By now, although a few might argue to the contrary, we generally accept that global warming, otherwise known as climate change, is one of the biggest problem – if not the biggest problem – facing humanity today.
Politicians and scientists talk about it, and there have been a number of attempts to effect a change. So far, though, it seems to be more talk than concrete action.
How Big Is The Problem?
The five hottest years on record have been in the last decade. That should give us pause for thought right there. Snow and ice cover is rapidly diminishing – now we finally have the fabled Northwest Passage due to ice melt, but it’s not something we really want.
That melt means that sea levels keep rising, currently at a rate of 3 mm. a year. That might not seem much, but the effect can be devastating. The weather has been more turbulent, with more floods and hurricanes all over the globe, and more extreme weather of all kinds.
The global temperature has risen 0.7 degrees C over the last 150 years. Again, that might not seem like much, but we’re the cause – the amount of carbon dioxide we’ve put into the atmosphere thanks to industrialisation. The amount of CO2 increases at 1.5 to 2 parts per million each year. That’s more than we can really stand. Currently the level is 380 ppm, up from 278 ppm about 250 years ago. Other gas levels have risen, too.
We’re very close to the point of no return, according to many scientists. If we don’t make drastic changes soon, Earth will be beyond repair, no matter what we do.
We’ve all heard about the problems with fossil fuels, especially petrol, which our cars drink with a rare thirst. Using them produces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, adding heavily to the greenhouse effect. As we’ve been told all too often, fossil fuel reserves are diminishing rapidly. We’re going to run out of petrol, and that means we need to change our driving habits.
The future is in our hands – and that means everyone’s, not just the political leaders. As countries like China and India develop, they’re hungry for energy, and China in particular has become a major polluter.
The aim is to the world’s temperature rise by no more than two degrees Celsius. Even that will mean huge changes to the world as we know it. Every other summer would be a heatwave, and drought would hit the Mediterranean regularly (think of the devastating Greek fires of 2007). Polar bears could become extinct in the wild, and fully one-third of the world’s species could also disappear.
That’s the best scenario. It can happen if we begin to cut carbon emissions – and that means radically cut – by 2015. That requires us all doing our part, but even more it needs governments to agree and begin taking serious action, and keeping the CO2 level at 400 parts per million – which is achievable, with work.
If temperatures do rise a little higher, it’s not an impossible situation. But it will need a lot more work for us to save ourselves.