Global warming: the elephant in the room?

Human race has grown into a group of whooping 7 billions, exponentially using resources of the world. This process involves causing serious damage to the environment, global warming could be seen as the culmination of all. Hiya Islam writes about this burning issue.

 

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Global warming may not be a pressing problem to many of us right now. A few degrees rise in the earth’s temperature cannot be a major source of headache when there are far more important things in life to deal with, right? Is this thing called global warming even happening?

What is global warming? It is the gradual rise in the temperature of the earth and is caused by human. It is basically excessive greenhouse effect in action. Greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon where greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, CFCs et cetera absorb infrared radiation. IR waves emitted by the sun penetrate the glass of a greenhouse and are absorbed by the earth and re-emitted as waves of weaker strength. As a result, the waves cannot escape the glass and remain in the house — rising the temperature. The same happens with the earth where greenhouse gases in the atmosphere act like the glass. Greenhouse gases come from natural sources like volcanoes, respiration, decomposition etc.  Without the greenhouse effect, the earth would have been too cold for life to prosper. But lately, there’s been too much of greenhouse effect. The earth is heating up and apparently cannot handle itself.

Things have started to get out of hand ever since the Industrial Revolution began. Global warming is causing climate change. The concentration of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, is elevating at an increasing rate. Climate change is determined by scientists by analysing past temperature records, studying ice and sediment cores, observing tree rings and other sophisticated techniques. Anthropogenic activities like burning of fossil fuels, use of CFCs, deforestation and what not, all contribute to an increasing level of CO2 according to 97 per cent of climate scientists. Now, imagine this on a broad scale, where man is relentlessly logging lands for his/her selfish reasons. Chopping off trees means that at a given place lesser CO2 is taken by them for photosynthesis. Trees, also oceans and soil, act as ‘carbon sinks’ helping to lock away CO2 from the air. The reliance on fossil fuels for transport, electricity production, manufacturing, heating is dumping more and more CO2 in the air. Moreover, decomposition of organic waste in landfills and livestock are releasing methane. It is inevitable that CO2 and other greenhouse gases will be released but the levels can and should be kept in check.

With everything being said, how bad can the consequences of climate change be? A hotter earth accelerates the melting of ice caps and ice sheets. The extra water finds its way to the oceans increasing the sea level which further rises due to expansion of water by heat. The global sea level has risen by 8 inches since 1880 and a 4-5 feet increase is estimated by 2100 in the worst-case scenario, the chances of which are hardly uncertain to scientists now. As the waters get hotter, tropical storms are likely to gain more energy thus making frequent encounters between human and hurricanes of category 4 and 5 possible. Already, hundreds of coastal communities and low-lying lands are battling with chronic flooding. If sea levels continue to gain inches, millions of people in different cities worldwide are going to be affected in terms of trade and lives. Some regions of the world are predicted to be underwater by the end of this century. Summers are getting hotter in southern hemisphere, contrary to increasingly colder winter in northern horizon. Arid areas will get drier and wet areas will get wetter. As temperatures turn habitats into hell, animals and birds alike are moving away to seek better homes. This disrupts food chains in the ecosystem. As CO2 levels climb up, more and more CO2 dissolve in ocean water lowering pH bringing about ocean acidification. One disastrous outcome of this is the loss of coral reefs which not only holds value in aesthetics but as an ecosystem sheltering thousands of species. Due to acidic water, corals are unable to absorb CaCO3 required for skeleton formation, hence they dissolve away. Another indicator of climate change is the variation in the population of sea turtles. Interestingly, the gender of a sea turtle depends on the incubation temperature of eggs. Scientists in Florida have examined young turtles and compared the data with recorded temperatures, only to find 99 per cent of the eggs to be born a female. In the long run, such imbalance in gender ratio puts the species on the brink of extinction. If this is not alarming enough, this year, cacao trees, found in humid rainforests, have been a lot on the news. Rising temperatures are drying out the lands on which these grow. Cacao trees are where we get cocoa beans from. If this trend continues, these trees are likely to go extinct by 2050 putting chocolate production in grave danger. Polar bears and seals are also fighting to survive because of the melting ice, which directly threatens their shelter and food.

The woes of earth go on. Climate change is already taking its toll on earth. This problem needs to be addressed immediately. Nations across the globe have signed treaties such as the Paris Agreement. The mission is to reduce carbon emissions and keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution level. But, we, as individuals also have a role to play in saving the planet. To illustrate, we can reduce our carbon footprint, the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere by our activities. It starts with the simple act of reducing water wastage. Less water waste means less energy consumed to treat the water. Turning off lights, fans and other electric equipment that are not in use wouldn’t be asking too much. Eat the food you buy. So much energy goes into processing these, you simply don’t want it to end up in trash. Practice these habits and encourage others to do the same. Using energy-efficient electric appliances like, fluorescent bulbs, LEDs save money as well as energy. Insulating houses also help in cutting down energy costs. For instance, use of weather stripping and draught excluders prevent the escape of heated or cooled air. Ditch the car when possible. Walk. Or even cycle. It’s healthy. Carpooling and public transport are also great options to reduce carbon emissions. Car maintenance is important too. Properly inflated tires improve gas mileage by 3 per cent. Tuning the engine, changing oil and the rest improve fuel efficiency by up to 40 per cent. Age-old reliance on fossil fuels for energy is already shifting to renewable power of the sun, wind, water and earth. Whenever possible, dry out your clothes under the sun instead of spinning the dryer. It is always about minimising energy usage and there can be many more ways to do so.

Plant trees! And don’t forget to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Thus, awareness and motivation need to be spread among the inhabitants of the earth. The battle against the rising mercury cannot be fought alone. Climate change is going to affect everyone; it’s just about time. If the mercury goes up, we all go down.

 

Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University.

 

 

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