June 30, 2015 8:12 pm

Climate Change; A Serious Threat To Life And Planet

CLIMATE change, also called global warming, refers to the rise in average surface temperatures on Earth. An overwhelming scientific consensus maintains that climate change is due primarily to the human use of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. The gases trap heat within the atmosphere, which can have a range of effects on ecosystems, including rising sea levels, severe weather events, and droughts that render landscapes more susceptible to wildfires. We can feel in our daily experiences that climate is changing. The earth is warming up, and there is now overwhelming scientific consensus that it is human-induced. With global warming on the increase and species and their habitats on the decrease, chances for ecosystems to adapt naturally are diminishing. We are collectively facing a serious threat with most of us even ignoring the dangerous impacts of climate change.

All over the globe, seasons are shifting, temperatures are climbing and sea levels are rising. And meanwhile, we expect our planet to still supply all living beings – with air, water, food and safe places to live. If we don't take climate change a serious threat it will rapidly alter the lands and waters we all depend upon for survival, leaving our generations with a very different world and dreadful circumstances.

The Nature Conservancy estimates that sea levels have risen between four and eight inches in the past 100 years. Current projections suggest that over the next 100 years sea levels could continue to rise between 4 inches and 36 inches.  A 36-inch increase in sea levels would swamp almost all the citieswithin three feet of sea level. Just imagine that worldwide, nearly 100 million people live within three feet of sea level. Rise in sea levels associated with climate change could dislocate tens of millions of people in low-lying areas and the main victims would be those living in developing countries. Inhabitants of some small island countries would be the world’s first climate change refugees.

The rapid nature of climate change is to be expected to surpass the ability of many species to migrate or adjust. Experts predict that one-fourth of Earth’s species will be headed for extinction by 2050 if the warming trend continues at its current rate.Changing temperatures are already causing vegetation shifts and conservation challenges. Heat-trapping gases emitted by power plants, automobiles, deforestation and other sources are warming up the planet. In fact, the five hottest years on record have all occurred since 1997 and the 10 hottest since 1990. High temperatures are to blame for an increase in heat-related deaths and illness, rising seas, increased storm intensity, and many of the other dangerous consequences of climate change. Scientific research indicates that climate change will cause hurricanes and tropical storms to become more intense — lasting longer, unleashing stronger winds, and causing more damage to coastal ecosystems and communities.

During the last five decades, human activities – particularly the burning of fossil fuels have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to affect the global climate. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by more than 30% since pre-industrial times, trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere.  A range of health risks, deaths and changing patterns of contagious diseases are all related to climate change. We are witnessing the powerful direct and indirect impacts on human life from the tropics to the arctic due to climate change. World health Organization estimates that approximately 600 000 deaths occurred worldwide as a result of weather-related natural disasters in the 1990s, some 95% of which took place in developing countries. 

National Research Council in a report titled “Advancing the Science of Climate Change” published in 2010 by the National Academies Press Washington DC have pieced together a picture of Earth’s climate, dating back hundreds of thousands of years, by analyzing a number of indirect measures of climate such as ice cores, tree rings, glacier lengths, pollen remains, and ocean sediments, and by studying changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun.The historical record shows that the climate system varies naturally over a wide range of time scales. In general, climate changes prior to the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s can be explained by natural causes, such as changes in solar energy, volcanic eruptions, and natural changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations.Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicates that natural causes are very unlikely to explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, human activities can very likely explain most of that warming. 

Peter Hoppe described in Global Economic Symposium in 2015 that global warming will increase the variability of weather and most likely result in more extreme weather events. The Munich Re NatCatSERVICE data on loss relevant natural disasters already show such a trend for the last 30 years. The German Watch Climate Risk Index, which ranks the countries according to their extreme weather risks, shows that all countries in the top ten of this index are developing countries, led by Bangladesh, Myanmar and Honduras. 95% of fatalities from natural disasters in the last 25 years occurred in developing countries. Taking into reflection that by now the climate disorders in many of these countries are on the brink of allowing a sustainable livelihood to the people, only small changes can accelerate the risk. Looking at the history of climate change these are not developing countries which contribute to large emission of greenhouse gases rather industrialized countries are mainly responsible for climate change. So it is the responsibility of the industrialized countries, which have caused the problem, to support the people in the developing countries to lessen climate risks. 

Imagine the day when the Sun, one of the most beautiful gifts of Nature for the very survival of living beings would eventually become the enemy of life on this planet. No other creature in the known Universe will be responsible for this adverse reaction of Sun but we the human beings. Our actions for the self-betterment and fake development for multiplying personal capital is harming the environment with even tiny actions. So called industrialized development keeps on producing harmful gases for the natural environment and damaging the layers of Ozone. Ozone layer which filters the sunlight and sends it to us in a purified way. The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years. Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the threatening signals. The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases are causing the Earth to warm in response. Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and Tropical Mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. The changes are happening very quickly, geologically-speaking: in tens of years, not in millions or even thousands.

Cynics still argue that climate has transformed naturally in the past, long before SUVs and coal-fired power plants, so therefore humans are not responsible for this change. Interestingly, the conclusions of the peer-reviewed research into past climate change comes to the opposite. There are a number of different forces which can influence the Earth's climate. It is obviously true that past climate change was caused by natural forcing. However, to dispute that human actions can't cause climate change is like disagreeing that humans can't start bush blazes because in the past they've happened naturally. The naked truth is that greenhouse gas increases have triggered climate change many times in Earth's history, and we are still debating who is responsible for that? 

There are solutions and we can even start on individual level. We can cut carbon pollution by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and increasing our use of environment friendly, clean and renewable energy. We must urge our national governments to implement policies that help us prepare for flooding, drought, storms and other consequences of climate change. During the electoral processes all over the world, we need to elect the leadership that will stop ignoring what the earth and scientists are telling us about climate change -- and instead start ignoring those who continue to deny it is happening.

The industrialized countries by harming the natural climate are creating a situation we can call “Climate Injustice”.  We all must be asking for “Climate Justice”. This notion of “climate justice” is stereotypically disregarded by many industrialized countries and their conventional media, putting the blame on developing countries. There is no doubt that developing countries like China and India are also equally responsible for this damage but majority of the developing countries are not. The burden of measures taken in this regard must be primarily on industrialized countries along with co-operation of developing countries like China and India.

We should always keep in mind that our activities may harm the earth that sustains us. Therefore, our actions should always be environment friendly. By harming the climate we are not only causing a problem but also harming our own lives. We are so proud of our intellectual achievements, our history of civilizations, yet almost all civilizations have depended on some form of energy. It is obvious that more advanced the civilization, the more dependent it becomes on energy. But all this can be made possible by taking some solid measures individually and collectively. Energy needs could be fulfilled by finding the new ways that can protect and enhance the competency of our environment and planet. If we keep on harming the climate without considering the severe impacts then imagine a future of no future. We can secure the future only by taking the wise steps; no matter even these are smaller.  All the painted picture of future will disappear if humanity is overwhelmed by climate change.  Then who will be left to mourn? 

Center for Biological Diversity in the United States predicts that global warming presents the gravest threat to life on Earth in all of human history. The planet is warming to a degree beyond what many species can handle, modifying or eliminating habitat, plummeting food sources, instigating drought and other species-harming severe weather events, and even directly killing species that simply can’t stand the increasing heat. In fact, scientists predict that if we keep going along our current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, climate change will cause more than a third of the Earth’s animal and plant species to face extinction by 2050 — and up to 70 percent by the end of the century. Such a terrible loss would irretrievably diminish biodiversity, severely disrupt ecosystems, and cause immense hardship for human societies worldwide.

Just imagine that we the Humans are “eating away our own life support systems” at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years by degrading land and freshwater systems, emitting greenhouse gases, and discharging vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment. We cannot afford to stand-by and watch as the destructive effects of repeated climate disasters overwhelm vulnerable communities the world over. We must respond and adapt quickly to the challenge. This all requires a rethink of our actions towards meeting the challenge.When we connect the dots between climate change, extreme weather and health, the lines become very clear. Our planet is saying something with record heat, drought, storms and fire. Scientists are telling us this is what global warming looks like. But the question is, are we ready to take climate change a serious threat?

Nayyar N Khan is a US based Peace activist of Kashmiri origin. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at globalpeace2002@hotmail.com

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