The Earth’s temperature is “controlled by the balance between the input from energy of the sun and the loss of this back into space” (Maslin 4). This balance can be altered if certain atmospheric gases are injected into the atmospheric system. Energy from the sun is radiated back into the atmosphere in form of longwave radiation which is then held back by these greenhouse gases. If the condition becomes extreme, it results in a general global temperature rise leading to a phenomenon called global warming.
There has been increasing awareness over the past few years over the devastating effects of global warming. The political class, research scientists, and the general public have voiced their concerns and views on the global warming debate. The proponents of this debate argue that unhealthy human activities have significantly changed the climate patterns of the world, probably to the worst state. Those who oppose this point of view assert that the concept of global warming is just a creation of the mind and not a reality. They feel that the world has never been hotter than it is today and that whatever is being experienced today are mere climatic variations that are not permanent. The arguments presented in this paper will expound on the causes of global warming and its potential impacts on the human race. It is evident that aspects of climate change are being experienced and deeply felt in most parts of the planet today. For this reason, mitigation strategies are necessary and not the politics behind them.
The Global warming Debate
According to Silver and DeFries (63), the 1980’s happened to be the warmest period ever witnessed on a global scale. However, scientists were still in doubt by that time whether these were simply normal climatic variations or a reflection of excessive emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere due to human activities. Equally still, Silver and DeFries point out that “one cannot infer from a specific summer that global warming has begun though a warmer climate would change the probabilities for heat waves and possibly for stronger hurricanes” (63). If indeed violent tornados and strange heat changes have been experienced in the past decades, then there is no doubt certain parameters have changed in our climate patterns. It should be understood that heavy storms and erratic global temperatures have a direct influence on the rate of evaporation. As a result, rapid and dense condensation takes place amounting to extreme downpour.
What about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions? Scientists have unanimously confirmed that trace gases such as methane, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and CFC’s among others can trap radiated heat from the surface of the earth. They create a ‘blanket’ effect and therefore making the region below warmer than usual. The truth is that human activities like incineration have continued to increase greenhouse gas concentration paving way for global warming. The theory and practical concept of the greenhouse effect “explains the cold climate of Mars…the hot climate of Venus…and the modern climate here on earth” (Silver & DeFries 64).
This scientific approach is proof of global warming and any debate against this contemporary yet life-threatening issue is uncalled for. Why should an individual country’s interest and passion to industrialize jeopardize life on earth? Politicians need to rethink deeply on this hot subject to avert possible crises arising from global warming.
Reay, in his book Climate Change, Begins at Home explains that human lifestyle is to blame for the climate change and global warming being experienced (3) and that the Carbones have a skewed view of seeing climate change as a third world problem. This is very ironic because much of the unwarranted human pollution comes from the developed world. How then should global warming be a developing world concern? In any case, if human existence is wiped out from third world countries, then they will lack a market for their products. There is need for a lot of sense to be put into this global peril. Reay adds that we will not realize the consequences of climate change until when it will hit us head on (4). Those who think that climate change and global warming is mythical should see and watch the ever reported news in the media about erratic weather events. Case examples are “drought stricken Sudan or flood-ravaged Bangladesh” (Reay 4).
The prediction by Scientists that global warming will endanger the planet in the next one hundred years is alarming (Maslin 23). If the planet is warmed by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees, then it will be inevitable to escape this glaring danger. The politics behind global warming is damaging. The society has, to a larger extent, influenced the origin and development of global warming. More convincing scientific research reports released in the past are proof links to the menace of global warming. This dismissive outlook on global warming took a different direction in1940s when “significant improvement in infrared spectroscopy, the technique used to measure long-wave radiation” (Maslin 24) was unveiled. The experiments carried out thereafter gave sufficient scientific proof that carbon dioxide is capable of stooping the long wave radiation from the earth’s surface thereby making the region below warmer.
Based on these scientific knowledge, why is it that there is so much campaign against plans to reduce carbon emission? It is morally incorrect bearing in mind that we are putting the planet and life at great risk.
The Intergovernmental panel on Climate change (IPCC) noted that the world temperatures had gone higher by about 1°F (0.6°C) compared to one hundred years ago (Ruschmann 29). This temperature increase has been drastic of late. Further evidence shows that from mid ninety’s to the year 2006, warmest ever temperatures were recorded since 1850. According to Ruschmann, this small increase may appear insignificant but it is responsible for erratic weather experienced today (29).
There has been more concern on daily weather than it used to be before. Governments and Non-governmental Organizations have set aside emergency funds to deal with the unpredictable yet devastating weather. Billions of dollars has already been spent in the recent years to save lives of victims affected by bad weather. The fact that the world is already under the threat of global warming should be a wake up call to those against reversing pollution trend. Sincerely speaking, even the opponents are equally affected. It is only that they decide to bury their heads under the sand to avoid the dawning reality. Ruschmann adds that there is a ninety per cent probability that temperatures at the Northern Hemisphere were higher from the mid twentieth century than a span of any fifty years ever recorded in the past half a millennium (33). According to the IPCC report of 2007 “carbon dioxide concentration stood at 379 parts per million” (Ruschmann 35). Earlier data recorded by James Watt showed carbon dioxide concentration of only one hundred and eighty parts per million. That was twenty thousand years ago.
The industrial revolution has seen a tremendous increase of this greenhouse gas emission to the atmosphere. Ruschmann continue to argue that carbon dioxide level has gone up beyond the ordinary accepted concentration (35).
Our world leaders are not tackling global warming debate from a common front. It is a big challenge to them. At the same time, intense cautions are emanating from the science world over the pending risk of global warming. Technology and socio-economic and political issues continue to be a stumbling block time and again. These issues are so much intertwined.
Global recession, for instance, require governments to boost their industrial output against the wish of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The truth of the matter seems to be quite clear: we are fighting to sustain ourselves politically and economically in our current state of affairs at the expense of the future generation. This was evident in the recently concluded Copenhagen talks which went through 18th December 2009 in Denmark. The United States of America president, Barrack Obama, alongside other leaders predicted that no official pact or agreement on global warming could be reached shortly. This was a damaging end to the high profile international talks which was supposed to give hope to life in the planet. It was also very ironical for these leaders to stop at a temporary accord of reducing emissions and promising aid to help poor nations under the mercy of climate change. If this verdict by state leaders were to be evaluated thoroughly, then it would mean we are good at theoretical work rather than put things into practice. Similar non-binding agreements have been met in the past without notable breakthrough. The battle ground in the whole is between the rich and poor nations. An argument on who should initiate global warming reversal process is rife. In addition to that, the quota system which should govern emission quantities by country is a thorn in the flesh especially to the developed world.
United States of America is a signatory to environmental protection and sustainable development. On the other hand, however, the Congress has been unable to pass an outstanding bill on climate change over the years. There has always been rigid opposition between energy concerns and environmental conservation. Improved health care and struggles to put the ailing economy back in place have been equal destructors.
Impacts of global Warming
Some of the most important questions we should be asking ourselves are for example, what effect will we have in consideration of the rise in sea level? Will water volume impact us negatively? What about food availability to the population? Will the ecology be in any harm and will man also be affected? If we can get the right response to each of these questions, then we will be in a position to address global warming in totality and without bias. I do not completely refute some positive impacts of global warming to humanity. For instance, according to Houghton, high temperatures in parts of Siberia or Northern Canada “will tend to lengthen the growing season with the possibility in these regions of growing a greater variety of crops” (143). However, this is an isolated case and the economic merit is minor in terms of geographical coverage. Before the ice age, the average sea level was about five or six meters than it is currently (Houghton 145). There was large amount of water locked up in ice-sheets. Due to elated temperatures, the ice sheets were melted down finding their way into water bodies. As a result, sea level is automatically expected to rise to significant levels in the next one hundred years. A case in point is the Greenland ice sheet that will trigger a sea level rise of about seven meters (Houghton 149). A country like Bangladesh with a high population of one hundred and twenty million will be remarkably affected when the sea level will rise only by half a meter (Houghton 150). This will translate to about six million people displaced from their habitable land.
Crop yields will also be affected by global warming associated with temperature changes. Schneider explains that “if this warming were combined with a 10% decrease in precipitation, then the increase in irrigation needed would go up to 26%…” (171). If this is applicable, then the agricultural sector will have to pump in more resources for irrigation due to reduced precipitation. Hence, global warming will lead to increased irrigation burden. The worst hit regions in terms of drought are Africa and South America. It will therefore be cumbersome to provide food to these populations leading to the nagging question on food security (Schneider 174).
Warm temperatures would mean enhanced life cycles of tropical insect disease carriers like malaria which is already a multimillion killer of people every year. The third world would be affected the most by these diseases unlike the developed world. Singer and Avery (76) elaborate that there will be notable changes in our ecosystem that will also affect species in a variety of ways. Some animal species will be extinct and may disappear completely from the face of the Earth. The reason advanced for this extinction was that the rate at which the current climatic pattern is changing is very high. Most animals therefore find it difficult to adapt to the rapid environmental changes and eventually die (Singer & Avery 76).
Even with expert knowledge on environmental matters, some still argue that the warning signs from scientists are exaggerated and no such alarming changes will happen within our lifetime.
Our future climate will entirely rely on legislative measures enacted by nations. Scientists have successfully put the much needed research into the changing climate pattern. This information is vital only if it is adopted by governments both from the rich and poor countries. The politics of environmental conservation should be a thing of the past. It is disgusting to learn that no single country is ready to swallow its pride and pursue a ‘reduced emission policy’ of green house gases. Even if scientific extrapolations are not impeccable, we have lived through the most trying climatic times coupled with turbulent weather.
Any Hope for the Future?
We now need to investigate the outstanding strategies for averting climate catastrophe. It is possible to cut down carbon dioxide emissions with the right technology in place. According to Joseph, launching “a massive performance- based efficiency program for homes, commercial buildings, and new construction” (154) is one way forward of dealing with global warming. He adds that there should be efforts in place aimed at improving the effectiveness of high power industries. Both heat and power can be used simultaneously to reduce carbon dioxide emission (155). Coal industries should also be well monitored by making sure that all the traces of greenhouse gas emitted is trapped underground. This is indeed very practical since burning process of coal is known to be a major contributor of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Besides these proposed solutions, Joseph recommends the use of alternative energy resources apart from coal. In his point of view, renewable energy resources such a wind or solar energy should be used. Wind turbines to harness energy from the wind can be used (155). Similarly, old nuclear plants are known to emit harmful greenhouse gases. Joseph suggests building “700 new large nuclear power plants while shutting down no old ones” (155). The old coal plants are not environmentally friendly for use.
Among the fossil fuels known, coal has the greatest carbon content. An ordinary coal factory only makes use of about thirty per cent of any coal amount to usable electricity. This means that much of it is converted to wasted heat energy and gas fumes.
Natural gas plants pollute the environment less than coal plants (Joseph 155). These proposals are sound and can be integrated in dealing with the menace of global warming and climate change.
As can be observed from the above arguments and analysis on global warming, there is still a certain level of doubt and uncertainty on the debate surrounding global warming. We need to come to a consensus that global temperatures are gently if not rapidly rising. From the scientific research and evidence already in place, the politics behind global warming can be seen as one big squabble between the rich and poor nations. Whether we need to take mitigation measures urgently remains a dilemma. The far reaching effects of global warming, for instance, rise in sea levels and extreme weather conditions are enough evidence that the world leaders need to take a decisive step once and for all. It is my humble request that similar research studies based on analysis be carried out in future to sensitize the world on upcoming and momentous issues.
Houghton John Theodore. Global Warming: The Complete Briefing 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
Joseph J. Romm. Hell and High Water: Global Warming – the Solution and the Politics – and What We Should Do. Pymble, NSW, New York HarperCollins, 2007. Print.
Maslin, Mark. Global Warming-A very short Introduction. Oxford University Press Inc., New York, 2004. Print.
Reay, Dave. Climate Change Begins at Home Life on the two-way street of global warming Macmillan London New York Melbourne Hong Kong 2005, 2006. Print
Ruschmann Paul J.D. Environmental Regulations and Global Warming. Chelsea House publishers, 2009. Print.
Schneider Stephen Henry. Global warming: are we entering the greenhouse century? The Lutterworth press 1989. Print.
Silver Cheryl Simon & DeFries Ruth S. One earth one future, Our Changing Global Environment-National Academy of Sciences National Academic Press: Washington D.C 1990. Print.
Singer Siegfried Fred & Avery Dennis T. Unstoppable global warming: every 1,500 years. Rowman & Littlefield publishers inc. 2007. Print.