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- Rachel Tomsett
How can we as a species prevent the continued effects of global warming and to what extent has irreversible damage already occurred?
Global warming, also known as climate change, describes the rising temperature of the atmosphere and ocean. Throughout all of earth’s history climate has been a very fluctuate factor (for example the ice age). However if you take into account how much organisms on earth have evolved into their stable habitats and how each one depends on their habitats to survive, fluctuations will be much more harmful now, especially to humanity and the animals humanity relies on e.g. Honeybees. The main cause of global warming is thought to be the result of humanities actions, for example; Co2 emissions (from cars and other transport) interfering with the O-zone layer causing, Deforestation in rainforests (from workers creating space for cattle grazing) and Farming (many fertilizers contain nitrous oxide which is harmful to the O-zone layer, and sheep/cattle produce large amounts of methane which is also a harmful greenhouse chemical). In the century atmospheric temperature has risen ~1â-¦ F and Oceanic temperature ~0.18â-¦F (1). Whereas this may not have an immediate effect; in the future this will cause extreme weather conditions such as droughts, wildfire and mass flooding/intense rainstorms. Although to an extent we can already see this beginning to happen, for example if we look into the statistics of how many acres of land per year are destroyed by wildfire (see figure 1) we can clearly see an incline in the more recent years as Co2 emissions and temperature also increase( see fig. 2). This would make sense as dryer conditions make an easier/quicker path for fire to spread. However looking into the source of figure one we can see updated statistics which indicate a drop in the number of wildfires after this graph was made, although this could be due to human intervention and preservation methods.
As well as being a mass inconvenience for humanity these effects could also be very damaging to other species on earth, this is why scientists are focused on looking into/exploring alternative methods to try and lessen the rate of climate change. If conditions were to change too much or too rapidly many species would not be able to survive or adapt into this new climate and in relation we may see a mass bottle neck in species, or in the most extreme cases; extinction. On the other hand we may see a certain species flourish and grow in this new environment which may lead to a tip/collapse in an eco-system which would cause other species to suffer. Not to mention if climate change carries on at the rate it’s climbing earth may soon be inhospitable to humanity, our future generations.
Although scientists know global warming is irreversible there are still certain methods humanity can adapt to lessen the rate. For example scientists have been looking into alternate energy to try and encourage more people to switch from fossil fuelled energy to a more eco-friendly and renewable energy sources. 21.3 billion tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide) are produced by the burning of fossil fuels per year (2), which obviously contributes to the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and in turn further damages the O-zone layer but these new energy sources use natural methods which are easily replenished such as; solar energy, wind energy and hydro energy which do not produce any harmful emissions. This is obviously a great solution to lessen the rate of climate change; if more people started using these methods of energy we could cut emissions down by the masses and slow the rate of Global warming a considerable amount. These solutions are relevant in the fact that they don’t release greenhouse gases and harness natural power without any mass destruction and harm to the environment and habitat around it.
However methods such as these are expensive and aren’t as cost effective as non-renewable sources, so economically it is not the best choice, especially for poorer countries. On the other hand because non-renewable sources are coming close to running out (unless new sources/mines are found), the price for nonrenewable energy is beginning to climb higher and higher (due to less availability and more demand), which in turn (and partly due to advancing technology) basic renewable energy sources are becoming cheaper and more obtainable, for instance towns people may choose to have a certain number of solar panels on their roof due to the declining prices (see fig 4). In just one year the price for 16 solar panels to be installed has gone from £15000 to £7500 which is a 50% saving (see Fig. 3). However methods on a larger scale, for example wind farms, (to generate a substantial amount of energy) would need anywhere between a dozen or hundreds (see fig. 5). Which obviously, again, would costs a great amount and not many countries could afford them leading to more economical problems; especially since sometimes they come with instillation prices and taxes.
One environmental problem that would face the panels is in countries like the UK. The weather is extremely variable and sunlight is at its most intense in summer when less energy is needed, say for heating because the weather is warmer and for lighting because the days are longer in summer. ‘The ratio between summer and winter inputs is unfavorable’. However other countries like France and USA have a much more constant input. (3).
A social/economic problem with solar panels is that if one would want to produce energy on a larger scale the panels would need to be in a very large place with access to sunlight. These are called Photovoltaic power stations (or solar farms). The placing also contributes to how much power these panels generate; the slope of the location, the axis in which the panel is mounted on, hemisphere, ect. This of course will take up large amounts of field space that may have been previously used for farming (see fig 6) or recreation. In which case the farmer of company could see a loss in profit from the missing land (as farming can’t be done under these panels unlike wind farms) and the civilians could argue that the land is being wasted. As far as the panels effect on human life, past the implications, are next to none. However, other wildlife which may have resided in the open space before it became a solar farm will have had their habitat destroyed and would have had to migrate somewhere else, which would cause a disturbance to the wildlife.
Another implication of renewable energy is a social issue based around Wind farms, many people oppose having wind farms/ turbines around their homes/towns. Theresa Groth and Christine Vogt have done a study (4) in which they mailed a questionnaire to different town and counties to gather an idea of what the general opinion is on Wind turbines and their usefulness, many responded to the questionnaire by saying turbine placement near their residence increased uncertainty and concern of them, next to no one focusing on the positive outcomes like clean energy/no emissions. Others claim that the visual appearance of the turbines ruins the landscape. As for the actual risk to humans from these wind farms a report was published in 2007 by the U.S. National research Council (5), it concluded that although low-frequency vibrations are not well understood in their relation/effect on humans, and that of course sensitivity to the vibrations varies greatly among people, wind turbines would not be a major concern/threat to people beyond a half-mile. Of course there are still people/scientists who disagree but further research need to be done on Humans and their sensitivity to low frequency vibrations/noise. And for the effect on other living organisms beside humans; ground animals such as cattle and grounded wildlife (deer/badgers) do not seem to mind the turbines and carry on with grazing/hunting (see fig. 6). However, flying wildlife e.g. birds and bats seem to have a higher mortality rate around areas with wind turbines, presumably due to flying into the structure or spinning blades. However according to studies and surveys birds have the ability to detect the wind turbines and anyway more research shows wind turbines have not reduced bird populations so much so that there will be a noticeable effect (unbalance in the food chain/eco system.).
To get a further understanding of how the climate is changing scientists use a number of methods to obtain data they can evaluate and compare for more answers. For example the US Global Change Research Programme (USGCRP) publishes a National Climate Assessment which looks into how climate affects different regions of the US. It also observes the long/short term changes in climate and the ozone layer using satellites and monitoring icecaps melting and sea levels. It also aids scientists in predicting any future changes to the environment and if we are at risk of being vulnerable to natural disasters. For example; by studying these satellites that collect all this data scientists can observe change in conditions such as the rising of waters upstream to a village in Bangladesh. The satellite will take pictures from space and use their altimeter to measure the distance between itself and the river surface revealing the change in height of upstream locations and seeing as the data is nearly instant allows scientists to look at potential flooding risks downstream closer to the village ect. (6). This recent method of using advanced technology is much more reliable and quicker than using a ground based network, taking into account how the ground network doesn’t extend as far upstream as the satellite and information isn’t as instant as the satellite. An example of a ground based network is the Flash Flood Early Warning System which was introduced in 2013 to give warnings to locals about an upcoming flash flood. However this service only provided a small amount of warning time (~3 hours) which is a very small amount of time compared to that the satellite can provide. Although this is not a prevention method it is the best scientists can do without interfering with the local towns or river path. Which would have an effect on the locals and their crops as the water source would either be diverted or be behind flooding barriers.
An alternative method to renewable energy and a disaster forecast is the reconstruction of forests. Trees are responsible for absorbing Carbon Dioxide and converting it to Oxygen which then is released back into the atmosphere. However, in these past couple of decades deforestation has become a major industry and 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year (7). There are a number of reasons for this; making space for cattle farming, harvesting wood for fuel and illegal logging. This isn’t just harmful for our atmosphere but lots of animals are in danger or threatened because of their habitat being destroyed. So as an alternate method I think that scientists should look into claiming more forest as protected/private land and look into the replantation of forests where ever possible. Not to mention looking into cracking down on illegal activities in the forests (logging/hunting) and enforcing punishment. Although this may create a social implication, more so in tropical isolated regions, as some small villages believe certain animal skin to be medicine and use the wood for heat and fuel, also only surviving on cattle and crops in the spaces where trees used to grow. Perhaps another suggestion would be roof top gardens in cities, which will create space for plants to photosynthesise and exchange carbon dioxide for more oxygen. Although the building would have to approve planning permission and would take a certain amount of time to grow, and would need a lot of care I think it would be an interesting method to try and reduce the carbon concentration in the atmosphere, interfering with the O-zone layer.
Another alternate method that would greatly help with cutting humanities carbon emissions is if more people purchased and used electric cars. Electric cars do not produce tailpipe emissions and are much more eco-friendly, they have been introduced before but never really caught on as technology was lacking and there were limited charging places. Even now the battery life does not last as long as say a petrol fuelled car and the charging time takes so much longer than a simple refuel, but if scientists were to look into and experiment more with the concept and perhaps have a charging station at every petrol station people might begin to adapt to the idea and in turn lessen their carbon emissions. Although battery powered cars are considerably more expensive than the usual petrol/diesel ones, battery prices are beginning to decline, much like the solar panel prices. So maybe in the future it will catch on just as well as the panels.
1) http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-sea-temperature-rise/ Sea Temperature Rise-National Geographic-Unknown author-Unknown date published- Date used 20/3/15
2) http://www.environmentlaw.org.uk/rte.asp?id=192 Human activities-Environment Law-Unknown author- Unknown date published- Date used 20/3/15
Because this book is quite old I can’t find much information or the book it’s self-there for I’m beginning to question its reliability mainly for the fact it’s 32 years old and a lot of advancement has been made in the past thirty years and climate and attitudes have also changed. However after lots of searching I found that the author was Head of the Science Division at Bulmershe College of Higher Education in Reading, Berkshire. It was published by the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge which leads me to believe that even though it is old it is accurate of its time and was valid and maybe still is valid today, as the author clearly had scientific knowledge and access to studies and information. It has lots of picture evidence as sources to back up their points and is very in depth, including diagrams of cycles and chemical equations of relevant reactions. Whilst researching and validating a table they had used in the Air pollutant section (page 37) ‘Deaths Due to Urban Smog’ I decided to research the numbers and dates to see if they were similar. Looking at figures it is clear to see they were rounded to the nearest thousand (Place: London) and again London had many more deaths than New York or Belgium, which supported the table in the book. Over all I can conclude that this is quite a reliable source.
4) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148113004370 Rural wind farm development: Social, environmental and economic features important to local residents-Science Direct-Theresa M. Grotha and Christine A. Vogtb- Date Published 23/9/13 –Date used 20/3/15
5) http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11935&page=158 Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects (2007) (4 Impacts of Wind-Energy Development on Humans)-National academic press- Us Research Council-Date published ~2007- Date used 20/3/15
I believe this to be a very reliable sauce for my discussion. It is a legal document put together by scientists from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine and is sponsored by the Executive Office of the President. It is a thorough document recording individual’s research and findings. Each department is tied to global warming in some way, the sciences exploring how climate is changing, engineering exploring ways to combat the speed of climate change and professors of medicine dealing with those affected by climate change, eg. Pollution sickness and short term treatments. Looking into some of the individual members who participated I can clearly see a range of people from different states which shows that their findings aren’t exclusive to just one area and aren’t biased from one person but have a range of opinions and points to discuss . The purpose of this report is to give an idea of the impact wind turbines have on the surrounding environment, in great detail. In checking the facts of the paper I came across this fact ‘In recent years, the growth of capacity to generate electricity from wind energy has been rapid, growing from almost none in 1980 to 11,603 megawatts (MW) in 2006 in the United States and about 60,000 MW in 2006 globally’ after a thorough search many other websites seemed to also have this data so I conclude that is a reliable source.
6) http://www.globalchange.gov/news/preparing-for-floods-satellite-data-servir-bangladesh preparing for Floods with Satellite Data: SERVIR in Bangladesh- globalchange.gov-Unknown author- 16/3/15 published- date used 20/3/15
7) http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/about_forests/deforestation/ Deforestation-WWF-Unknown author-Unknown date published-Date used 20/3/15
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