Global Warming: The Threat the Looms our Common Future
There is an alarming situation that needs to everybody’s attention. It’s far more important than the ongoing war between Israel and Lebanon, oil crisis and the international terrorism. It’s called global warming, and because of this, our world is facing a bleaker future.
Global warming is increasingly looked on as one of the biggest threats facing our planet. There is convincing evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is causing temperatures to rise.
However, the exact pace of global warming and its full range of causes remain uncertain. Its likely costs are substantial: farmers will not be able to use some lands; net heating and cooling costs for homes and offices will increase. Furthermore, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Website informed that the changing climate could alter forests, crop yields and water supplies; and affect human health, animals, and many types of ecosystems. This is why, at the global level, countries around the world have expressed a firm commitment to strengthening international responses to the risks of climate change.
Writer Bill McKibben, for example, says, “If we had to pick one problem to obsess about over the next 50 years, we’d do well to make it carbon dioxide. I believe that we’d be far wiser to obsess about poverty than about carbon dioxide” (“Global Warming: Both Sides”, 2003).
The consequences of global warming are all scary scenarios that people need to act at once to prevent or deter these things from happening. This is why this paper will seek the present updates about global warming, new scientific evidences of the consequences of global warming and what the nations around the world are doing to curb its consequences. The difference of global warming, greenhouse effect and the ozone layer depletion will also be explored. After surveying facts, we will analyze what are the feasible solutions and suggest some thoughts on what ordinary people could do to contribute to deter the effects of global warming.
In its 2001 assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that, “an increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system.” The IPCC produced a Climate Hotmap Website that shows global sea level has risen 4 to 10 inches (10-25 cm) over the past 100 years. Also, the Climate Hotmap showed majority of the world’s regions experienced record warmth with a century-long warming trend (1901-1996). Furthermore, many glaciers at lower latitudes are now disappearing, and scientists predict that, under some plausible warming scenarios, the majority of glaciers will be gone by the year 2100.
Carbon dioxide accounts for about 85 percent of greenhouse gases released in the United States. Carbon dioxide emissions are largely due to the combustion of fossil fuels in electric power generation. Methane emissions, which result from agricultural activities, landfills, and other sources, are the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the United States. The levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere during the last years of the twentieth century were higher than at any time since humankind has walked the earth, a circumstance that has provoked one researcher of the greenhouse effect to remark that “We are headed for rates of temperature rise unprecedented in human history; the geological record screams a warning to us of just how unprecedented…[the stresses on] the natural environment will be” (Leggett 1990, p. 22). In 1995, The IPCC’s Second Assessment found that the average temperatures for the period 1901–1990 were higher than for any 90-year interval since at least 914 A.D. The panel also has stated that the combined effect of all greenhouse gases is likely to produce a warming greater, in terms of its speed, than any other climatic event in the last 10,000 years (Bolin et al., 1995).
Aside from fossil fuels, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), as well as chemicals and technology in use such as refrigeration, foam insulation, and metal and electronic cleaning and drying processes, cause ozone depletion (Fischer et al., 1991). CFCs were once used in aerosol sprays and as foam blowing agents. Their manufacture is now banned by an international treaty, the Montreal Protocol, signed by 160 nations. But because CFCs have a long atmospheric lifetime (about 50 years), those manufactured in the 1970s continue to damage the ozone layer today. The amount of CFCs in the stratosphere is now peaking. The good news is that scientists forecast that the ozone layer will return to its earlier, stable size by the middle of the 21st century–assuming that nations continue to comply with the treaty. When the ozone hole was first detected, there was emotional debate in which many U.S. industries fiercely resisted a ban on CFCs. It took a few years for scientists to show conclusively that human activity was causing the damage. It did not take long for scientists to invent other chemicals that could replace CFCs for industrial and commercial purposes, but would not harm the ozone layer. CFCs used as propellants were first banned in the United States in 1978 (Rye, Strong & Rubba, 2001, p. 90)
Global Warming Vs. Ozone Layer Depletion
Some of the important misconception is that global warming and ozone layer depletion are the same, when in fact these are two different problems. Global warming is caused by the “greenhouse effect,” which is essential to life as we know it on planet Earth. Electromagnetic energy coming from the sun is absorbed by the Earth, which radiates some of this energy outward as infrared energy (heat). Some of this infrared energy escapes into space, but much of it is absorbed by “greenhouse gases” in the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) and is radiated back to the Earth as heat energy (Bender & Leone, 1997).
Studies have proven global warming had already caused a projected sea-level increase from 1990-2100 of 0.09-0.88 meters, depending on which greenhouse gas scenario is used and many physical uncertainties in contributions to sea-level rise from a variety of frozen and unfrozen water sources. Also, the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios projects a global temperature increase of anywhere from 1.4 – 5.8°C from 1990-2100 (NCDC Website, 2006).
On the other hand, ozone layer depletion is caused by the disintegration of the ozone molecules. The ozone molecule (O3) is composed of three atoms of oxygen. Ozone in the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere) is referred to as the “ozone layer” and protects life on Earth by absorbing most of the ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun. Exposure to too much UV radiation is linked to skin cancer, cataracts, and depression of the immune system, and may reduce the productivity of certain crops. Accordingly, stratospheric ozone is known as “good ozone.” In contrast, human industry creates “ozone pollution” at the ground level. This “bad ozone” is a principal component of smog. The ozone layer is reduced when man-made CFC molecules (comprised of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon) reach the stratosphere and are broken apart by short-wave energy from the sun. Free chlorine atoms then break apart molecules of ozone, creating a hole in the ozone layer. The hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic in 1998 was “the largest observed since annual holes first appeared in the late 1970s” (Kerr 1998, p. 391).
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (2006), cars and trucks are the significant source (25 percent) of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and serious efforts are needed to reduce their emissions to deter global warming. Because US emissions of heat-trapping gases are so high, the site suggested special responsibilities to work to reduce the threat of global warming: 1.) Using energy more efficiently and moving to renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and bioenergy) would significantly reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases, 2.) A serious effort to address global warming must reduce emissions from cars and trucks. Many technologies already exist that can do this, while also creating new jobs in the U.S. automotive sector and other industries throughout the country and 3.) By putting energy efficiency, renewable energy, and vehicle technology solutions in place at the federal level, we can reduce our contribution to global warming while creating a stronger, healthier, and more secure nation.
On the part of preventing ozone layer depletion, experts from industry, government, and academia around the world should characterize existing CFC practices or baseline technology and identify the technology options for the various applications and geographic regions. Global environmental issues such as ozone depletion and global warming require near complete participation worldwide if the solutions are to be effective (Fischer et al., 1991).
What Could Be Done?
Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) are the major culprits of the global warming controversy and happen also to be the principal energy sources for both rich and poor countries. Governments of the industrial countries have generally accepted the position, promoted by the IPCC, that humankind’s use of fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming, and in 1997 they forged an international agreement (the Kyoto Climate Change Protocol) mandating that worldwide fossil fuel use be drastically reduced as a precaution against future warming. In contrast, the developing nations for the most part do not accept global warming as a high-priority issue and, as yet, are not subject to the Kyoto agreement. Thus, the affluent nations and the developing nations have set themselves on a collision course over environmental policy relating to fossil fuel use.
According to Gelbspan (2001), solution to global warming is as simple as it is overwhelming. He suggested that we should allow our inflamed climate to restabilize by emission reduction of 70 percent. And that implies a rapid global energy transition to high-efficiency and renewable energy sources. Those sources exist today, and these are capable of providing all the energy we use and more. Also, a worldwide effort should be undertaken in the planet with climate-friendly energy sources would result in an enormous economic boom.
On the individual level, the U.S. EPA Website suggested what people can do inside their homes, outside in the yard, when at the store, while on the road and even when considering major investments. For example, by cutting our utility bills in purchasing energy-efficient appliances, fixtures, and other home equipment and products. The average house is responsible for more air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions than in an average car. The EPA Website claimed that these suggestions are smart money-savers to reduce your use of energy and the resulting emissions of carbon dioxide — a major contributor to global warming-and other atmospheric gases that trap the heat of the Earth. Even if we do only about one-third of the actions on their list, we can reduce your emissions of heat-trapping “greenhouse gases” like carbon dioxide by 12,280 pounds per year.
As we have seen, world industrialization and technological development have increased international interdependence through functional economic integration and transnational communication. Industrialization has also intensified international interdependence in another, less direct way, through its impact on the world’s natural environment. Actions taken by one nation now routinely affect other nations’ natural resources and to the benefits of a healthy environment. The global threats to the natural environment are thus a major new source of interdependence. Because environmental effects tend to be diffuse and long term and because such effects easily spread from one location to another, the global warming problem should not be taken sitting down. A sustainable natural environment is a collective good, and nations should bargain over how to distribute the costs of providing that good for everyone. On our part as individuals, we are already aware about the causes of global warming and taking part in reducing our energy use is a vital step towards the deterrence of global warming. Alternatively, if we do not act quickly and comprehensively, our continued use could not just tear a hole in the ozone layer but it could also trigger the continuing succession of floods, droughts, storms, disease epidemics and insurance losses that will also tear holes in our present global economic fabric. In this scenario, our planet may well lose its capacity to support the highly complex and organized form of life we call civilization.
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