Imagine yourself one day seeing millions of displaced people by the rising sea levels scrambling to get a place on higher ground! Imagine the welfare of the people in drought stricken areas characterised by recurrent, erratic rainfall patterns! This seems too imaginary to be believed but we are now living in a world characterised by extreme climatic changes as a result of the effects of global warming. Up until 2004, hurricanes were mostly common in North-Atlantic until the period when Hurricane Katarina struck Brazil from the South Atlantic. Indeed, it is a reality that some countries are affected by extreme climatic conditions such as frequent droughts, floods as well as hurricanes while the resources to combat these impacts are limited. Against this backdrop, I was intrigued to choose this subject for my research paper because I recognized that human activities are the greatest contributors to global warming, as my father currently runs a chemical company in South Korea. It is a company specializing in the commercialization of environmentally friendly chemical products. I was also fascinated by its innovative environmental systems, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which can reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the chimneys and roofs of factories, houses and buildings. Global warming and keeping the earth clean has therefore always been an interesting topic for me to investigate in order to learn more about the real problem of global warming and how it can have a serious impact on human life. The issues of climate change have become topical in many societies, but there is need to generate more knowledge about the effects of global warming and what to do about the causes of global warming.
Why is Global Warming an Important Issue?
Global warming and climate change are world wide issues related to our environment that cannot be easily or quickly ignored anymore. The United Nations published a scientific report in February 2007 that concludes that global warming is taking place and will continue for centuries. The report also stated with 90% certainty that the activity of humans has been the primary cause of increasing temperatures over the past few decades (United Nations 2007). The relationship between human civilization and the earth has often been seen as catastrophic where the activities of men are colliding with the planet’s ecological system resulting in extreme changes particularly in the climate. Gore (2006) states that, “In every corner of the globe- on land and in water, in melting ice and in disappearing snow, during heat waves and droughts, in eyes of hurricanes and in tears of refugees- the world is witnessing mounting and undeniable evidence that nature’s cycles are profoundly changing. Global warming is now considered as a great problem everywhere because it is not too late to help our earth from another disastrous event. Unless bold measures are put in place to deal with the human causes of global warming, our world will experience terrible catastrophes that are worse than Hurricane Katrina both in the Pacific and Atlantic (Gore 2006). Certainly, we all need clean water and fresh air and we must also preserve these for the future generations that come after us. It is time for us to take a bold step to recognize the terrible effects of global warming in a bid to try and discontinue inappropriate human activities in order to save the environment. Political, public debate and scientific research continues regarding global warming and what actions to take in response are being discussed. This topic will be examined by first looking at the definition of global warming and then at the causes and effects of global warming. This is followed by a critical analysis of the conflicting opinions about the effects of global warming and potential solutions. Although there may be some benefits of global warming, it apparently evident that this phenomenon has more adverse effects since it will potentially harm human’s health and the rising sea levels are bringing imbalance to nature. In order to fully understand effects of this phenomenon, there is need to know how much the earth is warming, how long the earth has been warming and the causes of this warming.
What is a Global Warming?
Global warming can be defined as the excessive temperature of the earth as a result of green house gas emissions such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as the depletion of the ozone layer (Brown 1996). All the greenhouses gases allow light from the sun to come into the atmosphere and trap the outward bound infrared radiation to warm up the earth. The more atmospheric greenhouse gasses are, the more heat is trapped. Greenhouse gas (GHG) levels have risen and declined over the history of the Earth, but have been fairly constant for the last few thousand years. (National Geographic N.D.) This causes rise in temperature in other places on earth. However, on the other hand, the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) emitted into the atmosphere can cause significant damage to the ozone layer which causes global warming. The ozone layer is a protective shield which protects the earth from direct ultra violet rays of the sun directly entering the atmosphere as this would also contribute to unprecedented temperature rises. It is not much noticeable in the western part of earth but in eastern parts such as North Pole, Alaska and others, a slight increase in temperatures makes a huge difference. Some scientists argue that the increase in temperature is simply the result of a natural climatic adjustment – normal climactic swing in the direction of increased temperature. However, a number of research data has proved that there has been an addition to normal changes in climate. Carbon dioxide is inevitably emitted when fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas or oil are burned. Through burning of fossil fuels and other Green House Gass emissions, human beings are enhancing the greenhouse effect and warming earth. The following graph indicates increase in temperature, carbon dioxide and sunspot.
Rather than global warming, scientists often use the term “climate change”. This is because of the fact that as the earth’s average temperature rises, winds and ocean currents often move the heat around the globe in ways that can cool some areas, warm others and change the pattern and amount of rain and snow falling. As a result, in different areas, climate changes differently.
Attributed and Expected Effects of Global Warming
Global warming has catastrophic impacts on human beings such as destruction of habitat, starvation and famine as a result of recurrent long dry spells as well as a disruption in the balance of the ecosystem. Climate change can have a direct and indirect impact on people’s wellbeing. For example, heat stress and other heat related health problems are caused directly by very warm temperatures and high humidity. Indirectly, environmental disruptions, air pollution, changes in food and water supply, and coastal flooding are all potential examples of impacts that could affect human health.
It can be seen that warmer temperatures makes glacier melt. A glacier is a large sheet of ice that moves at an extremely slow speed hence if it melts, it adds more water to the ocean and its level rises. Thus, global warming is also capable of causing a rise in the sea level which can result in the displacement of people living in areas below sea level. However, it has been proven that we have seemingly negatively affected our environment by a cycle of harmful processes that now seem to be inextricably responsible for an increase in the damage to our ecosystem. The premise of global warming as an issue of debate is that industrial growth combined with a willingness to ignore the future consequences of our actions as a way of sustaining ourselves has created this situation where we are colliding with the planet’s ecological system and its vulnerable components are crumbling as a result (Gore 2006).
Disadvantages and Advantages of Global Warming
With conclusions of innumerable scientists that global warming will continue into the foreseeable future and with conclusions of other scientists that global warming is not by human activity, the table below seeks to summarize the disadvantages and advantages of global warming.
|Ocean circulation is disrupted and this can affect the climate||Plant growth can be increased in Arctic, Antarctic, Siberia, and other frozen regions. .|
|Long dry spells lead to desertification||The next ice age may be prevented from occurring.|
|Changes to climate can lead to reduction in agricultural production causing food shortage and possible result can be starvation, malnutrition and increased death||Less energy required to warm cold places.|
|Higher sea level may cause deaths and disease from floods and property loss by evacuation||Longer growing seasons could mean increased agricultural production in Canada, Russia and Greenland|
|Extinction of other species cause an imbalance in the ecosystem||Mountains become more visible|
|Water shortages in drought prone areas||Boundary disputes between countries over low-lying islands will disappear.|
|Increase in acidity of rainfall and air pollution may result in allergy and asthma in human||In many plants, the concentration of antioxidants such as vitamin C increases significantly under higher levels of carbon dioxide. Higher levels of CO2 are a major health benefit|
|Permanent loss of glaciers and ice sheets and melt of permafrost leads to destruction of structures, landslides, and avalanches||More productive fisheries in the Arctic due to the northward migration of cod and capelin, made possible by warmer weather.|
|More extreme weather and an increased frequency of severe and catastrophic storms||Greenhouse gasses keep the earth’s surface at a more hospitable average temperature.|
|An increase in disaster means more to insurers||Commuting will probably shift towards rail transport wherever possible.|
Despite all the negative reports from environmentalists about global warming, there are some reasons to celebrate if the earth gets warmer. The bright side of a warming global climate trend has been studied and documented by many researchers. Thomas Gale Moore (N.D), an economist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, is the author of Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry about Global Warming, a book that describes the many ways that warmer weather helps human beings in all areas of life. Moore is not alone in taking this view since many researchers have also discovered the gains of global warming to human beings especially in the areas of health and agriculture. One of Moore’s assertions is that statistically and historically proven, winters have posed a greater threat to humans than summers have. A warmer world would also directly impact agricultural productivity (Moore N.D.). Warmer weather often means a longer growing season and this increases output. There would be an increase in rainfall and the risk of crop failure would decrease as a result of shorter, milder winters. If this turns to be true, global warming may change the world in many ways. But as long as people are capable of acting and adjusting within reasonable limits, they can compensate for the negative effects of warming while enjoying its positive fruits. Moore agrees, “There’s no reason to think that warm weather is bad.” (MooreN.D.)
Current Issues Involving Global Warming – Articles
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been studying about global warming for past few decades. Their most recent report, released in February 2007, is entitled, “The global rise in concentration of carbon dioxide is primarily due to fossil fuel use and land use reform, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to farming.” This talks about the causes of increases in carbon dioxide concentrations vis-à-vis temperature changes. It can be noted that since the year of 2000, the earth is already showing many signs of worldwide climate change (United Nation 2007). For example, since 1880, average temperatures around the planet have risen to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), most of this in recent decades, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA. The 20th century’s last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest in million of years according to different researches conducted in climate studies. And the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850.
It can be seen the Arctic impacted most by these changes in temperature as a result of global warming. According to the international Arctic Climate Impact Assessment study from 2000 to 2004, average temperatures in Alaska, Western Canada and Eastern Russia have risen twice the global average. Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing and it is predicted that the region may experience its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. The indigenous cultures of the Polar areas are already suffering from the sea-ice loss as a result of glaciers and mountain snows rapidly melting. A good example can be drawn from Montana’s Glacier National Park now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910 (National Geographic N.D). Coral reefs in Hawaii, Mexico and Dominican republic which are highly sensitive to small changes in water temperatures, suffered the worst bleaching or die-off in response to stress ever recorded in 1988, with some areas seeing bleach rates of 70 percent (National Geographic N.D.). Experts and scientists expect these sorts of events to increase in frequency and intensity in the next 50 years as sea temperatures rise. According to other researches, many coastal areas, particularly the middle part of China and Brazil have experienced an upsurge in the amount of extreme weather conditions wildfires, heat waves and strong tropical storms which is also attributed in part to extreme climatic changes.
Debate and Skepticism
Controversy is still an obstacle to scientists who want to quickly find solutions about the means to stop global warming before worsens. First of all, in 1998, James Hansen predicted that there would be a rise in temperature by 0.35 degrees Celsius over ten years, when in fact there has only been a rise of 0.11 degree Celsius (Krismanits 1998). Critics also point out that there are around 160,000 glaciers in the world and only 79 of them are used as mass balance data. Krismanits further supports his argument by saying that sea levels are not rising any faster due to global warming but this has just been the normal trend for the past 6000 years where they have been rising by the rate of about 10 to 20 centimeters.
According to information obtained online, the biggest form of real-life debates on global warming are executed at the conferences held by the Kyoto Protocol which is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is aimed at fighting global warming (Wiki N.D). The recent Conference of the Parties (COP) number 15 was held on December 12th, 2009, at Copenhagen, Denmark, where the main goal was to try and establish an ambitious global climate agreement for 2012 which is the date set after the first expiry of the Kyoto Protocol commitment. However, on November 14th, 2009, world leaders agreed to waiver some of the most difficult issues because many of them were simply reluctant to fulfill their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. As a result of high costs in finding alternatives to reduce high carbon emissions, many countries are reluctant to swiftly deal with the issue related to global warming.
Journalist for Guardian United Kingdom, Mark Lynas (2009), commented that Copenhagen was a disaster. “This is the truth: China wrecked the talks, deliberately humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on a terrible” deal “that Western leaders walk away with the blame (Lynas).” According to this story, it can be seen that China deliberately scuttled the negotiations because of its resistance to the deals that would address the issues related to global warming.
By virtue of predicting the most of the blame would be laid on the West after the failure of the deal, China’s representative aggravated the situation by insisting that the 80% cut by 2050, be removed without any logical reason. The question is: So why did China so aggressively declined all deals and insisted on changes to the protocol? It has been observed that China seeks to weaken the issues related to climate regulation so as to ensure constant growth of their global political and economic dominance.
If it is true that China deliberately used this cheap tactic, it can be noted that it is being not very fair to prioritize its exponential economic growth at the expense of spending positively towards the cause of putting measures that can address the impacts of global warming. However, during the Copenhagen’s conference, it may not only be China to blame but the United States and other developed countries also showed lack of ambition in decreasing their carbon emissions by 2012, the reason why they postponed the issue to other future dates in order to focus on less important issues.
China perspective is currently experiencing the greatest economic development in the world and it would be unfair for them to suddenly halt their prosperous growth and lean into stopping global warming when all other developed countries have already completed most of their economic growth cycle using the same means and methods. Even though the conference was a disaster, I have a strong belief that the Chinese have made great efforts to minimise the impacts of global warming in their country. A good example is that they have solar powered apartments in most of their urban cities which is very rare and difficult to find in most industrialized countries like South Korea. I had always thought while living in Korea, that our recycling habits were extremely well-structured because if you go to any apartment or fast-food restaurant, you will find separate trash cans for recycling purposes. What amazed me more was that this system was implicated in China too, more specifically Shanghai. All in all, I believe that once China and India have reached a certain amount of growth in their economy, they will be much more cooperative in facilitating anti-global warming efforts.
Responses to Global Warming in the Government Level and Individual Level
There are many proposed solutions that are executed by countries all over the world as ways of trying to stop global warming. However, not all are successful and instead can cause harm to their economies. For example, the development of too many different types of alternative energy has shown lack of efficacy and consistency, instead they should just focus on a couple of alternative energy sources. I believe that the most effective way for responding to global warming at the government level is giving incentives to businesses to go green. This is because most people, who are against anti-global warming, are usually concerned about the harm that will be done on the economy, which equals their money.
On the individual level, people can stop global warming by starting to change their habits of life from the bottom to top. You can start by changing your bulbs into compact fluorescent bulbs that save up to 300 lbs. of carbon dioxide and 60 dollars of your yearly utilities. Next step is to take shorter showers because they account for 2/3 of all water heating costs and produces 350 lbs. of carbon dioxide. Public transportation is not as common in the United States as it is in South Korea, so even though you decide to drive a car it would be best to carpool with family members and friends and would be even better if you were to buy a hybrid car that can save up to 16,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide. There are many other examples other than these, but I have chosen them because not only are they simple and efficient in saving a couple hundred bucks per year, they were my first steps towards helping anti-global warming efforts. I have been practicing these habits for several years now, and it is not as if global warming has disappeared, but I still hope that my small contribution is still helping in some way.
In conclusion, it can be noted that the aspect of global warming is topical issue that has influenced debate across the whole spectrum. Basically, global warming is the excessive heating of the atmosphere as a result greenhouse gas emissions which will trap excess outward bound heat from radiating into space. Research has shown that the industrial and domestic activities of human beings particularly the use of combustion or fossil fuels are the major contributors in the emission of greenhouse gasses. The relationship between human civilization and the earth has often been seen as catastrophic where the activities of men are colliding with the planet’s ecological system resulting in extreme changes particularly in the climate. Global warming has become a serious problem that can lead to extreme changes in climatic conditions which can negatively impact on our lives in many ways as discussed above. Though global warming is advantageous in that it keeps the earth warm, it can be concluded that its consequences in the long term are severe hence the disadvantages outweigh the advantages by far. Only concerted efforts by the human beings can go a long way in minimizing the severe impacts of this catastrophic phenomenon which is threatening to engulf the whole world in the long run if left unchecked.
- Brown P. (1996). Global warming: Can civilization survive? London Blandford.
- Fisher M. (1992). The Ozone Layer. New York. Chelsea House Publishers.
- Gribbin J. (1988). The Whole in the sky. Man’s Threat to the ozone layer. London. Corgi books.
- Gore A. (2006). An inconvenient truth: The planetary emergency of global warming and what we can do about it. London. Butler & Tanner Limited.