Today, climate change is considered to be the greatest threats to humanity. Worldwide, efforts are on to understand the planet’s climate better. Meanwhile, some species are trying to adapt with the changing conditions. Every moment is vital – for there might be a new discovery or invention, or an evolution that may pave way for all life forms to survive the wrath of changing climate.
A group of researchers has reported that rising temperatures have decelerated the growth of rainforest trees. Nearly 71 per cent of plant species in Panama and up to 95 per cent of species in Malaysia showed decreases in growth rates.
So, not only is the biodiversity of the forests threatened, and the forest yield (timber, wood and rubber) diminishing, but also earth’s carbon sink is at risk! And the tropical forests may even emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. This research is quite a set back for those who consider trees as our only saviour against climate change.
Then again, some researchers at Duke University believe we need more than just trees to fight global warming. To prove this, they bathed plots of North Carolina pine trees in extra carbon dioxide every day for 10 years and found that while the trees grew in size, the amount of carbon they absorbed depended on the amount of water and nutrients they received. For them, the best way to control climate change is by reducing one’s carbon footprint, not by planting trees.
Earth might use a solar shield to protect itself from climate change. Solar shields reflect some of the Sun's radiation back into space thereby cooling the climate. There are proposals to inject reflective aerosols into the stratosphere, deploying space-based solar reflectors and large-scale cloud seeding.
The most talked-about is a sulphur shield. It is inspired by large volcanic eruptions that blast sulphate particles into the stratosphere, which act as a shield. For instance, the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, cooled Earth by a few tenths of a degree for several years! Researchers say that this kind of geoengineering is a quick-fix solution to climate change, and a last-minute resort.
On the other hand, some researchers like Kevin Trenberth and Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado believe that sulphur sun shield is not a solution at all. They have shown that it may considerably reduce rainfall, causing catastrophic drought. They analysed precipitation and continental run-off after the same eruption of Mount Pinatubo, and found that there was a marked decrease in rainfall and run-off. So the shield might have ruinous effects on the planet’s water cycle, they contend.
The changing climate may play havoc with our life span. The death toll will boom in extremely hot summers, and will not be offset during warmer winters, say researchers. “The increase in mortality when you have one extra cold snap is 1.59 per cent, but the increase in mortality for an additional heatwave is 5.74 per cent,” says Mercedes Medina-Ramón of Harvard University’s School of Public Health, Massachusetts, US. Heart attacks and cardiac arrest would increase greatly with rise in temperatures. So beware!
The life and death of ancient animals may hold valuable clues to future adaptation. A study was recently done on how animals cope with climate change and extinction. Scientists calculated the top speeds of five meat-eating dinosaurs by using information about their skeletal and muscular structures, and running a simulation repeatedly. It built a biological picture that can be used to understand how dinosaurs adapted to changes in the weather just before they went extinct, says William Sellers, zoologist at the
University of Manchester.
Mice smell carbon dioxide at higher level than normal air. The credit goes to their specialised nasal neurons, states a study by scientists from the National Institute of Biological Sciences, Beijing. These cells have carbon dioxide-processing enzyme carbonic anhydrase type II that help them smell CO2 at 0.066 per cent. But, their behaviour changed with increased CO2 exposure, and they avoided anything higher than 0.2 per cent. So, with rising atmospheric CO2 owing to climate change, their behaviour might also change.
Now you can do away with your role in climate change by paying some money! You simply need to buy ‘voluntary carbon offsets’. The idea is a US 55 million dollar industry, which saw an 80 per cent growth in 2006 alone. Sellers can be individuals or corporations, who cancel your greenhouse gas emissions by funding projects that reduce pollutants. While there is a risk that your money might go to organisations or projects that could have carried on without your aid, it may actually boost some useful projects. But ofcourse, this is just an easy way out, and erasing one’s ecological footprint is not as simple as this.