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Climate Change – A Brief Discussion

In recent years it has been hard to avoid the constant discussions in relation to climate change and the state of the planet. Even though most scientists agree that we are heading for major changes in our climate and environment, there seems to be a reluctance to agree to one common theory or solution. The main point of argument is whether or not the amount of carbon and other pollutants that we as humans are emitting is actually impacting the climate, which appears to be the stance of the majority of experts, or whether the increase in the temperature of the globe is merely a natural cycle, which is the stand taken by many sceptics. This article will mainly compare two publications; firstly Chapter 1 from The Skeptical Environmentalist, written by Bjorn Lomborg in 2001 and a study conducted by the United Nations Environment Program, Decision for Summary Makers (GEO4), which was written in 2007. This paper will look at the issue of water scarcity, which is a major global issue and also the issue of climate change. This article will argue that we as humans are indeed making a significant impact to climate change and the state of the planet, and give different examples of what is occurring and what questions need to be answered in relation to this topic.

Water

The most critical element in maintaining human life is water, or more specifically, the access to clean drinking water. Although the planet is made up mainly of water, there is very little that is fit for human consumption. In his book, Lomborg claims that between the years 1980 and 1990, the number of people living in developing or third world countries that had access to water increased by 25%. He also argues that because an extra 750 million people were born in this decade, the overall percentage of people with access to water increased, and that the expected birth of 882 million people in the next decade has simply been added to the UN’s figures as not having access to water at all 1). However, in the GEO4, it states that “The per capita availability of freshwater is declining globally, and contaminated water remains the greatest single environmental cause of human sickness and death” 2). It goes on to say that by the year 2025 approximately 1.8 billion people will be living in areas which have scarce water.

The reason for this is directly due to climate change, which is having an impact on soil erosion, salinity levels, contaminants and the removal of nutrients from the soil 3). By the year 2025, a quarter of the world’s population, and over one third who live in developing countries, will be suffering from great water shortages. The food bowls in the semi-arid regions of Asia and the Middle East will feel the biggest impact of this 4). These figures indicate that action needs to be taken sooner rather than later, and that a global approach may be needed.

Warming

There is little doubt that the earth’s climate is going through a warming period. The debate continues however as to the cause of this effect. Some claim that this is merely a cycle, but there is mounting evidence that we as humans are a major contributor to this. The burning of fossil fuels and the release of other contaminants into the atmosphere is being pinpointed as the reason. In his book, Lomborg claims that predictions are exaggerated, and that burning fossil fuels will minimal impact on the environment 5). The GEO4 report states that the surface of the earth is indeed warming. In the past century the average global temperature rose by 0.74 degrees Celsius, and is expected to rise between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees this century. This will lead to many things, such as the melting of icecaps which in turn would result in rising sea levels, the increase of severe weather events and increase the loss of biodiversity on the planet.

CO2

The study conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change mentions that ‘the amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased substantially since 1750. This is resulted directly from human activity and is significantly greater than ice core samples taken from the pre-industrial era. The main reason for this is the use of fossil fuels and the changes in land use’ 6). The effects of climate change and carbon emissions are mainly irreversible and would take approximately 1000 years before we would see any temperature reduction 7). These reports are alarming and illustrate that the state of the planet is poor at the moment, and immediate action is required. The biggest question will be whether we can have a consensus for action.

Conclusion

This article has argued that we are at a critical stage in the earth’s history. It argues that despite the pessimism of some, there is undeniable evidence that points to significant changes in the earth’s climate. It shows that the lack of fresh water which is currently affecting many millions of people is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently, as this figure is likely to rise. There is significant proof that the burning of fossil fuels is having a direct effect on the planet’s average temperature, and given the amount of time required to return to previous levels it is imperative to act right now. This action will need to be on a global scale, and minor differences may need to be put aside in order to reach a common goal.

Environment

1) , 5) Lomborg, B., 2001, ‘Things are getting better’, in The Skeptical Environmentalist, pp. 1-38, Available: http://www.lomborg.com/dyn/files/basic_items/69-file/skeptenvironChap1.pdf Accessed 7th of February, 2014
2) , 3) United Nations Environment Programme, 2007, ‘Summary for Decision Makers’, Global Environment Outlook 4, Available: http://www.unep.org/geo/geo4/media/GEO4%20SDM_launch.pdf Accessed 7th of February, 2014
4) Seckler, D, Barker, R. & Amarasinghe,U. 1999, ’Water Scarcity in the Twenty-first Century’ International Journal of Water Resources Development, vol. 15, nos. 1-2, Available: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/07900629948916 Accessed 7th of February, 2014
6) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, ‘Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis’, Available: http://www.slvwd.com/agendas/Full/2007/06-07-07/Item%2010b.pdf Accessed 7th of February, 2014
7) Solomon, S, Plattner, G-K, Knutti, R & Friedlingstein, P, 2008, ‘Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions’, PNAS, Available: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/6/1704.short Accessed 7th of February, 2014

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