What is Climate Change:
Climate change is described as a change observed over a time scale of decades or more in the pattern of weather or any changes in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets. Although there may be a day or two of cool days in the summer or warm days in the winter, climate is representative of long-term conditions. Over the last decade, we are increasingly observing heavy rains, avalanches, storms, wildfires, intense longer winters or very dry summers.
What is the main concern and why?
Climate change is one of the most important global issues of our time. While there is so much talk about climate change, yet it is totally brushed aside by many. Nevertheless, the evidences are many:
• Universal Temperature Increase: The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 0.9 °C since the late last century. This change is mainly attributed to increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.
• Ocean Temperature Increase: The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat with the top 700 meters of ocean showing considerable temperature increases.
• Ice Sheet Declining: The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass as shown from data obtained by NASA.
• Glacial Retreat: Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Alaska and Africa.
• Decreased Snow Cover: Satellite data indicated that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over last few decades and that the snow is melting earlier.
The changes in climate are responsible for extreme weather manifestations that further give rise to a range of factors such as water availability, agricultural conditions, economic situations and migration patterns.
What are different contributors to climate change?
• The global warming trend observed since the mid of last century are due to the “greenhouse gas effect” caused by humans. In simple terms, this effect is caused by the atmospheric trapping of heat radiated from earth toward space by certain types of gases.
• Some would assume that changes in the Sun’s radiations would bring about changes in climate as Sun is the fundamental source of energy. However, recent findings have indicated that if it was Sun’s effect then all atmospheric layers would show increase in temperature rather than the cooling in the upper atmosphere, and a warming at the surface and in the lower parts of the atmosphere as observed.
Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include:
Greenhouse gases or GHG mainly comprise carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrous oxide, methane and chlorofluoro hydrocarbons or CFCs (if not regulated). Incidentally, food waste is considered as a major generator of greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon Dioxide produced from natural processes, for example, from respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels. However, ever since industrial revolution began, humans have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by more than a third.
Methane gas produced both through natural sources and human activities. It includes the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, through rice cultivation, digestion of livestock grazing and manure management.
Nitrous oxide a powerful GHG produced by soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid manufacturing and biomass burning.
CFCs a main contributor to ozone layer depletion are synthetic chemicals obtained through various industrial applications, but now largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere.
What Role Does Human Activity Play?
There’s a more than 95 % probability that human activities producing greenhouse gases over the past 50 years have warmed our planet according to an estimate of IPCC.
The industrial activities resulting from modernisation have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years.
Health: Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Many disease-causing microorganisms and insects breed faster and in a great number under higher temperature conditions caused by climate change. Within 20 years’ time, climate change is believed to cause roughly 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, heat stress caused by extreme heat and respiratory problems from bush fires.
Oceans: Climate change affects the world’s oceans as the pollution is causing a massive, oxygen starved ‘dead zone’ which suffocates ocean life. This is due to heavy rains which washes fertilizers from farmland into the ocean which in turn becomes feedstock for ocean algae. As the algae decomposes it sucks oxygen creating dead zone and suffocating the marine life bringing imbalance in the ecosystem.
Island Nations: Climate change is drastically affecting small island nations, some of which have yet to develop, and jeopardising their ability to function as an independent state.
Agricultural Production: Climate change is also affecting agricultural production, leading to food shortages and migrations.
Ethical and Human Rights Issue
Climate change can result in sea level rise causing water contamination through increased salt, loss of land and crops resulting in migration of people. Basic human rights to health, to food, to water will be denied due to climate changes. Everyone has right to dwell in the land which is in its purest state.
The main ethical issue might be how to define and differentiate responsibilities between present and future generations, developed and developing countries, and human and nonhuman beings. Impact of inaction to rectify climate change is far reaching.
It is believed that a temperature rise above 2°C would be disastrous especially to many island countries. In order to achieve the 1.5 °C target, CO2 emissions must decline by 45% (relative to 2010 levels) by 2030, reaching net zero by around 2050.
Change in attitude for humans for better planet
Believe it or not, climate change and global warming is going to affect not only us but also across all species on this earth as is evidenced by the changes occurring in climate patterns. It is an ethical and human rights issue.
Even in many cultures and religions, nature is considered close to humans, advocating oneness with the nature. One religious leader even defined environmentalism as a spiritual responsibility.
Focus not on despair but on solutions
One aim of every human being is to enrich the land and not exploit for self-interests. If every individual played their own tiny part, for example, by buying climate friendly products or adopting actions in their everyday lives by way of saving food, energy, transport etc. to slow down or eliminate climate change then the land we leave will be clean and pure allowing us to enjoy and live our lives to the utmost.
Through the contribution and commitment to sustainable environment, what better legacy one can leave for the future generation than to provide a healthy livable planet for all.
Source of some of the information and data: WHO, NASA, IPCC, The Conversation, Au Academy Science, UN News.