“The Earth has a fever, and the fever is rising… We are what is wrong, and we must make it right” (Al Gore, 2007). In the context of global warming, discuss the extent to which you agree with this statement.
For the last 2.5 million years, global temperature has shifted between cold glacial periods that last for around 100 000 years, and warmer interglacial periods that last for around 10 000 years. Right now we are in an interglacial period. 20 000 years ago the Earth was cold. Around 15000 years ago it started to warm up, this was the end of the last glacial period.
Over the last 10 000 years the climate has been warm with minor fluctuations, however over the last 1000 years the climate has been fairly constant with small fluctuations in annual temperature. Over the last century global temperature has increased rapidly. This is called global warming; there has been a sharp rise in average temperature, 0.7oc between 1900 and 2000. The temperature increase over the last century has been very fast.
There is a consensus among scientists that the changes in climate over the last century are a result in human activities (anthropogenic causes), including Al Gore, as shown in the statement which I agree with. I think the majority of global warming is due to humans therefore it is our right to try and find solutions to diminish global warming as much as we can. There is a scientific consensus that the recent rise in global temperature (global warming) is caused by human enhancement of the greenhouse effect, where greenhouse gases absorb outgoing long-wave radiation, so less is reflected back to space and is essential for keeping the planet warm.
However, too much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere means too much energy is trapped and the planet warms up. One of the key findings in the IPCC report is the attribution of more than half the increase in global surface temperatures from 1951-2010 to human activities, underlining the dominant role of fossil fuel burning as a driver for climate change.
Increasing amounts of CO2 and methane are the main contributors towards the recent rise in temperature, but other greenhouse gases include nitrous oxide, water vapour and ozone. In 2013 concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere were 142% of what they were before the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations have gone up by 253% and nitrous oxide 121% of pre-industrial levels. Carbon dioxide is responsible for four-fifths of the increase in warming by greenhouse gases. Humans are increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases mainly by burning fossil fuels; CO2 is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas and petrol are burnt, e.g. in power stations or in cars. Deforestation is also a main anthropogenic cause of the increase in temperature. Plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into organic matter using photosynthesis and is stored in the soil as dead organic matter. When trees and plants are chopped down, they stop taking in CO2. CO2 is also released into the atmosphere when trees are burnt as fuel or to make way for agriculture.
Thirdly, using nitrogen-based fertilisers to grow crops increases nitrous oxide emissions. Farming of livestock produces lot of methane along with flooded rice paddy fields. Since 1750, it is estimated that about two thirds of anthropogenic climate change CO2 emissions have come from fossil fuel burning and about one third from land use change (mainly deforestation and agricultural). About 45% of this CO2 has remained in the atmosphere, while about 30% has been taken up by the oceans and the remainder has been taken up by the trees and plants. Aerosols are small particles present in the atmosphere with widely varying size, concentration and chemical composition. Some aerosols are emitted directly into the atmosphere while others are formed from emitted compounds. Aerosols contain both naturally occurring compounds and those emitted as a result of human activities. Fossil fuel and biomass burning have increased aerosols containing sulphur compounds, organic compounds and black carbon (soot).
Human activities such as surface mining and industrial processes have increased dust in the atmosphere. There have been recent trends in burning fossil fuels; the USA contributes to the most greenhouse gases alone, with 20%. General trends have been found in graphs that the richer the country the more emissions they produce, however there are some anomalies such as China, India and Russia. In developed countries, over ¾ of CO2 is from burning fossil fuels (81%) and in developing countries only 41% of CO2 is from fossil fuels burning and 33% of CO2 is produced from land use change and foresting. There has been evidence for climate change, mainly historical, physical and biological evidence. Historical records can indirectly show different conditions in the past, for example agricultural reports show changing conditions throughout human history.
Historical records can include cave paintings, depth of grave digging in Greenland, diaries, documentary evidence of events, such as ‘frost fairs’ on the Thames in the Tudor times and evidence of areas of former vine cultivation. Details of weather conditions have been consistently collected since 1861 and these can be used to show detailed climate changes over the short period. Since 1873 daily weather reports have been documented, and the Royal Society has encouraged the collection of data since the seventeenth century; parish records are a good source of climate change. Furthermore, we can see the expansion of the Viking civilisation was due to a warmer era, the ‘medieval warm period’. Some physical evidence includes ice core analysis when scientists drill deep into ice sheets to extract cores of ice. By analysing gases trapped when the ice formed and the chemistry of the ice they can tell what the temperature was each year and work out how it has changed over time, for example high CO2 levels in ice indicate a warm climate at that time. Pollen analysis is another way of checking temperature levels.
Scientists know the climatic conditions that plants live in now, and when they find preserved pollen from similar plants, it helps them understand what the climate was like when that pollen was produced. Lastly, dendrochronology is another useful way to find past temperature levels as when a tree grows it forms a new tree ring each year, the tree rings are thicker in warm, wet conditions. Scientists take cores and count the rings to find the age of the tree. Tree rings can reliably show and date climate conditions up to 10 000 years ago. These pieces of evidence definitely prove Al Gore’s statement by showing that there is evidence in nature and historical records that global warming is increasing, mainly due to anthropological reasons. This increase in global temperatures because of humans has many impacts globally. Gore points out the increase in wildfires, the melting glaciers and gradual drying up of all continents as undeniable proof of global warming.
The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has doubled in the last 30 years and global sea levels could rise 20 feet by the end of the century, creating tens of millions of refugees, according to his documentary. With average global temperatures rising, there will be a significant, yet unpredictable, changes to the world’s climates. Low-lying islands and countries are already experiencing the effects of sea level rise. The IPCC predicted that sea levels may rise by up to 1 metre. The rising sea levels and heavy storms put islands like the Maldives or Tuvalu in danger. In the Maldives over 300,000 people live on over 1100 islands, most of which lie only 2cm above sea level. Many people living on low lying islands have been forced to leave the island due to water supplies becoming more saline and poisoning of farming areas due to the salt water. The island of Tuvalu will have to be evacuated by the end of the century; many have already moved to New Zealand or Fiji. Bangladesh is likely to be the worst affected by global warming. It is one of the poorest nations in the world and is one of the most ill-prepared to face the challenges presented by climate change.
Countries such as the UK will be affected as the temperatures will increase, the increase is expected to be greatest in Southern England, where the average summer temperature is projected to increase by 3.9oC by 2080. Winter rainfall is expected to increase in many areas, by up to 35% in parts of the western side of the UK and summer rainfall is expected to decrease in many areas, by up to 49% in parts of Southern England, meaning more frequent and intense droughts. Countries such as Australia will have worst and more unpredictable cyclones, especially as sea levels rise. Equatorial areas are expected to get hotter, e.g. temperature in the Amazon basin is predicted to increase by 2-3oC by 2050, receiving less rainfall overall and rain may be more seasonal. This would cause ecosystems to change – e.g. large areas of the Amazon rainforest may become savannah due to reduced rainfall during the dry season.
Species are expected to become extinct, so biodiversity will decrease. A longer dry season would decrease agricultural productivity, affecting many towns and cities that rely on it and increase the risk of forest fires. The ice caps are melting at a high rate; Arctic sea ice has decreased by 10-15% since the 1950s and this is causing negative impacts all over the world, affecting animals, humans and ecosystems as temperatures will dramatically change in the near future if, as Al Gore says, we do not make it right, as we are partly to blame for global warming. The observed global mean surface temperature increase has slowed over the past 15 years compared to the past 30 to 60 years with the trend over 1998-2012 estimated to be around one third to one half of the trend over 1951-2012. This ‘hiatus’ is probably due to the cooling influences from natural radiative forcings (more volcanic eruptions and reducing output from the sun as part of the natural 11 year solar cycle) and internal variability (fluctuations within the oceans unrelated to forcings).
Even with this ‘hiatus’ in the surface temperature warming trend, 2000-2010 has been the warmest decade in the instrumental record, which began in the mid-19th century. The climate system has continued to accumulate energy, for example energy accumulation in the oceans has caused the global mean sea level to continue rising. As we know the human causes have affected the global temperature, although there has also been evidence for climatic causes of the increase in global warming, such as plate tectonics, solar cycles, and variations in orbit, volcanic eruptions and ocean circulation. Over millions of years, the continents have moved across the different climate zones and can account for long-term geological climate change however cannot explain short-term changes as the plates move very slowly and cannot affect rapid changes in weather.
Solar output in short-term cycles have been suggested by scientists to be responsible for the Little Ice Age, however hasn’t been proven. Slight variations in the Earth’s orbit and tilt affect the distribution of radiation on the Earth. When the Earth’s orbit is most elliptical, the amount of solar energy received at the closest point would be in the range of 20 to 30% more than at the furthest point, changing the climate significantly (interglacial). Large volcanic eruptions throw huge amounts of particles into the atmosphere, possibly reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth, causing temperatures to cool. Lastly, short term changes in ocean circulation, also known as El Niño and La Niña, have been found to impact the climate every few years. As oceans are a massive store of energy, long-term variations may have an influence on climate change.
While there is still considerable debate about the causes of global warming, the IPCC have stated that global climate change is ‘very likely’ to have a human cause. Although Al Gore believes the Earth has suffered irreversible damage, he also insists it’s not too late to take action; there have been ways in which organisations/countries/businesses have tried mitigation or adaptation in order to combat global warming. Mitigation projects tackle the underlying cause: the build-up of greenhouse gases, such as switching to renewable energy sources and reducing fossil fuel use, using public transport instead of individual cars and using carbon taxes to discourage emissions. Adaptation projects deal with the consequences of climate change, such as constructing sea defences, breeding new varieties of crops that are drought resistant and need little irrigation and resettling people to new areas that are less vulnerable to coastal and river flooding.
Gore encouraged people to become part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem. He advocated becoming “carbon neutral” — reducing greenhouse gas emissions by planting more trees and avoid driving as much as possible. David Mackay is a Physics Professor and Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. He enforces mitigation by aiming to reduce and or/increase supply of energy being used. He says that wind turbines, tidal farms and solar cells would need to be placed all over the UK if we pursue to maintain our present, unsustainable lifestyle. A problem with this is that wind farms the size of Wales will need to be built in order to make significant changes. Demand for power can be reduced by reducing the population, changing our lifestyle, or keeping our lifestyle but reduce the amount of energy we use. He suggests we could invest in nuclear fission, however disposal can be dangerous and difficult as it is poisonous. By watching the documentary ‘Hot Planet’ I understand that many countries have already started to combat climate change.
For example, Spain are using solar power energy sources to power 50,000 homes and the energy is able to be stored when there is no sun. Portugal have introduced ocean wave farms and Nuclear Power in France. Iceland has started using geothermal power due to the volcanic land. No green-house gases are used and don’t use fossil fuels for power. Lastly, in UAE, Masdar City is currently being built, the world’s first zero-carbon city is being built in Abu Dhabi and is designed to be not only free of cars and skyscrapers but also powered by the sun. Some international responses to combat global warming includes the Kyoto Protocol, which aimed to reduce emissions by introducing carbon credits.
Climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly, according to the most important assessment of global warming yet published. The stark report states that climate change has already increased the risk of severe heat waves and other extreme weather and warns of worse to come, including food shortages and violent conflicts. But it also found that ways to avoid dangerous global warming are both available and affordable. The recent IPCC report has brought together all aspects of tackling climate change and for the first time states: that it is economically affordable; that carbon emissions will ultimately have to fall to zero; and that global poverty can only be reduced by halting global warming. The report also makes clear that carbon emissions, mainly from burning coal, oil and gas, are currently rising to record levels, not falling. “We have the means to limit climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development.
All we need is the will to change.” Carbon capture and storage (CCS) aims to bury CO2 underground – is deemed extremely important by the IPPC. It estimates that the cost of the big emissions cuts required would more than double without CCS. Some 15-40% of released CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for over 1000 years after those emissions have ended, meaning some fraction of climate change will be irreversible. It is ‘virtually certain’ (99-100%) that sea level rise will continue into the next century and the Greenland Ice Sheet may melt in a millennium or more, causing a global mean sea level rise of up to 7m. however there are various methods and technologies that have been proposed to counter climate change, such as geoengineering. As I and many others agree with Al Gore’s statement and the IPCC, others do not. For example, Dr Lindzen a climate professor at MIT finds the IPCC report, that global warming is increasing and is our fault, ‘hilariously incoherent’ and believes that global warming is actually slowing down and thinks global warming is just an assumption and has not been totally justified.
At the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, 192 governments are aiming for a new global agreement to constrain greenhouse gas emissions and curb human-induced climate change. But some commentators are unconvinced that rising greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of modern-day warming, going against Al Gore’s ideas of anthropogenic factors being the main cause of global warming. The IPCC concluded that “it is extremely likely that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010”. Over this time period, greenhouse gases contributed a global mean surface warming between 0.5oC and 1.3oC.
Other anthropogenic causes (such as land use changes and other atmospheric pollution) contributed between -0.6oC and 0.1oC. Natural sources (such as changes in the sun and in volcanic eruptions) contributed between -0.1 and 0.1oC. In terms of Al Gore’s statement, I agree that anthropogenic factors are the main cause of the Earth’s ‘rising fever’ to the extent that data, new and old, has proven we are the main cause, along with smaller sources affecting the climate including natural and physical causes, therefore I agree that it is our problem to fix it. However, many studies have shown that a lot of the problems are irreversible, therefore our main solutions will have to be either mitigation, adaptation and to act now to stop the fever getting worse.