Forum

Address global warming to sidestep dire effects

Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced last Friday in an assessment of the state of the climate system that it is “extremely likely” that mankind has caused climate change. In a 2007 assessment, the same U.N.-sponsored panel called it “very likely.” Their assessment of a diverse array of factors, such as ice and snow volume, sea levels, and greenhouse gas concentrations, led them to conclude that global warming is manmade. While this information isn’t new, it is still jarring.

Even more concerning is the question of how man will cope with global warming. Surely mankind — creator of the wheel, discoverer of electricity, and inventor of the computer — will be able to cope with this challenge.

Global warming is a fact that has been proven again and again; therfore, it must be addressed immediately. This current climate trend is not an Earth-warming cycle, because carbon dioxide levels are higher than ever. People have never dumped so much waste into the atmosphere before because they have never before used so much fossil fuel.

Even by the skeptics, however, the fact that people are destroying the environment cannot be rejected. Deforestation in Southeastern Asia, environmental monetization by China, and American reliance on oil all contribute to the fact that people are depleting resources at an unsustainable pace while destroying delicate equilibriums that hold the planet together. In light of all the effects of human consumption of natural resources, the dire impacts of global warming are only a small step away.

The IPCC says that action must be taken now. Their reports indicate that climate change could easily exceed the 3.6˚C limit change that the U.N. has concluded the world must remain below in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, according to CBS News. Beyond this point, there may be no return.

Of course people, myself included, have the tendency to procrastinate. The carbon in fossil fuels that people have burned into carbon dioxide will stay in the atmosphere for centuries, and it can’t exactly be caught and stuffed somewhere. People cannot simply stop burning carbon immediately, either; they are finding gas reserves everywhere, and they are highly dependent on oil. Newly developed techniques of getting oil only increase the rate at which people can use fossil fuels.

Each year that people delay cutbacks, they lower the probability that the IPCC’s goal of remaining below a 3.6˚C change will be reached. The probability of reaching that goal would have been 67 percent had governments started passing laws ordering emission reductions in 2011, and the reduction would have needed to be around 3.7 percent a year, according to theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in The New Yorker. If cutbacks begin in 2015, the reduction will have to be around 5.3 percent a year, says Krauss. The point is that action needs to be taken now.

It is worth clarifying that the people discussed in this article only live in countries where resources can be harnessed and used. What about the other half of the world, where clean water is hard to come by, and connecting to electricity is a near-miracle? Have people collectively diminished their chance to improve standards of living?

A conundrum that faces policy-makers, economists, financiers, and scientists is how to develop the emerging markets in nations that have not yet reached the technological sophistication of countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

How do countries of the first world help others develop without further damaging the climate and its fragile balance? The storms and floods that global warming bring will affect the agriculture of developing nations, where agriculture is perhaps one of their main industries. Without a sustainable agricultural sector, a country cannot advance in terms of productivity and standards of living. People in countries of the first world have a moral obligation to aid those they have affected. They have to save what they can, not only for future generations, but also for the people in the present they have impacted.