In his article “Global Warming and Geomorphology”, David K. C. Jones attempts to distinguish between the doom and gloom predictions surrounding and offer a more realistic approach to the effects that climate change will have on the geological and biosphere aspects of the planet and specifically on the British Isles. Climate fluctuation based on the presence of so-called greenhouse gases has been occurring for most of the last geological period.
At issue, however, are several factors that have not been considered in previous periods of rapid climate change including the impact of humanity on greenhouse gases and humanity’s knowledge of its impact (Jones, 124). This knowledge of humanity’s impact on geomorphology can be used for either gain in the coming global change or can be used to incite doomsday predictions.
Jones theorizes that geomorphologic change may have happened this rapidly in the British Isles at the end of the last ice age, but that since humanity was not aware of it or could simply respond to the changes as they happened, modern man may have an advantage to protect his environment. The problem with the knowledge that humanity has affected global climate change is that it also points out how much we do not know. The author discusses this in terms of regionalization, the idea that some global effects of climate change will only affect certain regions. The effects he identified as potentials were:
(i) The likelihood of catastrophic outcomes; (ii) The potential distribution of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ within an economy, both over space and through time; (iii) Whether winners and losers can be reliably identified through improved modeling in sufficient time to allow effective policy formulation; (iv) Evaluation of the costs and benefits of climatic change prevention compared with those generated by responding to changed climate through adjustment; and (v) Evaluation of the costs of attempting to maintain the status quo compared with managed adaptation to changing environmental conditions.
” (Jones, 126) In essence, Jones begin his argument by saying that it is the socio-economic factors of global warming which might be more devastating to humanity than the actual physical changes on the planet. Much ado, he says, has been made about the effect the rising of the mean sea level on the planet could have in areas such as Bangladesh, where 9 percent of the population would be affected by a rising sea level, creating millions of climate refugees or in Egypt, where the nation could lose as much as 15 percent of its farmland to rising water (Jones, 127).
None of these factors threatens the existence of humanity, but they do threaten life as we know it. Changes in weather patterns, top soil erosion and rainfall could have enormous effects on agricultural production, for instance, which may have a major effect on the world’s economy, but it is unlikely to have such a far-reaching effect as to produce global food shortages. Jones does not completely negate the idea that humanity could face dire consequences associated with global climate change, but he does argue that they are more likely to be economic than physical.
(127). However, Jones also argues that the ability to predict the impact of global warming on geomorphology and the biosphere is somewhat limited. Specifically, he claims that: “Predicting changes in the atmospheric composition of greenhouse gases remains problematic because of uncertainty as to existing sources, pathways, fluxes and stores of the various gases involved, combined with difficulties of estimating future patterns of human inputs (Houghton et al. , 1990, 1992; DOE, 1991; Wigley and Raper, 1992) ;
2 Climate is the great integrator and, therefore, reflects a huge range of influences, both global and extra-terrestrial, some natural others human-induced, working at varying temporal and spatial scales. Both identifying and predicting the influences of greenhouse gases are, therefore, extremely difficult; 3 The relationship between greenhouse gases and climatic parameters is not simple because of both positive and negative feedback mechanisms, step-wise changes resulting from the existence of threshold conditions, synergies, and the complex influence of the oceans and their circulation patterns ;
4 Predicting change remains hampered by lack of knowledge regarding system parameters (e. g. ocean-atmosphere coupling) and the awesome magnitude of the computing task required by the most sophisticated models. ” (Jones, 126-127) Perhaps the most important part of the thesis that Jones is trying to make is that once we have accepted that global warming is affected by human action, we must therefore accept that we can affect how significant that climate change will be.
Specifically, Jones talks about the potential impact of actions taken to mitigate global warming including attempts to reduce the production of greenhouse gases and actions taken with regard to soil shift which is likely to occur rapidly during the temperature increase. Efforts to discuss beach erosion, cliff erosion and affects on deltas and coral islands should emphasize what actions can be taken to lessen the effect of rising ocean levels. Any action then taken to attempt to control these forces of natures will have a substantial effect on the outcome related to those climate changes.
The first thing I noticed about this article is that it was published nearly 15 years ago, making some of its basic assumptions rather obsolete. For example, Jones discusses the massive computer power needed to perform the complex projections related to weather patterns and global warming. While it is possible that this limitation was considered a severe one in 1993, the rapid expansion of computer processing power means that more recent looks at global warming can attempt to analyze weather-related data and infer probability based on those history patterns.
Furthermore, the computer models can be very detailed and discuss specific projected ocean levels in individual cities or nations and over a specific time frame. No longer is it just a cataclysmic claim that the sea levels will rise, but it is a specific claim regarding how much water will be where. The second thing I noticed about this article was that it was published in the midst of some of the worst flooding in modern United States history, the great flood of 1993 on the Mississippi River.
Flood levels that year reached beyond the 100-year-floodplain and ignited questions about the effects of changing weather patterns on agriculture and population centers in the central United States. Since then, we have seen major flooding along several major rivers in the United States including the Rio Grande, the Missouri River and the Ohio River, while at the same time seeing the Colorado River suffer from enormous drought conditions, creating a lack of potable water for major western American cities. On the British Isles, we recently observed massive flooding along the Thames River and associated death and destruction.
Already, just 15 years after Jones’ article, we are seeing the effects of global warming as weather patterns shift causing record heat waves in Europe, killing hundreds, and shifts in the American food producing states where rain seems to come at inappropriate times or inappropriate amounts. Next, I began to consider Jones’ theory that massive global climate change is primarily concerning most people because of the economic shifts it will likely cause. If several countries see their major crops begin to die out because of a climate shift, will we see the food production belts shift further northward and further southward from the equator?
And, what effect will this have on the habitable portions of the world? As additional areas of the world become classified as tropical and subtropical, what will be the effect on population patterns? Will regions now largely devoted to population centers need to give the land back to agrarian tasks? Already we are seeing the effects of the global climate shift in India and Pakistan. India with about 1 billion people does not have the ecological resources to support its population, including, but not limited to, clean water.
This contributes to the political instability of the region as Pakistan and other Indian neighbors face regular mass immigration from India. These massive population shifts are causing or contributing to political strife worldwide. Likewise, as food production suffers because populations are no longer nomadic and able to follow the seasons to appropriate growing conditions, it seems likely that increased international strife will develop over the supply of natural resources ranging from deciduous trees to natural grains.
Further impacting this is a move to biofuels as an attempt to curb the production of greenhouse gases. So far, we have been able to observe that the high demand for grains and sugar cane to be converted in to ethanol and other biofuels has begun to drive up the cost of food stuffs on an international basis. As some point, the system will break and people will demand that they be able to afford to eat. Perhaps the most interesting portion of Jones’ article is his claim that the doomsday predictions are overblown and that climate change is not necessarily a cataclysmic event.
Though it is unlikely that human-induced climate change will be the cause of an extinction event, it appears more likely that the economic and political strife caused by the climate change may cause severe population reducing events including limited warfare or extinction events such as a nuclear confrontation. Given the recent receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize to American Albert Gore Jr. for his work on informing the public about global warming, the lessons of Jones’ article are particularly timely.
His advice that a plan for mitigating the effects of global warming needs to be developed and implemented beginning in the 1990s and extending to 2050 is very well received. The only tragedy is that this advice was soundly ignored for the first decade after he gave it and real attention to global warming has only come in recent years as a result of the Kyoto Treaty and efforts like those of Gore. It seems unthinkable that the debate over the validity of the science of global warming still exists when there is evidence of its existence and of humanity’s effect on it.
I feared at first when reading Jones’ introduction that he was going to be one of the people who claim that the climate shift is part of a semi-predictable pattern of geological history as so many naysayers are wont to do. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that his analysis acknowledges that it is happening at an accelerated rate because of the impact of humanity and his statements in support of the idea that humanity can thus also mitigate its impact on the globe and on the species.
More importantly perhaps is that some of Jones’ suggestions can be applied to mitigating the effects of global climate even if the climate change is a completely natural cycle unaffected by the pollutants added to the atmosphere by humanity. Efforts to prevent soil erosion and to minimize building in floodplains make simple sense. Anyone who simply accepts the fact of changing weather patterns can easily see the logic in these efforts regardless of whether they have any desire to reduce their carbon footprint.
Using technological advances to help prevent soil loss during flood events and to insist that populations take climate change into consideration are of value regardless of the causes of global warming. Furthermore, Jones’ explanation regarding the geological history of interglacial periods can be viewed as reassuring to even those who are convinced of the human factor in global warming. At some times, the earth has undergone rapid ecological change in the past and the biosphere has not been destroyed.
Therefore, his conclusions that global warming is neither something to be ignored nor the world ending event that it has been portrayed as is a very lucid approach. Too many zealots follow the anti-global warming crusades with a fervor that is as unhealthy as ignoring the issue could be. Simple changes in everyone can help prevent the need to massively adjust our lifestyles by mid-century. Efforts must be made to preserve the coastlines as much as possible and to prevent soil erosion when flooding occurs.
Simple efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be attempted as well and people should adjust to the ideas of different crop patterns and therefore a different distribution of food resources. We should also prepare for an influx of immigrants from nations where receding coasts will leave populations with no place to live and we should take international action to address issues like the sub-Saharan drought in Africa, encouraging the sharing of natural resources like water among neighbor states.
With these efforts now and an eye toward the issues that global warming will create in the relatively near future, we can prevent climate change from becoming an extinction event. If we ignore it, the strife brought on by it will likely be the end of humanity. Works Cited Jones, David K. C. “Global Warming and Geomorphology”, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 159, No. 2, July 1993, pp. 124-130.
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