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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 rainfall patterns.
  • 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 re-located.
  • 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?

At home:

  • 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 water tank.
  • Reduce, re-use and recycle rubbish.
  • Cook whole meals on one ring by using a multi-deck steamer.
  • 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 and Europe.
  • 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.
Copyright INNATE 2014