Climate in Crisis: Global Warming, Global
Warning by Liz Sheppard
Climate change is under way, and we can't
say we weren't warned. It's thirty years since scientific
researchers were first alerting us to global warming, and
by 1990 the world's leading climate experts were agreed that
much of the problem was man-made. They called for immediate
cuts by industrial countries in their emissions of "greenhouse
gases", particularly Carbon Dioxide (CO2), which basically
means a drastic reduction in our consumption of energy which
is based on burning coal and oil.
The governments of the world were slow to act.
But as evidence from every continent continued to mount through
the 1990s of severe disruption in weather patterns, with unusually
severe storms, floods and droughts, finally it was agreed
that international action must be taken. The Kyoto Protocol
of 1997 set modest targets for emission reductions, but these
were well below what scientists were calling for. Some countries
have begun to make progress on cuts, but most have done little.
The USA which produces a quarter of all the Earth's problem
CO2 emissions, far from reducing their output since then,
have actually increased it.
The recent UN Climate Conference at The Hague
was supposed to monitor progress and firm up the Kyoto targets,
but a powerful group of countries including the USA refused
to co-operate, and was basically trying to pull back from
even these minimal commitments. Fortunately, most of Europe
was determined to defend the integrity of the Kyoto Protocol,
and preferred to break up and postpone the negotiations until
next May, rather than give in to this pressure. The tragedy
of the breakdown is that every month that passes brings further
stress to the global climate. The past decade has been the
hottest in the last thousand years. And if we don't manage
to cut down our emissions very soon, what we've seen so far
is just the merest taste of what lies in store.
Already the polar Ice Caps are beginning
to melt, snow lines are receding, glaciers shrinking and
warming seas expanding. A sea level rise of up to one metre
by the end of the century is now considered possible.
Desert and semi-desert areas are spreading.
Food production will become ever more difficult with changing
We can expect many more extreme weather
events - storms, floods, droughts. Sea currents may alter
their courses. Ironically, a shift in the Gulf Stream could
lead to much colder conditions in Ireland.
Low-lying areas and islands will be flooded
by the sea, and drought-stricken areas abandoned. Environmental
refugees numbering hundreds of millions will have to be
Diseases are spreading, particularly those
carried by mosquitoes. Malaria has recently appeared in
the USA, and has re-appeared in parts of Southern Europe.
Biodiversity will be drastically reduced. Many
animals and plants will not be able to adapt to such rapid
change. A global temperature rise of 3°C would make the
Earth hotter than at any time in the last 2 million years.
What can we do on global warming?
Don't waste energy. Turn off lights
when not in use and fit low-energy light bulbs where a bright
light is not essential.
Many homes are far too hot to be healthy.
Turn down the central heating and wear an extra jumper.
Insulate the roof space and lag the hot
Reduce, re-use and recycle rubbish.
Cook whole meals on one ring by using a
Consider solar panels, and solar-powered
items such as torches, radios and outside lights.
Travel and Transport:
Use public transport where possible.
Choose a small car with high energy efficiency
and low emissions.
Share car journeys.
Walk and cycle more. Organise a "walking
bus" to get the children to school - a supervised crocodile
with a hand-cart to carry the bags.
Minimise business travel by making the best
possible use of new technologies such as e-mail and tele-conferencing.
Air travel is a huge polluter. Try to limit
your use of it.
Buy locally-produced food and fruit and
vegetables which are in season. Grow some of your own.
Make your voice heard:
Make sure your elected representatives
understand just how serious this problem is.
Support environmental organisations who
are striving to increase awareness.
Encourage sustainable energy production
- wind, wave, biomass, solar.
Support moves to provide clean and appropriate
technology for poorer countries. They need to be able to
develop their economies without going through the heavily
polluting industrial phase experienced in North America
Campaign to preserve green spaces and keep
back the tide of tarmac. Encourage built development on
derelict and "brown field" sites, not on green
fields. Many new roads cutting across open countryside are
not needed, especially as we are supposed to be cutting
down on individual car use.
Demand better public transport, and the
provision of footpaths and cycle ways.
Encourage the planting of trees - in gardens,
on farms, in community woodlands. Trees play a significant
part in absorbing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere.
Support government financial policies
which make the polluter pay, and which encourage us all
towards cleaner, greener lifestyles.