Climate Change Overview
Our planet is warming. The big concern is the role that human activity is playing in raising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. This is a consequence of the relentless demand for fossil fuelled energy by a still growing world population that aspires to share in the energy rich lifestyle that we in the West, now enjoy.
The Arctic ice cap and most glaciers are melting at alarming rates leading to changes in the activity of the north Atlantic Gulf Stream. Compounding the human release of carbon dioxide is the possible melting of permafrost in the Siberian tundra and the massive release of methane, another greenhouse gas. Once released into the atmosphere, CO2 persists for up to 100 years.
Predicting how these changes will affect the future for our kids is difficult, but a rising planetary temperature certainly poses a real threat to their wellbeing. Increased hurricane activity, rising sea levels, changing rainfall patterns, threats to biodiversity and food production, drastic changes in ocean chemistry, and the possibility of a sudden “flip” to Ice Age conditions in the northern hemisphere make it distinctly possible that if we cannot constrain human induced greenhouse gas emissions, huge areas of the planet could become uninhabitable in the lifetimes of our children or grandchildren.
What can we do about it?
There is plenty that we can do.
Because this is a global problem, it requires cooperative international action. The Kyoto Protocol which the United States has so far refused to ratify and which Australia recently ratified, is the first of many crucial international agreements that could help to reduce CO2 emissions to safer levels. Switching from fossil fuels such as oil and coal to renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal, hydro, wind and wave energy could drastically reduce our emissions and there are major efforts by Australian scientists to change the atmospheric impact of the burning of fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is another form of energy which could spare use of fossil fuels but it poses another set of problems.
We can also lower our use of energy in a variety of ways and there are many actions that individual householders can take to make their use of energy more efficient and reduce their call on fossil fuels. There are also many ways in which financial incentives could change the way we use energy including development of mandatory caps on emissions and a national and international market in carbon emissions.
A key reason why genuine remedial action has been delayed is the concern that politicians all over the world have about the short term economic consequences that could result if they tackle the problem seriously. Until the community insists that we take a long-term view, short-term electoral concerns will prevail.
Three things we all do now to change things
- Join a local SEE-Change group or take steps to initiate one in our local area.
- Inform ourselves about the nature and extent of the climate challenge and ways we can all change our behaviour to adapt to and mitigate against the changes ahead.
- Act to lower our own personal and regional ecological footprints by: making our homes and lives more energy efficient, questioning our reliance on the car, reducing the amount of packaging we bring home and lobbying our local politicians, to name a few.
SEE-Change Committees are currently working on ways to help us do some of the above actions, but we need your help. Contact us if you want to get involved.