Today, more than ever before, the reality of climate change and its harmful effects to Mother Nature has finally dawned on civilizations across the world. It is now official that climate change is a major environmental predicament facing the world (Davidson, 2006; Stern, 2007). According to the authors, the earth’s climate is projected to rise by between 20 and 50 Centigrade in worldwide mean temperatures, mainly due to increases in greenhouse gases occasioned by human actions. The above stated rise in mean temperatures will most possibly be arrived at by 2030 if concerted corrective measures are not put in place to reverse the trend. Most countries, however, have already started to experience the harmful effects of global warming.
Definition & Explanation
Climate change can be defined as a long-term change in worldwide weather patterns, mainly attributed to the effects of greenhouse gases (Stern, 2007). Climate scientists and environmentalists argue that global temperatures are primarily determined by the level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions released to the environment, with an increase in the gases triggering a corresponding increase in global temperatures (Fraser, 2007).
The temperature increases inarguably occasion an increase in water vapor levels in the environment, causing the situation to deteriorate further since water vapor is a dominant greenhouse gas. This, according to Fraser, not only cause additional temperature increases, but also act as a facilitator to cloud formations and cooling, thereby influencing global rainfall patterns. Consequently, majority of scientists are in agreement that an increase in global temperatures is certainly caused by an increase in greenhouse gases (Davidson, 2006; Fraser, 2007).
Current Debate on Climate Change
The nature and magnitude of climate change have triggered a lot of debate in recent years, especially among world leaders, climate scientists, and environmentalists. In many of these debates, human activities have been fronted as the main cause of climate change (Davidson, 2006). A report released recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that “…there is very high confidence that the warming is due to human activities…that there is 90% chance that temperatures are rising due to human activities” (Fraser, 2007 para. 3).
Fraser (2007) is categorical that no credible evidence exists to relate climate changes that have been noted for the last 100 years to only natural influences such as adjustments in the solar activity. On the contrary, carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are known to contribute an estimated 55% to the overall increase in greenhouse gases (Fraser). In the same vein, there exist credible evidence showing that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased by over 40% for the same period of time, mainly due to forest cover destruction and fossil fuel combustion (Fraser, 2007; Davidson, 2006). These are human activities, and as such, it makes more sense to argue that human activities, more than anything else, causes climate changes.
Other climate scientists, however, still maintains that changes in climate might not be triggered by corresponding buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide as previously thought, that is, climate change is explicitly unrelated to increasing utilization of fossil fuels (Fraser, 2007). The scientists in this school of thought argue that since 1998, the level of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere have increased considerably by about 4 percent, but this has not been followed by a corresponding increase in global temperatures. The critics maintain that climate change is caused by many other factors apart from increases in carbon dioxide. Some of the factors fronted include “…the amount of all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, average cloudiness, the level of atmospheric volcanic and anthropogenic aerosols, the interactions between the atmosphere and ocean, and average solar output” (Fraser, 2007 para. 5).
Other debates have projected their arguments further by assuming that other variables, apart from human activity, are largely to blame for the rising global temperatures. The proponents of this argument presuppose that some variables that cause global warming are yet to be discovered. According to Primer (2009), “…the atmosphere is influenced by processes that occur deep within the earth, in the oceans, in the atmosphere, in the sun, and in the cosmos” (p. 11).
Consequently, according to the author, the argument that modern climate change is largely initiated by one variable – carbon dioxide – does not hold water. On the contrary, global temperature changes are caused by a multiplicity of influences, which include the structuring of the continents, structuring of the sea floor, activities of the crust, alterations in the earth’s orbit mechanism, alterations in solar energy, seismic and volcanic activities, sedimentation processes, supernoval upsurges, opening and closing of major seaways, and ocean currents, among others (Primer, 2009). It is a tall order, therefore, to ever think that humans can control such exigencies of the global environment.
The implication for the above school of thought is that climate change is rarely caused by human activities. The evidence offered to support this assertion is that the world has gone through episodes where carbon dioxide emissions were thought to be much higher than what is presently being emitted to the atmosphere, but such emissions were not necessarily followed by a corresponding increase in atmospheric temperatures (Primer, 2009).
For example, between 1860’s and 1960’s, the cities of London, Manchester, and Pittsburg produced much more CO2 than what is currently produced by China, but climate experts never noted sharp increases in temperatures as it is presently the case. Additionally, “…atmospheric CO2 follows temperature rise – it does not create a temperature rise” (Primer, 2009 p. 12). The proponents of this school of thought also find strength in the understanding that it is virtually impossible to differentiate between human-provoked climate changes and other changes arising from natural processes mentioned above.
Taking action: The Case of UK
To avoid the dangerous effects of climate change, human behavior and economic systems must be radically modified (Davidson, 2006). The UK position is that climate change is a global predicament that requires urgent multilateral solutions (Stern, 2007). As such, The UK government has taken steps to ensure carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are kept at a minimum. This, however, is done in consideration that industries need to operate at their maximum capacity to keep the economy growing, and therefore, the issue is to come up with a framework that ensures emission reductions are accomplished in the most cost-effective and efficient way.
The UK has also engaged in emissions trading as its major carbon price apparatus of choice and a fundamental constituent in an all-inclusive UK policy framework to successfully moderate climate change (Stern, 2007). Emissions trading effectively ensure that the releases of pollutants from regulated sectors and industries are capped. Nevertheless, this framework permits emissions reductions to take place where they are likely to cost the least, thereby lessening economic impacts and increasing flexibility for the various industries in operation.
The UK is also a signatory to the Kyoto protocol on climate change, and has lead other EU countries to take a bold step towards reducing greenhouse gases by establishing the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (Stern, 2007). Most of the industries in the UK have subscribed to the scheme, which have effectively dealt with issues of carbon emissions trading. The facilitators of this scheme are in agreement that emissions trading will play a fundamental role in UKs long-term objective of minimizing greenhouse gases emissions. Indeed, the Emissions Trading Scheme has served the country well by providing a market-oriented, cost-effective ways to realize emissions reductions at the least cost (Stern, 2007). Still, the UK government is actively engaged in activities that will increase the present forest cover.
It is a well known fact that climate has always changed in the past and will continue to change in the future (Primer, 2009). Although debate is still rife as to what causes climate change, it is imperative that corrective measures are taken during this early phases to prevent further spill that could be detrimental to the well being of mankind. The UK, through its campaigns on reducing carbon emissions and carbon trading policies, have taken a step in the right direction as such measures will go a long way in ensuring that lesser emissions reach the atmosphere. It is indeed true that we cannot be able to control the natural processes that cause climate change, but we can certainly control the human activities that have largely borne the blame for causing climate change.
List of References
Davidson, S (2006). A View of Dangerous Climate Change. ECOS.
Fraser, P (2007). The Science of Discussing Changing Climate. Media Monitors.
Primer, I (2009). Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science. New York: Taylor Trade Publishing.
Stern, N (2007). The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.