Does global warming matter? (April 2010)

This is a blog post from April 2010.

The video below aims to answer two questions: (i) Do the causes of global warming matter? (ii) Does global warming itself matter?

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Dealing with climate change: Adaptation vs. mitigation

 

There are two approaches to dealing with climatic change: MITIGATION and ADAPTATION.

MITIGATION

Mitigation refers to policies that attempt to prevent further global warming and they are strategies which try to get rid of or reduce global warming e.g. using carbon tax to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into our atmosphere.

ADAPTATION 

Adaptation refers to policies that attempt to cope/deal with climatic change. They are not strategies which try to get rid of global warming. They are trying to cope with the impacts of climatic change e.g. introducing drought resistant crops.

So Lets look at some of the policies…

Mitigation

Adaptation

Wind Farms – By producing more energy by wind farms we can use renewable fuels less which emit greenhouse gases and try and prevent global warming.

Coastal defence – Through climate change our coasts are increasingly becoming a risk especially as sea levels rise. So coastal defence can include things like a sea wall, rip-rap etc.

Transport reformation – By changing our modes of transports or how they are run e.g. switching to biofuels is another way in which we can cut of greenhouse gas emissions. This also includes creating incentives for people to use more public transport rather than private transport.

Diversify agriculture –  This includes things like exploring different plants to grow and in different areas. Global warming means temperatures in different places are changing so by diversifying crops we are sure to have some which can grow in the new conditions that climatic change presents.

Afforestation –By planting trees/plants we are offsetting the carbon we produce hence reducing the net greenhouse gas emissions. This is known as carbon sequestration.

House Design – Global warming means our houses are continually becoming at risk of a variety of hazards and more than before. So we have to design our houses in such as a way that they can cope with lets say increased flooding risks. Double glazing is one example of how we can protect our homes from increased hazards.

Solar Panel – So as you can see many of these methods include alternate energy productions. This is because this cuts the amount of energy we need from carbon fuels which heavily emits greenhouse gases.

GM Foods –  Just like why we have to diversify our agricultural range, we have to invest in genetically modified crops and plants because this means we can still get a high yield for our exponentially growing population as well as coping with increased risks of lets say droughts.

Congestion Charge – So this is a deterrent for people to stop using there private transport too much – again a method cutting emission of greenhouse gases.

Better warning/forecasting systems – So the key element here is that climatic change means that we all are at risk from increased number of hazards hence we need to be more prepared. One way of doing this is by investing in our warning and forecasting systems. (particularly in LEDCs)

Regulate burning/chopping trees/plant – this is part of carbon sequestration and by using more regulation we can limit the number of trees/plants this happens which 

 also reduce the net carbon emissions.

Emergency plans – This is similar to better warning/forecasting systems except here leaders need to devote time and funds to preparing emergency plans and enforce regulations to ensure people are prepared for any major hazard.

Energy efficient appliances – We can not only encourage the use of energy efficient appliances, we can invest in innovation and R&D of such green appliances.

Domestic efficiency – Again by becoming more efficient we are cutting the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we send to the atmosphere. This type of efficiency including insulation homes, double glazing etc.

So which is better adaptation or mitigation? Lets look at some of the benefits of each strategy…

Pro- Adaptation

Pro- Mitigation 

It is time consuming to get all the countries to multilaterally come to a decision about how to reduce carbon emissions let alone cease them.

We should reduce emissions immediately to avoid being a position where climate change is irreversible.

The time on trying to get countries to mitigate climate change means that it might get much worse before we see green shoots.

Unless we challenge global warming then change will never arise in our energy production and other aspects of our life.

Climate change has already happened e.g. melting Arctic ice so we have to react and manage the situation now.

Policies such as carbon sinks are easily achievable e.g. the government just needs to provide a couple of grants for afforestation.

Even if emissions were to cease today then greenhouse gases already present in the atmosphere would cause changes at least for the next century. CO2 has a life for 100 years!

Mitigation methods are politically recognized in developed nation hence this means they are important and the rest of the world should follow on.

The Earths absorbs CO2 slowly so even with increased carbon sinks ( e.g. afforestation) it will take time for all the excess CO2 to be absorbed.

It is claimed that cutting greenhouse gases adversely affects economic growth. However, this is not true. In Western countries emissions are constant or falling and economic growth is pretty strong so we should seek more mitigation strategies. 

Keeping carbons emissions at where they are at or reducing them is unrealistic especially with BRIC countries such as China and India which have rapid economic growth. Hence we need to adapt as we might be too late to mitigate!

REVIEW TEST

  1. Define Mitigation strategies
  2. Define Adaptation
  3. Give the two main ways in which we can mitigate climate change
  4. What is the main way we can adapt to climate change
  5. Give one advantage of adaptation policies and one of mitigation policies

Suggested Answers 

  1. Mitigation strategies are policies used to try and reduce/ get rid of climatic change.
  2. Adaptation are policies used to try and cope/deal with climatic change.
  3. The two main ways we can mitigate to climate change is by reducing greenhouse gas emissions through energy production and by changing lifestyles e.g. switching to public transport.
  4. The main way we adapt to climatic change is by preparing all aspects of out life for increased risks
  5. One advantage of mitigation strategies is that if we act now we might be able to prevent reaching a situation where climate change is irreversible. One advantage of adaptation strategies is that instead of trying to mitigate something which has probably happened (E.g. Arctic ice melting) we can fortify ourselves for the impacts and be prepared.

Evidence for Climate Change

 

Long Term

Glacier

Glaciers advance when temperatures are cool and retreat when temperatures are warm. Glaciers leave behind moraines, unconsolidated glacial debris, which contain organic data which can be accurately dated. From 1940s to 1970s evidence shows that glaciers were retreating i.e. warm temperatures. From the 1970s to 1980s there had been stable growth i.e. cool temperatures. And from the 1980s to present there has evidence that glaciers have been retreating i.e. our planet is warming.

Ice cores

Air from Greenland and Arctic ice sheets can be sampled from bubbles trapped in the ice as it was laid down over thousands of years ago.  Carbon dioxide level from the former atmosphere can be reconstructed. This evidence shows that in the past carbon dioxide emissions have been very low, as low as 180ppm. When this evidence is put against rise in temperatures global warming seems to be happening!

Medium Term 

Dendrochronology (Tree rings)

Dendrochronology examines trees and their growth. For example, a thick and fat tree ring means the soil and conditions were fertile hence good rainfall. Whereas, narrow trees indicate poor and low rainfall conditions. So just as with vegetation we can work out the climate of a period of a time as climate affects rainfall. Evidence shows that in the last 50 years ago that temperatures have been 1.5-2 degrees higher than the median and higher than ever before in 7000 years.

Palynology

Palynology allows scientist to examine climate change through pollen analysis. From this we can infer past climates – up to thousands of years. Evidence from this kind of data shows a steep rise in temperature from1900s to present of about 1degree.

Paintings, poems and diaries

These evidence show that there was a mini ice age between 1000-1850. Then from 1850 to present we can just see evidence for warm conditions. 

French grapes

Records of dates from French grape harvests have usually been used to identify warm and cold periods. From the reconstruction of this data we have seen several warm summers like those of 1900s. However, Summer 2003 heatwave was by far the warmest of them all. Is this evidence for climate change? 

Recent Times

Polar ice

The ice sheets of Greenland, the Canadian Arctic and Antarctica are aerially monitored continually. As we are all aware that evidence shows that these ice sheets are melting quicker than anticipated. This is claimed to have something to do with increased temperatures caused by climate change.

Vegetation

Analysis of vegetation through a time period gives evidence for climate change. This is because a change in climate affects precipitation and how well plants cope.We are witnessing extreme examples of this e.g. desertification in Africa.

REVIEW QUESTIONS

1. What is Palynology?

2. What does evidence from polar ice caps show?

3. What is dendrochronology?

4. What does evidence from Glaciers show?

5. How does ice cores provide evidence for global warming? What is the evidence?

SUGGESTED ANSWERS

1. Palynology is the study of pollen to work out climates of different periods in history.

2. Evidence from polar ice caps shows that ice sheets are melting quicker than we anticipated.

3. Dendrochronology is the study of tree rings to work out climates of the past.

4. Evidence from glaciers shows that from the 1980s to presents glaciers have been retreating i.e. climate is getting warmer.

5. Ice core allow us to measure the amount of carbon dioxide that has been in the atmosphere is the past. This shows that in the past co2 emissions have been so little some as low as 180ppm. This shows a positive correlation with temperature increases.

Global Warming: Causes

What are the natural and human causes of global warming?

Natural 

Human 

Milankovitch cycles – Changes in the Earth’s axis and orbits.

Methane from animals or paddy fields

Angle of the Earth and axial tilts

Burning fossil fuels

Orbit shape around the sun

Deforestation

Changes in sun’s radiations – Sun spots increase radiation and there are natural fluctuations in solar output

CFCs (chloroflurocarbons) – From fridge and aerosols 

Volcanic eruption –  These can cool global temperatures so the lack of them can increase eruptions.

Nitrous oxides from fertilisers and industrial activities.

Cosmic collisions – These can increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere 

The Kyoto Protocol

Reaching global agreements; the 1997 Kyoto Protocol

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is a global treaty which aims to cut carbon emissions by 2012. The initial conference was held on 11th December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. It involved 175 countries. 

How will it cut carbon emission?

  1. Industrialized countries have a target of cutting their carbon emission by 5% from their 1990 levels by 2008-12. The targets vary with high polluting such as EU have a target of 8%, 5% for countries like Japan which produce average amounts of emissions and some extremely low emissions countries like Iceland have been allowed to increase their emissions.

Success…?

It does not include the whole world and big polluters like Australia are not signed up

The USA which is responsible for 25% of the world’s emissions withdrew under the reign of George W Bush.

Many of the countries are off target with high-emitting countries increasing their emissions by 8%. 

However, the UK actually cut emissions by 3%.

Many developing countries never actually used real emissions and calculated annualy.

Many climatologists believe 5% is too low emissions must cut by 60% but countries are struggling with 5% how will they manage 60%.

Implications for the UK…

  • A change from coal to cleaner fuels like wind has reduced emissions.
  • A renewable energy policy to produce 10% of electricity, has meant that sources such as wind power is closer to targets than other forms.
  • The government taxed petrol in order to cut demand however this just resulted in protests.
  • Big reductions in emissions can be made through the usage of nuclear power stations however opinion polls show that the public is against this.

Climate Change: Key Players

Key Players in managing climate change

Kyoto Protocol

This was a global treaty which aimed to reduce carbon emissions by 2012. Countries such as America (1/4 emissions come from here), China, India, Brazil were not involved. All in all the treaty reduced emissions by less than 1%. They were two reasons for this failure (i) countries did not like the idea that this could change their economy and (ii) The major emitting countries were not signed up.

Big Businesses

Some big TNCs are larger than developing countries and so actions they take can have large impacts. At the beginning large motor companies and oil companies were against this because they felt they would financially suffer. However, large TNCs and other large firms are now taking the incentive to become energy efficient and use energy efficient appliance e.g. lighting because this is what consumers demand and it gives them a good PR hence increased profits. So they are cutting emissions and meeting the preferences of consumers. 

National Governments 

National governments play a large role in controlling carbon emissions. They can do this in many ways. For example, they can tax polluters, invest in other energy sources e.g. nuclear, encourage the usage of energy efficient appliance, give subsidies and grants to develop carbon neutral eco-towns and investing in sinks such as planting trees.

Local governments 

Local governments tend to implement strategies of national governments. London led the way with congestion charge and Leicester being the first environmental city. Local authorities can do a range of factors including using LED lights for traffic lights, improving bus services, providing cycle lanes, rewarding energy efficient companies etc. 

NGOs

NGOs are great with educating consumers and governments with dangers of climate how and why we should act fast. They also put pressure on organisations and governments to act in climate change, having the role of a catalyst in coping with climate change.

Individuals

The point when it comes to individuals is once they understand the meaning of carbon footprint and calculate their carbon footprint they can work on reducing it by doing various things. They can walk to school/walk, eat less meat, buy food locally, use energy efficient appliance, install small scale energy productions in their home e.g. solar panels etc.

Costs and Benefits of Sustainable Measures

Climate Change

Costs and benefits of sustainable measures

Strategy

Cost 

Benefit

Energy efficiency 

At the beginning it is expensive and may not as functional as we would like them to be e.g. energy efficient lighting can be dimer than normal lighting. 

Small changes like this is universal and does not take much to implement yet it can have huge advantages in terms of reducing emissions.

Transport reformation e.g. congestion charge

Can be time-consuming and unpopular. Some methods can be expensive for example the congestion charge might have worked but this meant the government had to improve public transport.

The congestion charge cut 25% of traffic so they can be highly effective.

Carbon trading

It is a long and complex method and many countries simply don’t have accurate information or are just not part of this scheme. It has forced some businesses to relocate

Making carbon a commodity and expensive meant that countries did decrease even if a little but of emission while working as a team.

Afforestation

Costly and plants take space and in our overpopulated world is there really space?

Plants have been around for a long time so we know their long term effects and using nature is a popular method.

Renewable energy 

Costly, inefficient and can be visually and noisy polluting. People also have a NIMBY attitude making it harder to implement. 

It is a sustainable methods and it is a god alternative to fossil fuels and we can be sure never to have problems with it (except for ones like nuclear)

Solar Panels

Visually polluting and not all place receive enough sun. Expensive.

Easy way to cut emissions.

Conserve i.e. regulate burning/chopping trees and plants

People can still illegally do it and then we will have problems with trying to measure it.

Doesn’t require any money or anything we just need to put forward a few acts saying this can not be destroyed.

Domestic efficiency e.g. home insulation 

People are reluctant and some people with old homes may feel that the costs to insulate are just too much

It is again a relatively simple method unlike carbon trading yet can save both financially for people and emission. The money saved on bills is a great incentive for people.

Coastal defence

Can be expensive e.g. sea walls are very expensive

By acting in advance we can minimize the impacts felt from climate change

Diversify agriculture

It is not easy to know what to grow in different climate and we are still unsure about the time scales we are talking about.

It allows farmers to still have a career and nations to have a substantial food supply.

GM crops

They are unnatural we still don’t know the long term affects of this on humans.

A great way to food supply in the climatic problems we are faced with e.g. we need food supply even in droughts

House Design

Expensive and is it really practical to re design every single house?

This way it does not lie in the citizens hand whether their house is energy efficient or not.

Better forecasting system

Expensive and we already have many!

Good way to protect ourselves!