Environmental Concerns

Let Us Change Ourselves to
Counter Global Climate Change

The world is getting warmer up day by day. The planets temperature has climbed to the levels not seen in thousands of years. The average temperature of the Earth's surface increased by an estimated 0.6°C in the 20th century and, according to the most recent projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it could rise 1.4 to 5.8°C above the 1990 average by 2100. Much of this predicted increase is attributed by scientists to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides and various halocarbons. They are released by the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing and agriculture etc. and lead to an increase in the greenhouse effect.

Actually the Greenhouse effect is a natural process which is fundamental to life on earth. A layer of gases in our atmosphere allow through heat from the sun but absorb some of the heat coming back from the Earth's surface. Greenhouse gases act like a blanket and keep the surface of the earth warm. In fact, without these gases the earth would be more than 30°C colder than it is.

Since the industrial revolution started around 200 years ago, human beings have been burning fossil fuels on a large scale. Fossil fuels are underground stores of energy such as coal, petroleum and natural gas which were formed from the remains of dead plants and animals over millions of years. We use fossil fuels for all aspects of our lives: to generate electricity, to generate heat, to travel etc.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased nearly 30%, methane concentrations have more than doubled, and nitrous oxide concentrations have risen by about 15%. These increases have enhanced the heat-trapping capability of the earth's atmosphere causing climate change.

Impacts of Global Warming

This increase in global temperatures can cause irreversible changes, including

A decrease in snow cover: satellite observations suggest that the area of the planet covered by snow has already declined by 10% since the 1960s

Rising sea levels. In most climate-change models, sea levels are predicted to rise by 9 to 88 centimetres by 2100, due to the thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of polar ice-caps. Coupled with the effects of storm surges, which are expected to be of a greater magnitude in a warmer world.

An increase in the variability of climate, with changes in both the frequency and severity of extreme weather events; such as floods, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, and tornados and changes in the amount and pattern of precipitation.

Climate change could kill up to 180 million people in Africa
Source: Christian Aid

150,000 people already die every year from climate change
Source: World Health Organisation

100 million more people will be flooded by end of century
Source: Friends of the Earth

30 million more people may be hungry because of climate change by 2050
Source: The Hadley Centre

Rising sea levels and crop failures could create 150 million refugees by 2100
Source: Stop Climate Chaos

Other consequences include fluctuations in the agricultural yields, glacial retreat, reduced summer stream flows, species extinctions and health hazards including increases in the ranges of disease and vectors.

Warmer land and waters and rising sea levels are detrimental to sensitive ecosystems and associated biodiversity, especially the coastal ones such as coral reefs and Mangroves. Mass death of coral reefs because of coral bleaching widely reported in the recent past across the world is attributed to Global warming. The research have noted that 1700 plants, animals and insects species moved pole wards at an average rate about 4 miles per decade in the last half of the 20th Century. Over the past 25 years, penguin populations have shrunk by 33 percent in parts of Antarctica, due to declines in winter sea-ice habitat. According to a new global study 90 percent of all large fishes have disappeared from the world's oceans in the past half century. The golden toad (Bufo periglenes) and the harlequin frog (Atelopus varius) of Costa Rica have disappeared as a direct result of global warming.

Climate change poses a threat to us all. But poor people are on the frontline because the places in which they live are already prone to drought or floods, high winds or rising sea levels. They will suffer first and worst as the climate changes.

World Bank reported in 2001 sea level rising about 3 mm per year in the Bay of Bengal. It warned of loss of Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans, world's largest mangrove forest, and threats to hundreds of bird species. Since 15 to 20 percent of Bangladesh is within one meter of sea level, predicted sea level rise, at a rate that is increasing, will not only affect millions of people (estimates are 13 to 30 million) but will also wipe out much rice production (The World Bank warned of a decline of rice crop up to 30 percent with predicted sea level rise).

Climate change has a range of complex inter linkages with health. These include direct impacts, such as temperature-related illness and death; the health impacts of extreme weather events; the effect of air pollution in the form of spores and moulds. Climatic changes over recent decades have probably already affected some health outcomes. The World Health Organisation estimated, in its "World Health Report 2002", that climate change was estimated to be responsible in 2000 for approximately 2.4% of worldwide diarrhoea, and 6% of malaria in some middle-income countries

The temperature of the earth has varied dramatically over the millions of years of its history. However, the recent changes have been so fast that they cannot be explained by the natural climate processes.

The scientists have developed powerful computer models to simulate the impact of human being's activities on the climate worldwide. Their studies have revealed that the recent temperature changes can be explained only by taking into account the levels of Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted directly by human being's activities.

Evidence is also clear around both poles. In the Arctic the ice cap is shrinking and in Antarctica the ice shelf is melting and there have been rapid rises in local temperatures.

Climate change impacts will not be evenly distributed around the world. Some regions are expected to fare worse than others. Small Island States, for example, are amongst the most vulnerable.

Global warming and India

A Review on the Economics of Climate Change was launched on 30 October 2006. The Review, led by Prof Sir Nicholas Stern (former World Bank Chief Economist), is the most comprehensive ever undertaken on the economics of climate change. According to this report, unchecked greenhouse gas emissions would see global temperatures rise by 2-3 degrees centigrade in the next 50 years. And India is likely to suffer more than most countries as a result of climate change, with poor agricultural output, more natural disasters and increased deaths due to higher occurrence of diseases.

Mr Stern reported that annual June-September monsoon rains, which India is heavily dependent on for its crop production, would impact the economy. According to him "There could be more variable starting dates for the monsoon. There could be periods of much greater intensity and there could be quite extended periods of no rain.

Experts estimate a temperature rise of between 2 and 3.5 degrees centigrade, would cost India a loss of between 9 and 25 percent of total agricultural revenue. Agriculture makes up around 22 percent of India's gross domestic product. Temperature rises would also mean vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever spreading to higher altitude regions known for being free of mosquitoes.

The head of Britain's Economic Service said the melting of Himalayan glaciers would mean neighbouring Bangladesh could experience serious floods as a result of rising sea levels, sparking mass migration across the border into India.

Experts say melting glaciers will affect one-sixth of the world's population residing mainly in the Indian subcontinent. India's Ganga river receives 70 percent of its summer water flow from the Himalayan glaciers and sustains over 500 million people.

Stern also reported that India is making progress in adapting to the challenges faced in curbing emissions and investing in clean development mechanisms. At the same time he raised concern about the inequitable process of climate change and indicated that rich nations need to take the more burden of responsibility.

He says "This is a doubly inequitable process as it's the rich countries, who are responsible for 75 percent of the greenhouse gases that are up there and it's the poor countries that will be hit earliest and hardest. All countries must be involved, but equity demands that the rich and developed countries bear the big majority of the cost."

Currently we have a level of around 380 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in our atmosphere. Scientist's current view is that the "point of no return" is at a level of around 500 ppm of CO2. If we continue on our present course we'll reach this level around 2030. This could spell disaster for all of us.

Source: Measurements from peak of Mauna Loa mountain in Hawaii

What can we do?
The global community has already recognised the seriousness of the threat from Global warming and has acknowledged it through the Kyoto protocol of 1997. As per this protocol the major industrial nations pledged to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases between 2008 and 2012.

It's still possible to prevent the worst effects of climate change. So we need to understand that what actions could reduce the risk of an abrupt and irreversible climate change which could change the face of earth?

Though the problem seems to be of global concern, we can do a lot locally by our small actions and by incorporating minute changes in our lifestyle.

The basic task for all of us is to find ways to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels that are the primary cause of human-induced climate change. We can reduce our own consumption of fossil fuels (oil and coal) and encourage private companies or support efforts by government and businesses to do the same. Reducing our burning of oil and coal can be achieved by using energy more efficiently and by switching to renewable forms of energy such as solar, wind, and biomass.

How can we reduce our Carbon Foot Print?

Our carbon footprint is a measure of our contribution to climate change in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced. We all cause carbon dioxide to be emitted each day in the electricity and heat we use in our homes and offices and in our travel. Also, other parts of our lifestyles cause emissions indirectly, for example in the energy used to create the products and services we buy and use.

Organise Your Travel!

Walk or use bicycle for smaller distances. Try to use car pool, share taxi and other public transportation. Each time we fly or drive by road we contribute directly to climate change by burning fossil fuels. If we switch more of our journeys to train or bus this reduces our impact and if we walk or cycle we cause no impact!
Purchase the most fuel efficient and least polluting vehicle that truly meets your needs.
Keep your car's engine tuned up, the tires properly inflated, and don't carry weight unnecessarily in the car.

Switch off lights when you leave the room

Turn your TV and Computer monitors off when you're not watching it!

Only put full loads in the washing machine

Dry clothes naturally rather than in a tumble dryer

Let food cool down before putting it in the fridge

Don't leave the fridge door open

Regularly defrost your freezer

Don't leave appliances charging unnecessarily. If you leave your phone or other gadgets charging they continue to use electricity even once charged.

Save Energy!
Purchase compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy efficient appliances. The most efficient models use up to 50% less electricity and therefore significantly reduce your impact on climate change.

Choose electricity produced from renewable sources if available in your area.

Switch off appliances when you've finished. Avoid leaving appliances on standby

Manage your Waste to curb Methane emissions!

Prepare a vegetable compost at home. Re-use and Recycle things rather than throwing away. Making compost from organic waste is easy and avoids it decomposing in landfill sites where it will emit methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas which contributes heavily to climate change. It's also handy to use in the garden.

Be a Climate friendly Consumer!

The decisions we make each day as consumers have a direct impact on causing or combating climate change. Choose ethical companies or products which aim to avoid contributing to climate change. Support businesses that are reducing their global warming pollution by your investments and purchases.

Get involved and spread the word!

As individuals we can make a difference but only together can we really stop climate change. Stay involved in the debate, spread the word about climate change and actively participate in public hearings related to Environmental Impact Assessments of any activity involving GHG emissions. Encourage others to do their bit too.

It is a high time to take action to stop climate change otherwise the effects on our lives, our environment and our economies will be devastating.

Dr. Maya Mahajan

References include:

1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Climate Change 2001: Third Assessment Report (Volume I). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

2. WHO. World Health Report 2002: Reducing risks, promoting healthy life. WHO, Geneva, 2002.

3. Gain, Philip, ed. Bangladesh Environment: Facing the 21st Century (Soc for Env and Human Development, Dhaka, 2002).

4. World Bank and UN Environmental Programme reports, and report on Climate.org "Bangladesh Is Used to Coping, But Rising Seas Pose New Dangers.

5. India Will Suffer Most Due to Climate Change - Stern, a story by Nita Bhalla, Reuters News Service.