Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Global Warming

Imagine being responsible for something like this. A giant asteroid hit the earth about 65 million years ago. The scientist speculated that the collision threw so much dust in to atmosphere that the world was dark for three years. As a result, sunlight was greatly reduced, plants could not grow, temperatures fell, the food chain collapsed, and many species, including the dinosaurs became extinct. We, as human beings, are causing something just as profound, but in a subtle manner, as the asteroid that felled the dinosaurs. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the Earth's temperature has risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century and global warming has accelerated dramatically during the past two decades. We have changed and continue to change the balance of gases that form the atmosphere, which leads to these climate change and global warming.
Most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributed to human activities. Human activities have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of greenhouse gases (explained in the illustration 1) that primarily consists of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, atmosphere concentration of carbon dioxide have increased nearly 30 percent, methane concentrations have doubled, and nitrous oxide concentrations have rose about 15 percent. The combustion of fossil fuels and other human activities are the primary reasons for increase in carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere when solid waste, fossil fuels, and wood products are burned. Methane, on the other hand, is emitted during the production of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emission also results from the decomposition of organic wastes and solid waste landfills, and raising livestock. Nitrous oxide is released during agricultural and industrial activities. Other greenhouse gases, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), are discharged by industrial processes. Due to these human activities, the consequences of climate change could be detrimental to the mankind and earth.

As a result of these human activities, rising global temperatures are expected to raise sea levels, expand deserts, change precipitation and also alter forests, crop yields, and water supply. According to a recent study reported in Science, Alaskan glaciers currently loose about 15 to 33 cubic miles of ice per year, which contributes about 1/100 of an inch annually to global sea levels. As an effect, Alaska has warmed by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1960’s ( Arendt, 382). A research conducted in the Himalayas suggest that twenty glacial lakes in Nepal and twenty-four in Bhutan are filling up so rapidly from melting Himalayan glaciers that scientists believe they may overflow and burst their banks within the next five to ten years, putting lives and property at risk. The change in precipitation causes evaporation cycles to speed up and may leave soil drier during critical parts of the growing season. The droughts, especially in poorer countries, could reduce supplies of clean water to the point where there are major threats to the public health. A warming of more than 2.5 degrees Celsius could reduce the global food supply and crop yields. The rising global temperatures could affect human health because the ozone layer blocks almost all UV radiation, which plays a significant role in the formation of skin cancers, eye cataracts, immune system deficiencies, and other health maladies. A one percent loss of stratospheric ozone equals two percent increase in skin cancers and one percent increase in eye cataracts worldwide. Cutting the emission of carbon dioxide not only decreases greenhouse effect, but also simultaneously reduces other harmful forms of air pollution, like those that can cause smog and worsen health problems like asthma. Therefore, developing programs and initiatives that reduces the greenhouse effect is a necessity that benefits everyone globally.

Climate change is a global issue that requires collaborative action from the entire international community. Countries from around the world are currently working together to share technologies, experiences and resources to lower greenhouse gas emissions and decrease the threat of global climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an agreement through which countries are banding together to meet this challenge. Under the convention, each country that is a party in the convention that must develop a greenhouse gas “inventory” listing of its national sources (i.e. Factories and transport) and “sinks” (forest and other natural ecosystem that absorb greenhouse gases). These inventories must be made public so they can be monitored. The unfairness to the climate change problem is that the developed countries, such as America, have created their wealth in part by releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere long before the consequences were understood. In 1997, United States alone was responsible for one-fifth of the total greenhouse gas emission. Now the developing countries fear being told to cut down their industrial activities for the sake of the climate. In response, the ‘wealthy’ countries agree to support climate change activities in developing countries by providing financial support to adopt new efficient and environmental friendly technology (i.e. Solar power), instead of burning environmentally harsh fossil fuels. By utilizing climate friendly technology as well as promoting sustainable development, the UNFCCC seeks to “stabilize the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent interference with the climate system” ( IEM, 135).

Climate change is a global challenge that entails international solutions and international cooperation among countries. Along with the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement that stands on its own, but is linked to the existing UNFCCC. It affects every major sector of the economy, and is considered to be the most far-reaching agreement on environment and sustainable development ever adopted. The Kyoto Protocol sets legally binding targets and timetables for cutting developed country emission. The Protocol commits the developed countries to reduce the collective emissions by at least five percent between the years of 2008-2012. It assigns a national target to each country through political negotiations and compromises and offers additional flexibility to the countries that are in transition to allow the developing countries to grow. The Kyoto Protocol serves to strengthen and build in the future. Thus, the Kyoto Protocol is a sign that the international community is willing to face reality and start taking concrete actions to minimize the risk of climate change.

Through research and education, various non-governmental organizations (NGO) are raising public awareness about the need to cut emissions. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) are pressing the policy makers to introduce effective measures and forming innovative partnerships with progressive businesses. Friends of the Earth (FoE) work collaboratively with other NGO’s to campaign against global warming. These organizations are expanding their role and influence around the world. NGO’s offer a great way for people to get involved and make a difference locally in their community or globally throughout the world. Even if one does not want to join an organization, one can still make a difference by the choices one makes in the electricity usage, the waste production, and personal transportation. Thus, the consequences of climate change are global; therefore, all must share the responsibilities in reducing it.

In conclusion, as our needs continue to grow and develop, international cooperation will become more important as the global community searches for ways to meet the climate change challenge efficiently and effectively. Thus, the key to successful cooperation is finding activities that will help all countries achieve their economic, environmental, and developmental goals in a climate-friendly manner.

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