‘The earth has a fever, and the fever is rising… We are what is wrong and we must make it right’ (Al Gore, 2007)
In the context of global warming, discuss the extent to which you agree with this statement.
Global warming has been happening for millions of years through periods of glacial’s and interglacial’s. The last glacial period occurred during the last years of the Pleistocene, approximately 110,000 to 12,000 years ago and ever since then the earth has been warming up.
However the change between the heating and cooling used to be for natural reasons but now scientist are beginning to think that humans may be effecting this change meaning that the earth is warming.
Climate change (a long term change in weather) can be seen from many sources. Historical evidence, such as agriculture reports, as it indirectly show different conditions as different crops grow better in different conditions and weather records can be used to show the weather in the past and the present (only since records began in 1861) which show a detailed change in the climate in only a short period of time.
Physical evidence can also show climate change. Ice cores, sea sediment, a change in sea level and retreating glaciers all can show heating and cooling. Ice cores can be analysed as every year a new layer of ice will form and so the trapped gases from each year can be analysed. Sediments on the sea floor can similarly be analysed for the amount of O-16 or O-18 gas is present, as a colder climates would have more O-18 present.
Sea level change is affected by changes such as ice melting, so if glaciers are retreating further there will be more water in the sea therefore it will rise. Finally biological evidence can be used as a source. Pollen analysis can date pollen to see when it was deposited, and then they can work out what the climate was like by seeing the conditions plants live in now. Tree rings can also be used, this is a similar method to ice cores, since a new ring grows every year so you can date the tree and then look at the thickness of each ring to tell what the climate was like. All this can show evidence that the temperature of the climate is rising and global warming is happening.
The rate at which the global temperature is rising in unheard of in historical terms and scientists believe that is mainly down to humans. Increasing amounts of CO2 and methane gas are major contributors to global warming as they trap much of the long wave radiation trying to escape. Humans add to the volume of CO2 in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. Since the mid 19th century CO2 has increased form 280ppm to 380ppm.
Deforestation removes plant that absorb CO2 so not as much goes into the atmosphere so when they are cut down they stop taking in CO2 meaning that there is more in the atmosphere rather than organic matter. CO2 is also released when trees as burnt. One other human activity that releases methane and nitrous oxides is farming. Nitrous oxides are released into the atmosphere when farmers use fertilisers. Livestock produce a lot of methane which all goes into the atmosphere. And also rice paddy fields emit methane. The causes of global warming are majorly to do with human activities, and we must change what we do.
The impact of what we do on the earth has huge global impacts. Precipitation patterns will change and mid to high latitudes will receive a lot more precipitation and drier areas are likely to get drier for example Africa and Central America. This is due to changes in ocean circulation and wind patterns. These changes will also cause more major weather evens such as floods, droughts and storms. The spread of heat related illness could rise in countries that are more likely to get droughts now and food-borne illnesses may increase too as temperatures rise. Also disease vectors will be able to move to more countries that are currently too cold so malaria could become more of a problem.
In some areas higher temperatures and less rain fall will reduce river flow and ground water flow so reservoirs may dry up, this could cause conflict between countries as in some areas water supply is likely to decrease by 10% by 2020. Food productivity may become a problem as well for a similar reason, however the type of crops grown may change in areas to crops that prefer that areas weather condition. The melting of glaciers and ice caps cause a rise in sea level which means habitats are lost and it will cause flooding in coastal areas and low lying areas this could mean that areas of SE Asia will be lost as well as islands in the Pacific and Indian ocean. These impacts reflect the problems of the earths ‘fever’ and we need to respond to them to put it right again.
The response at a global level, to global warming, have been to put a protocol together, called the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at reducing emissions. This agreement was formed in 1997 in order to monitor and reduce greenhouse gases. Developing countries and developed countries are both included in the scheme, developed countries had to cut emissions by 5% of their 1990 level between 2008 and 2012 and developing countries just need to monitor their levels so that they don’t rise. In order to persuade countries to keep to this incentives are given in the form of carbon credits, which countries can then sell to other countries if they are struggling. However the four countries with the highest CO2 emissions did not sign up originally in fear of it effecting their growth and economy.
Responses at a national level are also helpful. Changing the energy mix of the country to use more renewable energy sources will reduce green house emissions from power stations, for example in the UK a 40% reduction of emissions by 2020 will be achieved by changing the energy mix. Also carbon capture will cut the amount of CO2 as it transports the excess CO2 to places where it can be stored safely. This has the potential to reduce emissions by 90%. Encouraging home owners to reduce fuel consumption in there homes would also help and giving financial incentives to people who create there own energy from renewable resources will hopefully help cut emissions.
Furthermore if people were to use their cars less and chose to use public transport, walk or cycle emissions will be cut further. Many cities have now set up park and ride schemes, for example Oxford, so that you don’t have to take you car as far. Finally local responses to climate change include recycling more so there is less waste going to land fill, which produces methane gas and choosing energy efficient appliances as many old appliances produce 50% more emissions then new technologies. These are some things that we have to do to lower the temperature of the earth.
In conclusion, Al Gore’s statement, I feel, is correct as we are contributing to the effects of global warming by emitting more CO2 and methane gas into the atmosphere so much of the long wave radiation cannot escape. I think that all international, national and local are all-important, as they will all bring positive consequences to responding to global warming even if some have better affects than others.
I believe that the international is the most important since it’s on such a huge scale the affects should be just as big. Recycling and using energy wisely are very easy and if everyone took these actions then the affects of global warming would be reducing massively. I think for these local responses to work the government should spend extensive money on promoting them – more so than they do already. If all these actions were put in place we would hopefully put the temperature back to where it belongs.