What is climate change?
The earth receives short wave radiation from the sun, one-third of which is absorbed by the atmosphere, ocean, ice, land and living organisms. The energy absorbed from solar radiation is balanced, in the long term, by the outgoing radiation from the earth and atmosphere. While short wave radiation from the sun can easily pass through the atmosphere, the long wave radiation emitted by the warm surface of the earth is partially absorbed by trace gases in the atmosphere called greenhouse gases (GHGs). The main natural greenhouse gases are water vapour (H2O), Carbon Dioxide (CO2 ), and Methane (CH4). In absence of these gases the temperature of the Earth would have been 33 o C lower than it is today.
In the late 1980s, scientists began to suggest that the earth's energy flux was no longer in balance. Earth's surface was getting warmer, affecting the elements of the climate system. The climate itself was changing.
The problem is that human activity is making the blanket of gases "thicker" – or enhancing the greenhouse effect. By 1995, research concluded that the main culprit was CO2 emissions, produced by the burning of fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil) in factories and power stations, and cars. When we burn coal, oil, and natural gas, we spew huge amounts of CO2 into the earth's atmosphere filling it up with large amounts of greenhouse gases, much much more than what is okay. When we destroy forests, the carbon stored in the trees escape to the atmosphere. Other basic activities, such as raising cattle and planting rice, emit methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases.
If emissions continue to grow at current rates, it is almost certain that atmospheric levels of CO2 will double from pre-industrial levels during the 21st century. If no steps are taken to slow greenhouse gas emissions, it is quite possible that levels will triple by the year 2100.
Why lose sleep?
Better cautious than dead.
Scientists cannot prove what they say will eventually happen, argue some. Responding to the threat is expected to be expensive, complicated, and difficult, they add. Yet, if the nations of the world wait for the perfect science, until the consequences and victims are clear, it will probably be too late to act.
The issue is no longer whether or not climate change is a potentially serious problem. Rather, it is how the problem will develop and what its effects will be. The science will never be perfect when dealing with something as complicated as the planet's climate system. But there is general agreement in scientific circles that climate change is indeed happening and that we have to act, and act fast.
What are we doing?
The American lifestyle is not negotiable.
165 nations signed the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It is one of a series of recent environmental agreements through which countries around the world are putting their heads together to meet this challenge. Solving the problem of climate change is going to be the biggest cooperative effort of nations and peoples around the world.
Are we up to it? According to scientists, the only way to escape the disastrous consequences associated with climate change, is to reduce emissions by 50-70 per cent below 1990 levels. The use of fossil fuels, hence carbon emissions are closely linked to economic growth and lifestyle. The richer you are the more you emit. So someone has to put limits to their emissions, hence the way they live. Someone has to stop driving fuel guzzling sports utility vehicles. But few are willing to change the way they live.
Look who’s cheating
Everyone agrees, that no one agrees on how to reduce carbon emissions.
The governments of the world want to get away cheap. So they are devising ingenious ways to avoid cutting emissions at home to protect their businesses and economy. International negotiations that aim at reducing world emissions, have become a tug of war between rich countries unwilling to 'compromise their lifestyles', and poor countries unwilling to accept a cap or restriction on their right to future development.
Governments and NGOs of the world have met eight times at the Conference of Parties (CoP) to debate and hammer out an agreement. All this wrangling and cheating at the cost of the environment and poor of the world. Here are some clever ideas to avoid reducing carbon emissions.
Creative carbon accounting
Thus they should be the ones who should bear most of the costs. The best way to share the benefits of the global atmosphere is to distribute them equitably. These ‘equitable benefits’ would then become ‘entitlements’ of each human being, within which they have to live. There are two ways in which this can be done:
Global Warming in an Unequal World
Is one tonne of carbon dioxide equal to another tonne of carbon dioxide?
Protecting the world's climate is humanity's biggest challenge. Nobody knows how climate change will affect different regions.
The world will definitely become more feverish. All that we can now do is to prevent it from catching high fever. Preventing climate change is not just an economical or ecological issue. It is above all a moral and ethical issue. And it is going to be the biggest cooperative enterprise that the world has ever seen — one in which all big and small, rich and poor, powerful and powerless will have to cooperate to achieve a global objective for the global good. This can only happen if there is a sense of fairness in the burden-sharing arrangements.
Which raises some very difficult questions. For example, when is one tonne of carbon dioxide equal to another tonne of carbon dioxide? Is one tonne of a greenhouse gas produced by a New Yorker or a Londoner equal to a tonne of the same gas produced by a peasant in Guatemala, Chad or Bangladesh?
The simple, moral answer is 'no'. The first tonne is the result of luxury. The second tonne of basic survival. Both of them go into the atmosphere. But one needs to be controlled and the other needs to be supported. Maybe there is even a need to create more atmospheric space to produce more tonnes of the latter type. In other words, 'luxury emissions' must go down to provide space for more 'survival emissions'. And all this has to be done only because scientists tell us that the global bowl can only take a certain number of tonnes without catching an explosive fever.
Unless we do a Western-style ecolabelling programme for every tonne of carbon dioxide or methane produced, the simple answer lies in ensuring that every human being has the same number of tonnes to live with – to survive or to indulge. This is why equity is such a central issue for all climate change negotiators. Nobody can get away from it. Today or tomorrow.
— Anil Agarwal,
What can we do?
To truly fight climate change, shift to renewable energy.
zero carbon economy
The Wind At the top of the alternative energy chart is wind power. The wind never runs out, it leaves no waste behind, and it's now officially the cheapest fuel on Earth. In the years to come, most of our electricity will be produced by harnessing the power of the wind, some experts predict.
With a worldwide growth capacity of 38 per cent annually, wind power is easily the fastest growing among alternative sources of energy. Britain is one of the windiest places in Europe, so there should be a plentiful supply — in fact Scotland alone should one day be able to produce 75 per cent of the UK's electricity from wind and wave power.
Western Europe boasts of the major share of the world’s wind power generating capacity. India and China have the meteorological potential to greatly increase wind power production and employment. Almost 50 per cent of homes in India in 800,000 villages in India does not have electricity. With wind energy, rural electricity need not be a dream. The Sun must be the ultimate renewable energy resource, providing more energy every minute — in the form of heat and light — than we can use in an entire year. Of course our supply of sunshine will run out eventually — but not for another 4.5 billion years.
Solar cells or photovoltaic cells use semiconductor material like silicon to convert sunlight into electricity and have made inroads into residential and commercial building markets in Germany and Japan. In India, the Ministry for Non-conventional Energy Sources provides subsidies and a tax benefit to promote solar power, and its solar energy programme is the largest in the world. If a solar transition were to take place, countries with solar technology would replace the oil producing countries as the biggest suppliers of energy.
But in order to appreciate this they must have a broader outlook instead of being locked into the current economic interests of the oil and automobile industry. Hydrogen Fuel cells use hydrogen, one of the most abundant elements, as fuel.
Hydrogen reacts with oxygen in the cell to produce electricity with only water and heat as by-products. Biomass Sustaining existing forest cover, planting new trees (sustainable bio-energy plantations) and better land management is another way of slowing global warming.
Wind power is a US $2.2 billion industry. By 2010, the global solar market could be worth US $217 billion.