Climate change: manmade monster

By Sasi Kumar

Recently, while the United States took the first steps to officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement thereby rolling back environmental regulations, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries became signatories to a global climate emergency declaration. The scientists presented their findings on climate change in the peer-reviewed journal BioScience. These opposing actions show the climate change issue is still marred in controversy as the viewpoints from both sides are becoming louder.

The current decade has been a record-setting period for natural calamities across the globe. We saw above-average snowfalls and below normal, bitter cold temperatures in the USA, Canada, and Europe, and heavy rainfalls and floods in Brazil, India, Thailand, and many parts of Africa. There were tropical cyclones and typhoons in Southeast Asia, Australasia, and south pacific regions. Many other parts of the world were repeatedly hit with monster floods, droughts, heatwaves, prolonged cold spells, and severe storms of various magnitudes, and devastating wildfires. Arctic and Antarctic regions are experiencing sea ice extensions regularly. Scientists associate these events with the earth's rising surface temperature. No country or region is immune to this phenomenon.

A new study published by the journal Nature Communications states that as the ‘climate change intensifies’, the sea levels will rise causing floods in the coastal areas. It is estimated that by 2050 about 300 million people will be affected by these floods. Thus, the news on the climate change front is not at all encouraging.

Global warming is a major cause of climate change

Global Warming is the resultant changes to the Earth’s climatic conditions caused by the increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases (GHGs), natural and man-made, include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). Since the Industrial Revolution, factories have been burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gasoline hence increasing the CO2 output into the atmosphere. Nations across the world discharge uncontrolled amounts of pollutant gases into the atmosphere from industrial production facilities. According to the Carbon Majors Report by CDP, 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 are produced by about 100 companies in the world. Additionally, transport emissions, forest fires, deforestation, and organized farming are other contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gases prevent infrared radiation from leaving the earth’s atmosphere thus warming the planet. This is called the ‘greenhouse effect’ as it was discovered in greenhouses. Greenhouse gases cause an imbalance in the resultant energy in the atmosphere. The amount of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere has direct implications for climate change i.e. long-term changes to temperatures on the earth's surface. Thus, it creates fluctuating weather patterns, increased and more frequent and violent storms, severe floods, prolonged droughts, major wildfires, etc. It is predicted that these changes will continue.

The effects of climate change are pronounced and frequent

We now know that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the culprit of global warming that in turn produce changes in the earth's climate. Scientists are urgently warning us about the dire consequences of global warming. Here are a few revealing signs of the issues we face today.

People of Kerala are very familiar with the climate change-related extremes that came as monster floods during the past year or so. California’s annual wildfires are getting stronger, wilder and more disastrous. According to a report by the journal Earth’s Future, California experienced ‘a fivefold increase in burned area’ damage during the wildfires of 1972–2018. This was partly due to the warming temperatures (about 1.40 C since 1970) and dry atmospheric conditions. The number doesn’t look that overpowering, but it throws out the climatic equilibrium thus impacting the environment.

Melting glaciers are another example of the effects of climate change. The Okjökull glacier, known as OK, in Iceland was the first Icelandic glacier that melted away and declared dead in 2014. It has been reported that Glaciers in Greenland, West Antarctica, France, Chile, Switzerland, and the Imja glacial lake in the Himalayas are threatened by global warming. Melting ice contributes to rising sea levels and flooding and eroding beaches around the world. At the same time, there will be drinking water scarcity as many millions depend on glaciers for drinking water. Islands such as the Marshall Islands, Maldives, Solomon Islands, Kiribati. Seychelles, etc. that are close to sea-level are at risk of disappearing.

Devastating and out-of-the-norm climate change affects people, places, governments, economy and the whole ecosystem. More refugees, more migration, more diseases, scarcity of food and water; sounds like a doomsday scenario, but they are all possible in a world where climate plays the key role. The current environmental crisis in New Delhi exemplifies the environmental disaster that we created. Suffice to say that climate change is real, and its impacts will be profound touching everything in this world. According to experts, it is going to get worse unless we take drastic and decisive steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It is not only the responsibility of the governments, leaders, and organizations but also ours as individuals.

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