Climate change is the greatest threat to the safety and security of the current world and the backbone of climate change is global warming.
To understand the relationship between climate change and global warming let’s comprehend that climate is the statistics of weather over a longer duration of time whereas weather is the behavior of atmosphere over a shorter duration of time and atmosphere is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that are retained by Earth’s gravity. The atmosphere includes greenhouse gases that have the tendency to absorb and emit infrared radiation (heat) through the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse gases are Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Water vapors (H2O), Ozone (O3) and CFCs.
The retention of heat by the atmosphere is called the greenhouse effect which causes global warming. It occurs naturally but can be enhanced by human activity. Earth is a rare planet to have a moderate greenhouse effect which is essential to support the complex patterns of life. Planets with very little greenhouse effect are too cold for survival of life. For instance Neptune’s mean surface temperature is -200.15° C (-328.27° F) and planets with abundant greenhouse gases are too hot to live on, as in the case of Venus where the average temperature is about 456.85° C (854.33° F).
Global warming is a gradual increase of the Earth’s temperature because of energy trapped by greenhouse gases present in atmosphere; it changes the weather which leads to climate change.
The ranking of greenhouse gases by their direct contribution to global warming is: Carbon Dioxide 82%, Methane 10%, Nitrous Oxide 5% and Fluorinated Gases 3%.
The current episode of global warming is attributed to increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, CO2 in particular, into Earth’s atmosphere because of human-induced interferences. According to the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA), figures of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations since (1750) industrial revolution (as of 2016) are as under:
• CO2 has increased by more than 40% (The present concentration is the highest in at least the past 800,000 years).
• CH4 has increased by about 250% (more abundant in Earth’s atmosphere now than at any time in at least the past 800,000 years).
• N2O has increased approximately by 20% (more rapidly during the past century than at any time in the past 22,000 years).
Human-induced interferences are industrialization, explosion of population and deforestation & forest degradation.
According to an estimate provided by the Energy Information Administration, 86.4% of the global energy requirement by 2007 was met from fossil fuels (Petroleum 36.0%, Coal 27.4% and Natural gas 23.0%).
Fossil fuels contain high percentages of carbon and their burning is the major reason for increase in greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide in particular. The use of these non-renewable sources of energy produce around 21.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year whereas the natural process can absorb only about half of this amount, which implies a net increase of about 10.65 million tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per annum.
Explosion Of Population
The world population has risen from 2 billion to an alarming 7 billion during the last 100 years or so.
More people mean more requirements for energy and more utilization of carbon emitting fossil fuels to meet those requirements. More people also mean more breathing wherein oxygen is inhaled and carbon dioxide is released. To add insult to injury, deforestation and forest degradation have decreased the planet’s natural carbon sink as trees are major agents that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen therein, through the process of photosynthesis. Pakistan stands at number five in the list of most populated countries.
Deforestation & Forest Degradation
Deforestation & forest degradation: In broader terms “Deforestation” is the clearing of trees, transforming a forest into cleared land, and “Forest degradation” is a reduction in the capacity of a forest to produce ecosystem services such as carbon storage and wood products.
According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), deforestation has caused an estimated loss of 13 million hectares of forests between 2000 and 2010. And as per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), deforestation and forest degradation are the second leading cause of human-induced greenhouse emissions following fossil fuel combustion, accounting for over 15% to 17% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
The earth’s average temperature has already risen by 0.8°C; 2000-2009 has been the hottest decade of the earth in recorded history. The world’s oceans are warmer now than at any point in the last 50 years. Warmer oceans put coastal communities at risk, increase infrastructure costs by increasing the need for cooling, endangered polar creatures and threaten coral reefs and fisheries. The oceans have absorbed about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide humans have sent into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution – some 150 billion tons. The uptake of excess CO2 comes at a high cost — ocean acidification.
As acidity levels increase, many plant and animal species as well as entire eco systems in oceans are being threatened. In the Arctic, warming is occurring faster than the global mean. From 1978 to 2004, ice cover in the Arctic declined by 7.8 percent each decade. If these trends continue, late-summer sea ice could disappear from the Arctic as early as 2030.
Interestingly, due to its light color, Arctic sea ice reflects most of the sunlight that reaches it, back into space. In contrast, dark ocean water absorbs most of the sunlight. As sea ice continues melting, it can cause further warming, leading to more ice melt and reinforcing the melting cycle.
Recent studies quote that one out of six and in some cases one out of thirteen species face extinction as a result of climate change and urgent action must be taken to save large numbers of animals from being wiped out. Species extinction today can only be described as explosive.
The extinction of the Golden Toad of Central America has been attributed to climate change. The Orange Spotted Filefish, the Quiver Tree, the Polar Bear, the Adelie Penguin, the North Atlantic Cod and Coral worldwide are some endangered species. The Indus River Dolphins of Pakistan are among the world’s most endangered dolphins. Reduced glacial cover and weakening monsoon rains in northern Pakistan are predicted to dramatically reduce Indus River discharge within 50 years.
Global warming is making hot days hotter, rainfall and flooding heavier, hurricanes stronger and droughts more severe. The number of earthquakes worldwide has also increased because when glaciers melt, as a result of global warming, massive weight on the Earth’s crust is reduced, and the crust “bounces” back. This process has the potential to reactivate faults, increase seismic activity, and lift pressure on magma chambers that feed volcanoes. It is important, also, to understand that not every volcanic eruption and earthquake in the years to come can be linked to global warming.
Today global warming is accelerating species loss on Earth, and by the end of this century, as many as one in six species could be at risk of extinction. This phenomenon has been called the sixth mass extinction, at par with the catastrophic demise of the large dinosaurs 65 million years ago. These effects are being seen around the world, though the threat is much higher in certain sensitive regions including Pakistan. Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by humans.
What To Do?
Plan and insulate your buildings: Architecture must correspond to current needs. Air and light must reach every nook and corner of the building. Try to have at least two windows on separate walls of each room for cross-ventilation and maximum usage of sunlight. Use thermal insulation materials to reduce the rate of heat transfer. Insulation ensures comfort as well as energy efficiency.
Use energy efficient light bulbs: Light Emitting Diode (LED) and Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs have revolutionized energy-efficient lighting. They ensure less use of energy for giving more light. They are a bit expensive but do always remember that the electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs 5 to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself.
Use energy efficient appliances: Try to find Energy Star logo on clothes washers and dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers and room air conditioners that you use. An appliance receives the Energy Star rating if it is significantly more energy efficient than the normal standard.
Use solar panels to generate electricity: The price of environment friendly solar power, together with batteries for storage, has continued to fall so that in many countries it is cheaper than ordinary fossil fuel electricity from the grid.
Use clotheslines not the dryers: To make your laundry completely eco-friendly, wash full loads of clothes in cold water using a non-toxic, biodegradable laundry detergent with a vinegar rinse, then hang your clothes out to dry in the sun.
Use fuel efficient cars: Your first choice should be to use hybrid cars which have two or more distinct power sources to move the vehicle i.e. an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors. Your second choice should be to use the most fuel efficient non-hybrid cars.
Use Public Transport: It helps eliminate travel that would have otherwise been made in a private vehicle. In other words, use of public transport means fewer vehicles, miles of travel, less consumption of fossil fuels and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Besides, it eases congested travel corridors; as a result, automobiles traveling in these same corridors achieve greater fuel efficiency.
Buy local food: Food coming from outside the town involves packing, shipping and shelf-life issues; it travels hundreds of miles to reach your dining table which means that buying local food prevents the burning of liters of fossil fuels.
Use recycled paper: By recycling a ton of recovered paper, 3.6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions are eliminated. Recycling of recovered paper helps fight global warming in three ways:
1. If not recycled, about 80% of paper reaches landfills where it decomposes to produce methane.
2. If 100% of the paper is recycled, no cutting of trees shall be required to produce paper which means more trees would be available to pull carbon out of air.
3. Production of new paper by recycling the old one needs 50% less energy than manufacturing it from wood.
Don’t use plastic bags (use fabric bags): Some of the facts about plastic bags and their impacts are as under:
• In USA alone, 12 million barrels of fossil fuels are used to manufacture 30 million plastic bags each year.
• An estimated one hundred thousand marine animals die each year from suffocating on or ingesting bags. Small pieces of plastic bags are accumulating at an alarming rate in oceans which is a great source of eco-system disruption.
• Plankton is a crucial source of food to many large aquatic organisms. In 2004, researchers found 6 pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton in the North Pacific Gyre. The number increased by 8 times within the next four years when in 2008, 42 pounds of plastic were found for every pound of plankton.
• Even when disposed of properly, plastic bags take about 450 years to decompose and pose a serious threat because of dioxin and other toxins.
Population control: Less population means less need for energy and less burning of fossil fuels. Moreover, fewer children means better upbringing for them.
Plant trees: Without trees life is not possible. Besides acting as a carbon reservoir, a mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.
Spread the word: Learn more and more about global warming and climate change. Tell others how their day to day actions are destroying mother earth and how they can help resolve the deadliest problem that the world is confronted with today.