cities in Africa and Asia, the number of urbanites could climb to 5 billion by 2030. As cities grow, so does their impact on the global environment and global warming.
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The developed countries are considered to be torch-bearers for the emerging and developing economies and are looked up to for limiting the causes responsible for global warming. Ironically, the developed nations, the US and China are in the front league of polluting the entire globe, for instance- China contributes 6,018 tons of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. According to Carbon Dioxide Energy Emissions Index (CEEI), released by UK based, global risk analyst, Maplecroft, Australia has bypassed the US and is categorized as the most risk prone country amongst league of 185 countries. Australians add 20.58 tons of carbon dioxide per person annually as compared to Americans who emit 19.78 tons which is a significant difference. Canada meanwhile emits 18.81 tons per person. On the contrary, the emerging markets of China and India, considered two of the world's worst overall carbon dioxide emitters, emit 4.5 and 1.16 tons per person respectively, on a yearly basis. With advancement in science and technology, there is a big revolution in regards to introduction of computers, for various purposes, mobile phones and other electronic goods. Moreover, to wrap and pack anything from grocery to computers, poly bags or sheets are used. The components of these electronic goods and polythene are not biodegradable and emit harmful radioactive substances and increase global warming further. The Information Technology (IT) revolution has added 2% of global carbon dioxide emission, almost same as compared to aviation, estimates Research firm Gartner(Peters 1990).
In addition to the above-mentioned reasons, industrial and domestic wastages dumped in water bodies, have not only led to paucity of drinking water and increasing level of water pollution but is also perilous for the aquatic kingdom. Experts say water will become even scarcer in the future. The UN Climate Report 2007 predicts that global warming will cause precipitation levels in many developing countries to drop further. Meanwhile, an OECD study expects demand for water to increase by 50 percent during the next 30 years, mostly in large developing countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRAC). Furthermore, it is calculated that producing a calorie of food requires a liter of water. With water losses of only about 5 percent, Singapore ranked first in the survey, while most Western cities and towns had loss rates of 15 to 25 percent. And in most African cities, over 50 percent of the water supply is wasted or unaccounted for, according to the OECD's African Economic Outlook 2007.
We have so far discussed the causes of Global Warming but what are the consequences that are raising concerns around the world. Some ill-effects of Global Warming are:
The global warming has led to increase in mean earth surface temperature and thus melting of polar ice at a great pace. These frequent melt down of glaciers have resulted in several floods and other natural calamities. The melting of ice at the poles had led to increase in the sea level. Heating of the earth's atmosphere will further lead to melting of glaciers fast which can jeopardize the existence of low lying regions across the world. Due to heating up of earth's atmosphere, sea level is continually rising due to the process of thermal expansion. Melting glaciers have added to the further damage and are contributing to the rise in sea-level. The rising level of sea is perilous for low lying regions, denizens of coastal areas and plantations and vegetations along the shores. The rise in the sea level has been calculated between four inches to eight inches over a period of hundred years. If the situation is not prevented, the levels could continue to rise up to 36 inches over the next century. This rise in the sea level will submerge most of the regions and its inhabitants. Around 100 million people live within three feet of sea level across the world. The rise in sea level coupled with abrupt climate change will be enough to displace hundreds of thousands of people in these regions, especially in developing countries (Kirschbaum 1995).
The effect of global warming can be felt on seasons too. There is shift in season cycle, as the summers are getting longer than the winters. Moreover, there are extreme weather conditions. Summer season is turning hotter with every passing year and winter season is colder. There are irregular rainfalls in different parts of the world, destroying not only the seasonal crops and its yield, but has become a threat to all the living beings, humans, flora and fauna.
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The global warming is behind the spread of some new diseases. The bacteria are more effective and multiply much faster in warmer temperatures compared to cold temperatures. The increase in temperature has led to increase in the microbes that cause several dreadful diseases. In addition to this, several chronic skin diseases have been discovered that are simply adverse effects of heating up of earth's atmosphere(Epstein 2000).
The effect of global warming is quite evident on the animal kingdom. Some animals have become extinct due to loss of their natural habitat or their inability to evolve to the rapid changes in the climate. Another major impact of Global Warming has been noticed in the changing behavior of wildlife. Major changes are seen in the animals as they react to the warmer environment, which are caused due to global warming. A behavior pattern of the animals studied shows that the animals are beginning to shift their population towards north or towards a higher altitudes. A simple study that was made in the University of California on a small butterfly is enough to depict the changes in the availability of species in the warmer areas. A survey at one hundred and fifty one areas showed that the butterflies were getting less populated in the southern areas which were warmer as compared to the northern areas. Hence the butterflies have migrated from warm southern zone to cooler northern zone. The marine life is also very sensitive to the increase in temperatures(Botkin, Saxe et al. 2007).
Scientist's are concerned that continued global warming will accelerate ozone destruction and increase stratospheric ozone depletion. Ozone depletion gets worse when the stratosphere becomes colder. Because global warming traps heat in the troposphere, less heat reaches the stratosphere which will make it colder. Greenhouse gases act like a blanket for the troposphere and make the stratosphere colder. In other words, global warming can make ozone depletion much worse right when it is supposed to begin its recovery during the next century(Last 1993).
The effect of global warming will definitely be seen on some species in the water. A survey was made in which the marine life reacted significantly to the changes in water temperatures. It is expected that many species will die off or become extinct due to the increase in the temperatures of the water, whereas various other species, which prefer warmer waters, will increase tremendously. Perhaps the most disturbing changes are expected in the coral reefs that are expected to die off as an effect of global warming. Even the penguins that live on poles are getting affected as a result of global warming. Due to melting of polar ice their life cycle is getting disturbed and which leads to death of many animals(Immerwahr 1999).
There are several other issues that are not being discovered yet, but these abrupt changes are enough to wake up global leaders, environmentalists and reformists. The governments of different countries have stepped in and are working on probable set of solutions in collaboration with different agencies and NGOs to fight against Global Warming. Besides, many forums and panels across the globe have come actively into being (Stamm, Clark et al. 2000).
Dolf Gielen, International Energy Agency, co-author of IEA Energy Technology Perspectives believes that "If you have a combination of maximum efficiency and alternative fuels, you can reduce oil demand in 2050 by 27 percent compared to 2005 levels." The alternative sources of fuel are wind, hydro power and solar energy. There is a surge in demand for renewable sources of energy. Alternative fuel (alternate fuel), also known as non-conventional fuels, is any material or substance that can be used as a fuel, other than fossil fuels, or conventional fuels of petroleum (oil), coal, propane, hydrogen, and natural gas. The term "alternative fuels" usually refers to a source of which energy is renewable(Lovins 2005). The main purpose of fuel is to store energy in a form that is stable and can be easily transported from the place of production to the end user. Almost all fuels are chemical fuels that store chemical potential energy. The end user is then able to consume the fuel at will, and release energy, usually in the form of heat for a variety of applications, such as powering an engine, or heating a building. Some well knew alternative fuels include biodiesel, ethanol, butanol, chemically stored electricity (batteries and fuel cells), hydrogen, methane, natural gas, wood, vegetable oil, biomass, and peanut oil. According to Gielen, some 36 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions reductions could come from energy efficiency. Fuel-efficient cars are an important option, as are efficient appliances. There is a lot that can be done with building shells and industrial motor systems. The UK government has agreed to European Union targets for 2020: reduce GHG emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels and 30 percent if other countries commit to reductions; reduce energy consumption by 20 percent; and increase the share of renewable energy in the UK's energy mix to 15 percent. New nuclear power is also planned.
The concept of carbon credits has evolved and come into vogue. Many carbon rating agencies have come into being. This is a novel attempt to mitigate the growth in the concentration of greenhouse gases. It works on carbon trading mechanism. One carbon credit is equivalent to one ton of carbon dioxide. The developed nations buy carbon credits from developing countries in order to curb the increasing level of greenhouse gases. Besides, there are many organizations that deal in selling of carbon credits to such organizations that are determined to lower their carbon emission level (Whalley and Zissimos 2000).
Al Gore, an influential name in the arena of U.S. Politics regarding the hazardous effects of Global Warming. He has tried to create awareness regarding the heating of earth's atmosphere through his self-produced documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth' and a popular book. He has repeatedly warned people about the ill effects of Global warming and its remedies (Kellstedt, Zahran et al. 2008). Al Gore is actively involved in studying and analyzing the climate and changes involved for about three decades. Al Gore has urged the globe to take effective measures to curb the menace of Global Warming. He has suggested that growing of switch grass and saw grass should be promoted. Using the alternatives like ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, butanol, and green diesel fuels can limit the level of pollution responsible for global warming. It is discovered that flaming the forests contributes two trillion tons of carbon dioxide every year across the world. It accounts for around 20% of the total emission of carbon dioxide through various sources. Al Gore believes that proper organization of forests and initiatives regarding forestation and discouraging deforestation can prove to be the most effective strategy to avert the disaster.
Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change is yet another initiative to assess the climate change. It is a leading intergovernmental body that was established with the joint efforts of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The objective of the panel is to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences. The IPCC is basically a scientific body. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. It does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters. Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis. Review is an essential part of the IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information. Differing viewpoints existing within the scientific community are reflected in the IPCC reports. Because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive.
The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions .These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012. The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that while the Convention encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so. Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. 184 Parties of the Convention have ratified its Protocol to date. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001, and are called the "Marrakesh Accords."
According to experts and environment activists, most of the world's energy use and carbon emissions come from cities. By improving efficiency, transportation, and urban planning, the world's biggest cities could turn from polluters into a vital part of the solution to climate change - and better places to live(Myung-bak).
Proper use and management of water is quintessential. John F. Kennedy once said that whoever solved the world's water problem should receive two Nobel Prizes - one for science, one for peace(Balk 1990). Kennedy's words still ring true today. According to figures from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), one billion people lack access to clean drinking water.While climate change could aggravate the current water crisis, the basic problem is not a lack of water, but rather its mismanagement, the OECD says. At its annual Forum in 2007, the organization's Secretary-General, Angel Gurria, identified two problems that have to be solved to address current levels of waste and dissipation.
One, the OECD says, is that water is often too cheap or free. "This is particularly important in agriculture, where the use of water for irrigation, which accounts for the greatest use of water in the world, is generally underpriced or sometimes given away as a free good, and hence leads to wasteful use," said Gurria. Because water is often not appreciated as a limited resource, it is poorly managed(Stiles 1996). In a global survey of urban water management conducted for the Third World Centre for Water Management (TWCWM), Western European cities showed surprisingly bad results. Phnom-Penh, the Cambodian capital, provides an interesting example for how much water can be saved if officials are willing to invest, says TWCWM founder Asit K. Biswas. After years of civil war, the city's water system had totally degraded. In 1993, a staggering 80 percent of all water transported was lost through leaks and corroded pipes. Fourteen years later, this figure has dropped to 8.5 percent. What did the trick in Singapore and Phnom Penh? Both cities turned water into a commodity with a real price. Singapore's water plants now recycle waste water at such a high quality that semi-conductor producers that need extremely clean water are willing to pay higher prices than for normal tap water. From December 7, 2009, environment ministers and officials will meet in Copenhagen for the United Nations climate conference to thrash out a successor to the Kyoto protocol. The conference, held at the modern Bella Center, will run for two weeks. One hundred-and-ninety-two countries have signed the climate change convention. More than 15,000 officials, advisers, diplomats, protestors and journalists are expected to attend the meet, joined by heads of state. Developing countries, including India and China, believe it is the responsibility of wealthy industrialized nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States to set a clear example on cutting carbon emissions. It may be mentioned that the US had rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, with the then US President George W Bush arguing that the 5 per cent reductions required by Kyoto would 'wreck the American economy'. However, Copenhagen sees a glimmer of hope on President Barack Obama's stated intention to achieve an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Some people have even named the event, the 'Hopenhagen' Summit. Every year, more than 15 million hectares of tropical forest - an area larger than the state of New York - are cut down, releasing millions of tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Without action now, many of the world's tropical forests will be lost by this century's end. With these forests we will lose important species, natural resources and local livelihoods, as well as the opportunity to slow climate change. In fact, recent studies show that activities to reduce deforestation are a highly cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions(McCarl and Schneider 2000). Consider the following:
- A 2006 study commissioned by the U.K. Treasury has concluded that reducing deforestation offers a major opportunity to reduce emissions at a relatively low cost. The study found that in eight countries responsible for 70 percent of emissions from land use changes, just one hectare of forest land could be worth as much as $25,000 in terms of carbon sequestration at a carbon price of $35-$50. The returns from this same hectare of land would range from $2 a year for pastoral use, to just over $1,000 for soy and palm oil conversion and one-time returns of $236 to $1,035 from timber sales.
- The same study states that, if no action is taken to reduce our emissions, each ton of carbon dioxide emitted will cause $85 worth of damage to the world's economy.
- Conversely, climate change researchers Brent Sohngen and Robert H. Beach have found that for an average price of $27.25 per ton of carbon dioxide in the emissions exchange market "deforestation can potentially be virtually eliminated." These researchers have concluded that there is a large potential for reduced deforestation to help mitigate the costs of cutting greenhouse gas emissions(Haugerud and Harding 2001).
- According to Sohngen and Bach, efforts to reduce global deforestation could result in the sequestration of 76 billion tons of carbon and 422 million hectares in additional forests.
- Finally, Stuart E. Eizenstat, chief American negotiator of the Kyoto protocol, has noted that the additional income that poorer countries would receive from expanded use of forestry offsets could motivate their participation in a post-Kyoto regime.
- Additional Benefits of Forests
- More than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for their water, fuel or livelihoods(Sunderlin, Angelsen et al. 2005).
- Tropical forests cover only 12 percent of the planet but are home to more than one-half of the Earth's known plants and animal species. At the current rate of deforestation, tropical rain forests will virtually disappear as functioning ecosystems within 100 years. Deforestation also degrades important natural resources, like supplies of clean fresh water. In addition, the massive burning of forests can lead to severe air pollution both locally and thousands of miles away(Nations 2006).
- South American forests are home to the greatest plant biodiversity in the world, and are the source of essential pharmaceutical ingredients. Up to 50 percent of pharmaceuticals on the market today have an origin in natural products, and 42 percent of the top 25 selling drugs worldwide are derived from natural products.
- Forests contribute significantly to national economies through recreation and tourism. For example, 3.5 million people visited Brazil's 150 conservation areas between 1991 and 1999, helping fuel a five-fold increase in tourism for the country.
- But the tireless efforts of leaders across the globe is not sufficient and will go in vain unless every global citizen join hands and fight for sustaining earth suitable enough to live. Every single person across the world can contribute his/her bit in this survival battle. Without initiatives taken from masses, it is a quixotic dream to curb the effects of Global Warming. The best solution is to live 'green'. And there are few simple ways in which we can contribute our share and show our concern that 'we care for mother earth'.
Recycle - Recycle everything you can't reduce or reuse.
Turn it off - Turn off televisions, videos, stereos and computers when they are not in use - these appliances still use 10-60% of power even when on 'stand by'. A power strip is a practical way to switch off VCR, TV and DVD player stand-by losses; you can cut off all 3 devices at once. Another tip to save energy: Don't leave chargers for mobile phones plugged in when you're not using them. Try to use minimum amount of electricity both at home and workplace.
Switch to renewable energy
Buy non-polluting green electricity - electricity generated from natural sources such as solar, hydro and wind power. Buy and use energy efficient appliances that could save substantial amount of energy
Save paper - Around the world we use 1 million tonnes of paper every day. Too much of this paper usage is wasteful and unnecessary and puts huge pressures on the environment. Try to limit the use of paper and try to reuse it both at home and workplace.
Use water efficiently - Public water systems require a lot of energy to purify and distribute water to households. Saving water, especially hot water, can lower greenhouse gas emissions. Save water and use it reasonably only when required. Do not misuse water or do not let it run unnecessarily. Reuse water from washing vegetables to water plants in the surroundings.
See the light - Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. These energy-efficient bulbs help fight climate change because they reduce the amount of fossil fuels that utilities burn. You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent, over the life of the bulb.
Inflate your tires - If you own a car, it will get better gas mileage when the tires are fully inflated, so it will burn less gas and emit less carbon. Check your automobile monthly to ensure that the tires are fully inflated. Follow this tip and save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive.
Environment Friendly Trips - Whenever you go on a trip, choose the environment friendly option to do so. Plant as many trees and plants in your surroundings as possible. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and provide fresh oxygen to breathe. In this regard, many running groups and voluntary groups have come up with an objective to plant trees and put the garbage lying all over in the bins. They not only do this, but have also join hands to limit the use of vehicles and prefer walking, cycling or even running to workplace. Moreover, people have come up with the notion of car pool. A few people who work in the same organization or nearby move in the same vehicle thereby saving fuel and performing their role in cleaning the environment. We, as individuals, should take a resolution that we will never spill the garbage and put it only in the wastebasket. Use alternatives to the pesticides and man-made fertilizers for better pollution-free yields.
So far we have discussed about global warming, its causes and effects and what initiatives are being taken across the world and what, we, as individuals can do to limit it. It is not so simple as it sounds as we have got used to a kind of lifestyle where majority of us, do not pay any heed to scarce resources but exploit them as if they are non-exhaustible, eco-friendly and highly useful. Undoubtedly, some of them have made our lives quite easy, but they are simply sweet poison pills that are showing their reaction slowly and steadily and the reactions are just irreversible. But just scribbling some facts, our concerns and opinions are not enough. It has reached a stage where actions are quintessential rather than heated discussions. The need of the hour is to make conscious efforts and spread awareness amongst everyone we know and encourage them to join hands to reduce the dire outcomes of global warming(Barnes-Davies 2009). It has to be chain-like formula, from individuals to communities to societies and then nations at large to make it a huge success. We need to act without wasting much of the time; else it will be really late even to think.
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