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The environment is increasingly becoming vulnerable to catastrophes of diversified nature. One of the catastrophes that are risking the environment is global warming. As an environmental issue, global warming has been defined as the rise in the average temperature of the surface of the earth (Haldar, 2011). This increase in the earth’s average temperature is caused by the greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide that is produced by fossil fuels, and deforestation. It is these gases that trap heat that would have instead escaped from the earth. This causes the greenhouse effect that in the long term leads to global warming from the trapped heat. Haldar (2011) cited that global warming has become one of the most threatening phenomena that have ever been faced by the world in the human history. In this paper, a strong argument is presented on the fatality and severity of global warming based on its implications. Also the paper will explore the meaning of global warming, its causes, consequences, and how this environmental menace can be controlled or mitigated.
Causes of Global Warming
The causes of global warming are various. As indicated in Global warming (2009), the causes of global warming have been classified in various ways by different scholars in the field of environmental science and climate change. This paper adopts the most wide-spread categorization of the causes of global warming. Thus the natural and the man-made causes of global warming are explored in details under this thematic area.
Natural Causes of Global Warming
The natural causes of global warming are those factors that contribute to climate change yet they are caused by forces beyond human control (Haldar, 2011). One of the greenhouse gases that contribute to the global warming and subsequent climate change is methane. A greenhouse gas is a type of gas that has unique characteristic of trapping heat in the atmosphere of the earth (Haldar, 2011). The gas is capable of letting light in but does not allow the heat to escape. Once the heat is trapped, global temperatures increase. This is what creates a precondition for global warming. Thus, the more the methane is concentrated in the atmosphere, the more the gases will continue to trap the heat. As a greenhouse gas, methane is produced naturally from arctic tundra and the wetlands.
There is general consensus that global temperatures increase with time. Over the last decade, global temperatures have increased tremendously and the humanity has experienced approximately ten hottest years registered throughout human history (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007). Variation in the earth’s orbit is a natural process that has contributed to the problem of global warming. These variations, however small they are, have great effects on the climate since they may tilt the earth closer to the sun leading to ice ages and long stretch of global warming. Besides variations in the Earth’s orbit and climatic variations, volcanic activity affects atmospheric temperature. The increase in the volcanic activity on the global scale increases the global atmospheric temperatures.
Man-Made Causes of Global Warming
Presently, human activities contribute more significantly to the problem of global warming than any other factors. Among the human activities that contribute to the problem of global warming is pollution (Haldar, 2011). Pollution of the environment can be a result of factors such as burning of charcoal, fossil fuels made of organic substances like coal or oil. The burning of the fossil fuels and charcoal lead to production of greenhouse gases which result in global warming (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007). These include carbon dioxide and methane. Mining of coal and oil causes excessive production of methane which escapes to the atmosphere. This further complicates the already complex problem of global warming since it is these greenhouse gases that significantly contribute to global warming (Haldar, 2011).
Population explosion must be considered in discussions focusing on the human contributions to global warming. As the global population continues to rise, food insecurity becomes a great threat to humanity (Global warming, 2009). Consequently, more land is cleared to create space for food production. Deforestation leaves land bare and vulnerable to soil erosion and desertification. This complicates the problem since deforestation reduces the space of the atmosphere that is occupied by vegetation. Deforestation also contributes to global warming as tropical forests are cleared for wood, pulp and agricultural production activities. This contributes to additional production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, while the trees, which would have consumed excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, are cut down. This implies that there will be a surplus of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (May & Caron, 2009).
The rise in population also implies that there will be the need for additional means of transport. For this gap to be filled, more fossil fuels will be burnt in the public vehicles and other public transportation vessels. The more the cars and buses are popular as public transport, the higher the rate of pollution through burning of more fuels (Haldar, 2011). The need for increased agricultural production pushes people to increase agricultural activities such as animal farming and production. However, the cows and other animals are great sources of methane thus they are contributing to the problem. Besides, the increase in global population worsens the problem, since we breathe out carbon dioxide. This implies that the increase in global population leads to a significant increase in the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Metz, 2010). The increasing use of chemical fertilizers has also contributed greatly to the problem of global warming. The application of nitrogen-rich fertilizers has the effect of trapping heat 300 times more than carbon dioxide. Therefore, nitrogen oxides and the run-off of excess fertilizers results into creation of dead zones in the oceans.
Consequences/Impact of Global Warming
One of the effects of global warming that scientists have noted is the melting of ice caps at the North and South Poles. The melting of the polar ice caps causes a rise in the sea level as ocean temperatures decline (Global warming, 2009). Further, the melting of ice caps at the poles is a precondition for warming the air on the surface of the earth. The sea temperatures become cold as the air warms up. On the other hand, some scientists have suggested that the colors of the ice caps also contribute to the problem of global warming. The landscape of the polar ice caps is white and thus reflects heat back out to the atmosphere. Reduction of the landscapes renders the earth less effective and efficient at bouncing back the heat from the sun as dark colors of the land and the oceans will definitely absorb more heat (Metz, 2010).
Scientific evidence proves that global warming has led to a rise in the sea level. There has been gradual increase over the 20th century (Haldar, 2011). The rate at which the sea level is rising has increased with consequent increase in global warming. This is caused by thermal expansion that results from growth of the ocean water as it warms up. Besides, increased melting of land-based ice has led to the significant rise in the oceanic waters. The flooding caused by the rise in the sea level results in the destruction of property and life. A good example of the effects of the rising sea level is the submersion of many of the Indonesia’s tropical islands and the areas that are low-lying such as Miami, New York City’s Lower Manhattan and Bangladesh (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007).
Global warming has led to the rise in the ocean temperature. According to studies that have been conducted, global ocean temperature has risen by 0.10 degrees Celsius to a depth of 700 metres from 1961 to 2003 (Lean & Rind, 2008). This has great effects on the oceanic ecosystems. For example, the melting of sea ice affects algae that grows on its underneath. The oceanic warming has a long term effect of reducing the ability of the ocean to effectively absorb carbon dioxide. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007), approximately 25% of the world’s coral reefs have been rendered extinct in past few decades. A good portion of the coral reefs have died due to coral bleaching, which is a process directly related to the warming of the oceanic waters that weakens the coral animals (Lean & Rind, 2008). This has been caused by the changes in the sea levels and the constantly rising sea temperatures.
Studies conducted on the long term impacts of global warming reveal that rising global warming has severe implications on weather. This is partly the reason for the strong and frequent storms that have rocked the global waters (May & Caron, 2009). Further, warmer temperatures that are caused by global warming are responsible for increase in water evaporation, which in turn leads to increased precipitation. Maslin (2006) noted that these changes are great potential for increased frequency of flooding. Nonetheless, scientists project that as other parts of the world experience increased precipitation, some areas, such as the continental centers, may be exposed to severe droughts. These shifts in drought are caused by changes in climate. The rising temperatures caused by global warming trigger other consequences such as retreating glaciers, melting of ice flows, changes in rainfall patterns, which are the reason for unpredictable flooding and drought patterns. Besides, global warming and climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic phenomena such as hurricanes and cyclones (Maslin, 2006). The alterations in the circulation of sea currents like Gulf Stream and the North-Atlantic drifts have caused a cooling effect on regions in Western Europe (May & Caron, 2009).
The changes in the rainfall patterns and the relative difficulty in prediction of weather and climatic changes have severely affected agricultural activities. Nardo (2008) cited that many regions along the tropics have also been rendered unsuitable for agriculture. This is because of the high temperatures that are registered in the areas. However, the changing climatic conditions may lead to the increased precipitation in areas that were initially marginally dry. This implies that climatic changes as a result of global warming may also lead to changes in agricultural patterns. Besides hampering agricultural activities, global warming and environmental changes has affected human health. For example, the extreme heat waves of 2003 and 2006 led to the death of many people in Europe, North America and India (Maslin, 2006). Unfortunately, this catastrophe is likely to spread to other regions as climatic changes continue globally due to human activities. Besides the deaths resulting from climatic changes, global warming has led to the spread of various diseases that threaten to increase their amplification unless a sustainable solution to global warming is found. Diseases that were initially found in the tropical areas have currently been detected in the other areas of the globe as a result of the change in the atmospheric temperatures (Maslin, 2006).
Mitigation and Adaptation to Global Warming
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines mitigation as an anthropogenic intervention that targets reduction of the sources of greenhouse gases while at the same time enhancing the sinking of the same gases (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) and the IPCC concur that adaptation refers to the adjustment in human or natural systems as a response strategy to the actual or imminent climatic stimuli or their effects, aimed at moderating the harms caused or exploiting potential opportunities (Metz, 2010; Haldar, 2011). In order to control the rate of anthropogenic greenhouse gas release, (Haldar, 2011) cited that the Kyoto Protocol was signed. This is an international agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions. It currently covers 160 countries and approximately 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007). The challenge facing the Protocol is the reluctance of some powerful states who are the greatest contributors of the greenhouse gases to ratify and implement it. A good example is the United States (Haldar, 2011).
There are business actions on climate change that have also aimed at mitigating global warming and its effects. For example, the European Union has redirected their efforts towards improvement of energy efficiency and trading in greenhouse gas emissions. Nardo (2008) cited that in January 2005, the European Union introduced its European Union Emission Trading Scheme. Through this scheme, the government and the companies agreed to cap the greenhouse emissions or to purchase credits from those that are below their allowances. Such economy-wide cap and trade schemes will enhance reduction of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and thus will reduce global warming (Nardo, 2008). According to studies that have been conducted by environmentalists and scientists, carbon trading is one of the effective methods of reducing carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Although other countries and states are yet to adopt this mitigation and response strategy, the progress that has been made by the European Union is a great motivation and challenge to other countries that are struggling with limitation of emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Global warming can be mitigated through reduction in the burning of fossil fuels. In order to achieve this, the world needs to explore and embrace utilization of alternative sources of energy that do not increase emission of greenhouse gases (Nardo, 2008). Thus, there is the need to use geothermal energy, wind energy or hydroelectric power to run the machines in the industries. This will significantly help in reducing the percentage of the greenhouse gases that are emitted to the atmosphere during industrial production processes. Separate but related to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is the need for the urban population to limit use of private petrol-fueled vehicles to fulfill the work duties, for leisure or other personal endeavors. Instead, use of common public means of transport should be embraced even by those with private cars. This would limit the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted to the atmosphere as a result of burning of fossil fuels such as petrol (Nardo, 2008).
The crisis of global warming and climate change has been compounded by the increase in population, the consequent deforestation and poor agricultural production activities. Therefore, in order to mitigate global warming, the governments must focus on strategic policies targeting population decrease or control. Such actions may require effective mechanisms of promoting family planning. When the population is controlled, it will be easy to conserve the forests which have been encroached into as people seek more agricultural land for food production to feed the swelling population (Nardo, 2008). Further, deforestation should be counterbalanced by reforestation efforts. This will help mitigate the problem of global warming since large and extensive forest covers will enhance consumption of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the trees (Bonan, 2008). On farming and agricultural production, the farmers need to be encouraged to reconsider the application of organic manure that was traditionally used for agricultural production instead of the modern chemical fertilizers that add to the amount of greenhouse gases that is already causing environmental and climatic havoc (Bonan, 2008).
Investment in the development of carbon capture and storage technology is considered to be a very strategic move towards reduction of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is therefore a possible solution to the crisis of greenhouse emissions. This is an integrated process that involves capturing, transportation and storage of carbon dioxide (Ramanathan & Feng, 2008).The technology targets production of a concentrated stream of carbon dioxide that can be compressed, before it is transported through pipeline for storage in carbon dioxide reservoirs. This technology is very feasible in the geological sites on land, or beneath the seabed (Metz, 2010). Although disposal of carbon dioxide in the ocean has been proposed, it is not very effective and efficient due to the potential effects that carbon dioxide may have on the oceanic ecosystem and biodiversity. The technology of carbon capture and storage added to reduction in mining, use and exportation of coal can greatly reduce carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere. Environmental groups like Greenpeace have advocated for limitation of coal mining and use in the industrial production processes since it is considered one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gases that contribute to the global warming (Nardo, 2008; Ramanathan & Feng, 2008).
Adaptation to global warming is a strategic response to the environmental and climate change menace. This approach is based on the understanding that what cannot be altered can always be adapted to. Various measures have been proposed to enhance the adaptation process. These include water conservation, water rationing, adaptive agricultural practices that include diversification, construction of flood defense, changing to modern medication approaches, and other intervention processes aimed at protecting the threatened species (Metz, 2010). Water conservation and rationing will ensure that various human and agricultural activities continue even amidst changing rainfall patterns and prolonged unexpected droughts. Agricultural practices such as planting of drought resistant crops will enhance food security in the drought stricken areas. Further, the adoption of the traditional farming methods that involved use of organic manures instead of the modern chemical fertilizers would greatly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Metz (2010) cited that agricultural diversification in terms of the crop and animal production will also promote food security efforts amidst changing climatic and environmental conditions. Digging and building of flood defenses will also enhance prevention of frequent floods that result from climate change which is a consequence of global warming (Metz, 2010).
Global warming remains one of the challenges that world leaders and environmentalist are currently struggling to address. This crisis is not only threatening the survival of plants and animals but also human life. Although there are natural causes of global warming, human activities are largely to blame for the present crisis. Human activities ranging from industrial production, deforestation, agricultural activities, mining, animal production, exploitation and use of fossil fuels in transport and other human activities have significantly contributed to the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The drastic changes in rainfall patterns, droughts, floods, rising sea levels and cyclone are just a few of the consequences of global warming process that have very severe economic, agricultural, health and environmental implications on the global scale. Strategic approaches in dealing with the problem of global warming and climate change have been adopted. These focus mostly on mitigation and adaptation to the consequences of global warming as an environmental issue of concern. This integrated approach can significantly help promote sustainability of the ecosystem and the world’s biodiversity.