ON GLOBAL WARMING
(From the Trustees of SAI Sanctuary Trust)
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
Scientific evidence has now proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that Global Warming is a reality. Its consequences are being seen and felt around the world—climate change and disruption of the seasons, bizarre weather patterns with extreme temperatures both high and low, more frequent and more severe storms, floods and droughts coupled with massive forest fires, the melting of the polar icecaps and mountain glaciers, the drying up of vital water sources accompanied by the spread of deserts, and perhaps the most alarming of all—the slowing and temporary shutdown of the ‘North Atlantic Ocean Conveyor Current’ or ‘Gulf Stream’—the ‘engine’ that has driven global weather and kept it stable for the past 10,000 years—that is, for the entire history of human civilization. If this pattern of slowing and temporary shutdowns continues or the Current stops altogether, the consequences for humanity are incalculable. Indeed, among other catastrophes, the world could be plunged into another Ice Age.
In addition, there is now no question that Global Warming is caused by the activities of Man—activities that are literally disrupting the delicate balance in the elements and components that have made ‘Life’ possible on this planet.
Our Fragile Atmosphere
This is especially true with regard to our atmosphere—the most fragile, vulnerable, and important aspect of the Earth’s ecology—fragile because it is so thin, vulnerable because its delicate balance is so easily disturbed, and most important because it is the balance of elements and gases within it—especially oxygen and carbon dioxide—that is the key to life on Earth, as under normal conditions, its gases trap just enough of the Sun’s warmth to allow Life to grow. Too little of these gases, like the atmosphere of planet Mars, and temperatures are too cold for human survival. Too much of these gases, like on planet Venus, and temperatures are far too hot for human life.
The ozone holes that developed in the atmosphere a few decades ago demonstrate just how fragile this balance is and how easily it can be disturbed by our activities. Our use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the propellant in aerosol cans and as cooling agents in refrigerators and air conditioners was the cause. Discharged into the atmosphere, CFCs were broken down into their molecular components by the Sun, releasing chlorine gas, which ate away at the delicate layer of ozone in the upper stratosphere, causing the holes. Harmful ultraviolet radiation flooded the Earth through these holes with disastrous effects in both plant and animal life, including dramatic increases of eye problems and skin cancer in humans.
The Greenhouse Effect
But the crisis of Global Warming that we face today is far more dangerous with the potential for far more catastrophic consequences. Through our industrial and manufacturing activities, our burning of wood and fossil fuels, coupled with continual deforestation, we are releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’—methane, nitrous oxide, etc.—into the air. The construction of large dams is also a factor as dams not only aggravate the problem of deforestation, but can actually cause the release of more greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour than dirty coal because of the rotting vegetation under its floodwaters.
These gases in turn cause a thickening of the atmosphere, thereby trapping in more of the Sun’s heat, much the same way as glass panes on the roof of a greenhouse allow the Sun’s light and heat to come in, but block its ability to radiate out. Thus, global temperatures are rising, attended with the other devastating effects we are witnessing around the world.
To get an idea of just how much we have changed the composition of the atmosphere, let’s look at just one of these gases—carbon dioxide (CO2)—as it accounts for 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Measurements of the amount of CO2 trapped in ice core samples from Antarctica show that there is more CO2 in the atmosphere today—indeed, as much as 40% more—than there has been in the last 650,000 years!
But much of the CO2 we are spewing forth falls back to the earth. Indeed, the ICCP report states that the Earth’s land and oceans have become so saturated with CO2 that they are unable to absorb it as they were before. The extra CO2 is changing the chemical composition of both our soil and our waterways/oceans, making them more acidic. This has dangerous consequences not only for agriculture, but also for the fishing industry. Warmer ocean temperatures and extra CO2 encourage massive algae blooms, which starve the ocean of oxygen, leaving ‘dead zones’—areas in the world’s oceans where not a single living thing can be found.
This chemical imbalance also interferes with the shell-building mechanism for sea creatures, including coral. This plus warmer waters has meant a massive die-off of coral reefs around the globe—disastrous not only because coral reefs are the habitat for over 30% of all aquatic species, but also because they are the first line of defense against both tsunamis/tidal waves and storm surges. Considering the number of people here in India who not only live by the sea, but make their livelihood from it, these consequences are nothing less than catastrophic.