The Free Online Dictionary defines a problem as “a situation, matter, or person that presents perplexity or difficulty”. A problem is thus a state or situation associated with difficulty and which needs a solution. When a problem does not receive an immediate solution, it creeps into a dilemma; an instance when possible solutions compete for possible consideration. In this essay, the writer identifies the problem of “global warming”.
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Its causes, effects and occurrence are discussed as a build up to suggesting its possible solutions. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes global warming as “an average increase in the Earth’s temperature, which in turn causes changes in climate”. This implies an unfavorable gradual change in the threshold atmospheric temperature as a result of imposed activities with detrimental effects on the climate of a place, a region and by extension of the globe. Global warming can thus be described as a progressive increase in the earth’s temperature as a result of a trap to greenhouse gases within its atmosphere.
These gases trap the sun’s reflected long wave radiation with a resulting increase on the atmospheric temperature. Causes of global warming are varied but can be grouped into two main categories: natural occurrences and anthropogenic (man-made) activities. Most instances of rise in temperatures across the earth are due to increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.
These gases exist in minor proportions within the atmosphere and are responsible for reduction of heat loss into space. They include water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, CFCs and mixtures of the above. These gases contribute to global temperatures in a phenomenon called the greenhouse effect and are responsible for maintaining the temperature of the earth (Thomas et al, 2003). In excess, however, the gases raise the temperature of the earth to undesirable levels. Natural and human activities combine to produce these gases.
Sources of greenhouse gases in natural circumstances include volcanic activities and spatial variation in solar radiation. These were attributed to little warming effect during pre-industrial era up till around 1950 and a small cooling effect thereafter (Spencer, 2003). The industrial era has seen a tremendous increase in greenhouse effect due to emissions and activities in the industries. Current levels of CO2, for example, are approximately 100 parts per million by volume.
This is much higher than recorded concentrations just before the industrial revolution (Kiehl par 3). Specific effects on global warming by the gases are varied but their combined action is known to cause climate change in magnitudes that are worrying to the sustainability of the earth. Known and foreseeable effects of global warming on the environment and for humans are registered in climate change and also in secondary spatial and temporal regional environmental changes. Climate variations can be characterized by raising sea levels, Arctic shrinkages, glacial retreat and alterations in agricultural patterns.
Global warming is known to cause significant rise in sea level over the course of the twenty-first century. The effect of global warming on oceans and seas has been registered in rising levels. Sea-level rise is through two main processes: thermal expansion of sea water and widespread melting of land ice. Gradual heating up of the sea by the trapped long wave radiation causes the sea water to expand leading to a rise in sea level or ecstatic changes across the globe (Thomas, vol. 302).
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The worldwide and rapid retreat of glaciers has been attributed to effects of global warming. This retreat affects the availability of fresh water for domestic, irrigation and recreational activities in mountainous areas. In the longer term, it affects the level of the oceans. Glaciologists have been able to ascertain the relationship between the temporal coincidence of glacier retreat and measured increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases. This points to the anthropogenic greenhouse effects on glacial retreat and its effects therein.
Except for few positive effects of global warming in agricultural practices such as enhanced rate of phototropism favorable to plants such as barley, its effects are largely negative. Scientists say that climate change poses threats to food supply. Global yields will be negatively affected since rising atmospheric temperatures, longer droughts and side-effects of both, bring about a substantial reduction in crop yields in the coming decades. This has been proved by large experiments on food production all over the world (The Independent, April 27, 2005). Africa is worst affected both because of its geography and the fact that its population (seventy per cent) rely on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods (Leroux 87).
In Africa, the combination of drought, overpopulation and desertification has been known to cause conflicts. Secondary and regional effects of global warming include extreme weather events, outbreak of tropical diseases, changes in seasons and ecosystem patterns as well as drastic economic impacts. The US agency in charge of environmental protection (EPA) relates augmented extreme weather events such as tsunamis, El Nino, La Nina and hurricanes to global warming. Studies by Thomas et al. (23) show that the increase in hurricanes is linked to increased temperatures as a direct result of increased greenhouse gas emissions. Tropical diseases have been on the rise thanks to changes in climatic conditions of tropical climates. Global warming extends the favorable zones for vectors conveying tropical disease such as malaria.
This has had great toll in poor countries where such diseases spread unabated due to lack of capacity to control them. In developed countries, the consequences of containing the spread of these diseases through vaccination and other vector control measures are always felt in the health budget. It is reported that in April 2008 that as a result of increased temperatures, malaria is appearing in the highland areas of Papua New Guinea, where the weathers have been too cold enough to check the spread of the disease by mosquitoes (www.irinnews.org).
Associated drastic economic impacts of global warming results from changes in known economic production processes, agriculture and ecological balance being most affected. Water scarcity as a result of drying lakes and rivers has been reported across the globe. This has a potential of shrinking economic production as a result of lack of water for irrigation, industrial use and even hydroelectric power generation. The consequences are so great to contemplate and this causes worries across countries dependent on agricultural production as their economic backbones.
High concentrations of carbon dioxide reduce photorespiration with no compensatory increase in growth after a certain threshold level. This becomes a threat to ecological productivity since plants as primary producers reduce in number. The overall effect of this is an ecological imbalance that is not commensurate to earth’s productivity.
A warmer earth leads to variations in rainfall patterns, a rise in sea level, and a range of impacts on plant life, wildlife, and humans. It is important to note that when scientists talk about climate change, their concern is about global warming caused by human activities. That humans cause global warming is in no doubt. The question of what to do about it remains quite controversial. In addressing this problem all disciplines; economics, sociology, and politics are all important factors in planning for the future and stability of the earth. A stop in emission of greenhouse gases today is not an assurance to a less warm earth tomorrow.
However, what happens from today is a means into solving what will happen from tomorrow and will create a big difference in moving towards a better, more productive globe tomorrow. The world leaders and environmental stakeholders are in agreement that stabilizing the greenhouse gases emission at around 450-550 ppm and reducing emission of industrial gases by about twice the current concentration of 380 ppm would prepare a tactical retreat towards a safer earth. Going by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s suggestions, greenhouse gas emissions would have to reduce by 50% to 80% of what they are today to be safely on track by the next century (IPCC, 2007).
Some suggestions towards this end are given below. Using vegetable oil for fuel can greatly reduce the effect of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and light industries. The generation of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and methane has usually been associated with the use of fossil fuels and non regulated disposals of solid waste resulting in air pollutions. The use of bio-fuels will thus ensure that production of these gases is kept at its minimal.
The idea of green homes has been muted in global environmental cycles and carries a potential environmental transformation towards lesser greenhouse gas emissions. The correct implementations are essential for the green homes to use none harmful and renewable energy solutions. Clean renewable and affordable energy confines the homeowner to use only renewable energies such as wind, wave and solar power among others. This ensures that no uncontrollable amounts of greenhouse gases get their way into the atmosphere. Individual choices also have an impact on global climate change.
Modern conveniences should not be forgotten when reducing heat trapping emissions; and only makes it smart through using energy-efficient products. This may require an additional investment before hand but often pays up in energy conservation after a very short period of time. This is the time to act or else time may come when mankind will miss all the earthly benefits and nowhere to turn to. Green revolution is also essential in transforming the pattern of climatic changes.
Through planting of indigenous trees and farming on indigenous crops, the original state of climate is sure to return with minimal climatic adjustments thereafter. Overall, the best approach in containing global warming is to return the earth to its original green form. The steps are already laid down; the general ecosystem diversity must be maintained at all costs. The greens of the earth must remain green and efforts put in place to make it even greener. Fossil fuels must be used, if unavoidable, least while environmental policies around the globe should be geared towards cleaner, greener sustainable technologies.
Kiehl, J. T. “Earth’s Annual Global Mean Energy Budget”. American Meteorological Society. 1997.
Leroux, Marcel. Global Warming: Myth or Reality?: The Erring Ways of Climatology. New York: Springer, 2005.
Spencer R. W. The Discovery of Global Warming. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003.
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Thomas, R. K. Modern Global Climate Change Science. 2003: Vol 302. No 5651.
UNOCHA, PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Climate Change Challenge to Combat Malaria: Summary for Policymakers. Climate Change 2007 Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability. Contribution of Workgroup II on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 7-22.