Does the globalized world have the will to combat global warming?
Global warming refers to the global averages of the amount of warming varying by region. Although sometimes used interchangeably for global warming, “climate change” usually includes both global warming and its effects.
Just like greenhouse walls, certain gases in the atmosphere trap heat by preventing it from radiating back into the space, warming the lower atmosphere and cooling the upper atmosphere. Such heat-trapping gases are commonly called greenhouse gases.
First, as the average global surface temperature has increased by more than 0.9C, ice is melting worldwide, especially in the polar regions. Much of this melting ice contributes to the sea level rise. Global sea levels are rising 0.13 inches a year and sea levels are expected to rise exponentially by the end of the century. If that happens, experts estimate that many coastal areas -- home to roughly half the human population -- will be inundated.
Second, as the levels of CO2 increase in the atmosphere, the oceans absorb some of the gas, an aftermath that increases the acidity of the seawater. Since the industrial revolutions in the 1700s, the acidity of the oceans has increased about 25% according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Third, rising temperatures are affecting wildlife and their habitats. As temperatures change, many species are on the move. Some butterflies, foxes, and alpine plants have migrated to an area of comfortable temperatures. Many experts suspect that such migration can be a problem when the rate of climate change is faster than that of many organisms’ capabilities of migration, a phenomenon that may culminate in many species’ extinction.
Fourth, precipitations have increased in some areas, while other regions are witnessing more severe droughts than ever. Additionally, as hurricanes get their energy from the temperature differences between the warm tropical ocean and the cold upper atmosphere, they are now more intense.
Fifth, warmer temperatures usually expand the range of many disease-causing pathogens, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and crop pests. Diseases such as dengue, malaria, chikungunya, and the 2016 outbreak of the Zika virus are examples of the dangers brought about by climate change.
Finally, issues such as excessive precipitation, combined impacts of drought, greater number and diversity of pests, lower groundwater table, and a loss of arable land may cause severe crop failures and livestock shortage worldwide, jeopardizing agriculture.
North Carolina University notes that although CO2 can increase plant-growth, the excessive abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere may make the plants less nutritious.
Curbing dangerous climate change surely requires a very deep cut in emissions and the use of alternatives to fossil fuels worldwide. Almost all nations around the world acknowledge the imperative, however, to act on climate change with the 2015 Paris Agreement, making pledges to keep the warming under 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue an even lower warming cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, both of those targets are in jeopardy. Major countries are already falling behind on their pledges, according to the Emissions Gap Report 2018, a UN report, issued at the end of 2018.
Scientists are also working on ways to sustainably produce hydrogen to feed zero-emission fuel cells -- a chemical process in which energy stored in hydrogen is released as electricity that powers the motors -- for transportations and electricity. Efforts are also aimed at building better batteries to store renewable energy, and at extracting existing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Nuclear energy is another option; unlike fossil fuel power plants, nuclear reactors do not produce CO2 while operating.
In addition, studies show that, just as we store electricity in batteries, we can store electricity generated by thunderbolts, a huge source of energy that can help mitigate the problem immensely.
According to the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), greenhouse gases alone account for 40% of the warming of the globe. Hence, combating greenhouse gas emissions effectively can help resolve the crisis substantially.
The problem is solvable, but the question is: Do we have the will?
Syed Mohammad Shahadatul Islam is volunteering at an international non-profit organization.