Global Warming: Is More Action Needed?
Although still a controversial subject, there is a growing consensus that global climate changes are being caused by environmental pollution, especially by greenhouse gases. Do we need to take more urgent action to halt this trend?
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Over the past 100 years, mankind has been burning increasing quantities of fossil fuels (such as coa...
Over the past 100 years, mankind has been burning increasing quantities of fossil fuels (such as coal and oil) to provide energy. This has released large volumes of a number of gases into the atmosphere, particularly CO2. At the same time, the world's remaining large forests - which help absorb CO2 - are being rapidly destroyed by commercial logging and to make way for farm land. Overall, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have increased by 30% over the last century.When in the atmosphere, CO2 and other gases are thought to lead to a 'greenhouse effect': they allow sunlight to pass through, but absorb heat emitted by the earth, trapping it and leading to global warming. Weather records seem to support this theory. Average temperatures have increased by up to 0.6°C since the 19th century; the four hottest years since accurate records began have all been in the last decade. Unusual weather patterns such as floods and droughts have also been on the increase, with the uncharacteristically strong El Niño events of recent years causing widespread disruption. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international body set up to study possible global warming, has concluded that '... the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.'
That mankind is causing global warming is far from being a proven fact. It is true that records show that average temperatures have increased over this century; however, temperatures actually dropped slightly between the 1930s and the 1970s. This was not associated with a reduction in fossil fuel emissions - in fact, they were increasing over this period. If the 'greenhouse gases' are responsible for global warming, how can this be?Accurate records simply do not cover a long enough period to be useful. The earth's average temperature varies naturally through time, and we so far have few or no good explanations to explain events such as the ice ages. Indeed, there was a 'mini-ice age' around four hundred years ago, during which the Thames in London repeatedly froze over during winter; this was followed by an intensive but natural period of 'global warming'. We do not have enough information to say that current trends are not simply natural variation.
Computer models predict that continued global warming could have catastrophic effects. Changes in te...
Computer models predict that continued global warming could have catastrophic effects. Changes in temperature could devastate wildlife, as local vegetation dies off. Patterns of disease could change - already, isolated cases of malaria have been reported far north of traditional danger zones as warmer weather allows the mosquitoes which carry the disease to spread. Most importantly, a portion of the polar ice caps might melt and lead to a rise in sea level, which has already increased by between 10 and 25cm in the last 100 years. Giant cracks have been found in the Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica, which suggest that it is breaking apart; a section 48 miles wide and 22 miles long drifted free and melted as early as 1994. If, as experts suggest, temperatures rise a further 3°C over the next century, low-lying areas of land and even entire countries - such as Bangladesh - could disappear under the waves.
Again, our computer models for predicting climate change are far from reliable. The weather is a hugely complex system that we are only just beginning to understand; it is affected by millions of factors, including solar activity, volcanic eruptions, ocean currents, and other cycles which we are gradually discovering. Very slight changes in the computer model result in immense differences in predictions. Some scientists have, for example, suggested that global warming could actually cause a drop in sea level, as rainfall patterns and ocean currents shift. Indeed, refinements in the models used by the IPCC have caused it to tone down its predictions. In 1990, it estimated that by 2100 the average temperature would rise by 3°C and the sea rise by about 65cm; by 1995, it had revised these to 2°C and 50cm. The more research takes place, the less 'catastrophic' global warming seems to be; however, it is always the predictions of doom which are most widely reported in the media.
Technology has now reached the point where we can continue to develop standards of living throughout...
Technology has now reached the point where we can continue to develop standards of living throughout the world without needing to burn fossil fuels. Renewable sources of energy - such as wind or solar power - are ripe for development, but have yet to see the levels of investment needed to make them truly effective. More efficient use of energy is also vital. Encouraging developments such as electric cars, or promoting better insulation of houses, could make a substantial difference in the long run. Moreover, after the initial costs, greater efficiency would actually be economically beneficial.
Of course there is an important role for greater energy efficiency. However, most alternatives to fossil fuels are simply not effective. They can also cause their own problems. Nuclear power creates unacceptable radioactive waste; hydro-electric power projects, such as the Three Gorges dam in China, leads to the flooding of vast areas and the destruction of the local environment; solar and wind power often require the covering of large areas of natural beauty with solar panels or turbines. Environmentalists often paint an idealistic view of renewable energy which is far from the less romantic reality.
Global warming is a world-wide catastrophe waiting to happen: the emission of greenhouse gases affec...
Global warming is a world-wide catastrophe waiting to happen: the emission of greenhouse gases affects everyone. It is therefore vital that the entire world responds now. The targets set by the Kyoto protocol will barely scratch the surface of the problem. Only minimal reductions were agreed to by the developed world, and no real agreement was reached involving the developing world, which is producing a greater percentage of greenhouse gas emissions every year.Gases such as CO2 remain in the atmosphere for centuries. If we wait until we can see the results of global warming, it may be too late - the damage will have been done, and reducing emissions then will have no effect for generations. We therefore must act now, and we must act globally. Developed countries must do all they can to reduce their use of fossil fuels. They must assist developing nations to do the same, by sharing technology or perhaps through 'emissions trading' - allowing poorer countries to sell their quota of pollution in return for hard cash. International pressure must be exerted against those countries which do not co-operate; even if this slows economic growth, it is the poorest regions in the world which would suffer most from more droughts and floods and rising sea-levels. However difficult it may be in the short term, it may save millions of lives in the future.
The evidence for global warming is not strong enough to merit this kind of response - it is entirely possible that the changes over the past century have been purely natural. Environmentalists in the developed world can afford the luxury of demanding government action, as increasingly technology-based economies mean that reducing pollution will have a minimal impact on prosperity or employment. Those in the developing world are not so lucky. Industrialisation is a key part of building successful economies and bringing prosperity to the world's poorest people; heavy industry is often the only area in which developing nations can compete.Global action on greenhouse gas emissions would sustain the inequalities of the current status quo. The developing world would be entirely dependent on multinationals to provide the technology they needed to keep pollution levels low, or else would have to stop expanding their economies. Having apparently caused the problem through the industrialisation that made them powerful, developed countries would essentially be pulling the ladder up behind them, depriving other countries of the chance to do the same. This is simply unacceptable: in the modern world, one of our first priorities must be to help the poorest people achieve the prosperity they need to support themselves. The current evidence for global warming does not begin to merit endangering this goal.
What do you think?