Autumn term 2010|
Climate change is becoming an ever more important issue in our lives. We have come to realise that the modern ways of man place an enormous amount of stress on the Earth that nature simply can’t handle. Some of the climatic problems that are developing today, such as global warming, ozone depletion and El Nino, will have severe effects on our ecosystem.
The world is warming up. As we burn up the planet’s coal, oil and gas reserves, and cut down its remaining forests, greenhouse gases are pouring into the atmosphere. The delicate balance of atmospheric gases that sustains life is thickening, trapping more and more heat and irreversibly changing our world. For all the technological gloss of the 21st century, we are still living in an industrial era, pumping out emissions from coal, oil and gas. Worse, our energy is supplied through a criminally wasteful, centralised energy system. Most of all energy generated in power stations is lost as waste heat up the chimney and along transmission lines. But there are clean, affordable and proven solutions for the most polluting sectors: electricity, transport, industry and domestic. An important thing to realise when thinking about climate is that, atmospheric and oceanic circulation carries different climatic features all over the planet. For example, the emissions of greenhouse gases from industry in the Northern Hemisphere may contribute to increasing the Greenhouse Effect, which has implications for the entire planet. The days of "dump it in your own backyard" are over, as we realise that there is only one big planetary backyard! An increase in our industrial, agricultural and energy practises in the last 150 or so years has contributed to a build up of Greenhouse gases (Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Chloroflorocarbons (CFC'S) and Nitrous Oxide) in the atmosphere. These gases are primarily responsible for global warming and ozone depletion. This massive and rapid change to our climate is like nothing humankind has seen before. As such, the science around it has been cautious and careful in reaching consensus over time. But a strong consensus has finally been reached; the scientific community now agrees that climate change is real, it’s caused by human activity and it’s already happening. The 0.6 degree rise we’ve experienced already kills 150,000 people every year. Glaciers, permafrost and sea ice are disappearing. Sea levels are rising, seasons changing and extreme weather becoming more extreme. As temperatures increase further, there will almost inevitably be more flooding, more drought, more disease, more famine and more war, creating hundreds of millions of refugees and causing the destruction of entire ecosystems and species. An average temperature rise of around 1.3 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels is already inevitable and will bring with it some terrible impacts worldwide. If that figure hits two degrees, many scientists say that not only will the impacts be much greater, but the probability of feedback mechanisms kicking in will be much higher; climate change could spiral completely out of control. Some studies say we have 10 years or less to tackle emissions if we are to stay below that temperature threshold.
So why do we keep burning fossil fuels? The problem isn't a scientific one but a political one. Despite the rhetoric, political cowardice and industry lobbying in the most industrialized countries are preventing meaningful action. Carbon emissions don't respect borders and the sad fact is that the world's most vulnerable people are the ones that are suffering most from its impacts. With countries like China and India in the middle of their own industrial revolutions, it's clear we need a global framework and global cooperation to address the problem. The Kyoto Protocol is a crucial first step but far,...