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Chilling thoughts...

© Kat Morgenstern 2003

hurry (9K)Have you noticed anything odd about the weather recently? One hurricane after another thrashing the Caribbean and swooping up into Florida, heat wave continuing throughout the western States, floods in China and Bangladesh, ...the list of extreme weather events goes on and on. The human and material costs are enormous.

The weather is changing. Everybody has heard the term - global warming - but are we taking it seriously?

No. While scientists and politicians argue endlessly about whether global temperatures are climbing or falling and what the effects may be, ... the public shrugs its shoulders, what can we do? 'If the climate is heating up maybe I don't have to go so far from home to enjoy a sunny summer anymore' some northern folks might hope...

But the fact is that nobody really knows how climate change will affect any particular place on earth at any particular time, and that is just one of the crucial problems scientists just can't agree upon. The weather can be fickle at the best of times, but with a whole array of 'factor X's thrown in anything could happen anytime, anywhere. 'So why worry about something we can't be sure of, and can't do anything about anyway?' some people may argue. Years of talking have led to complacency, even if most scientists now seem to agree that 'something' is happening.

We are facing an unprecedented situation the parameters and feedback effects of which we do not fully understand - that is why it is so difficult to come up with a reliable model that would help us predict the impending predicament. We have to imagine what could happen and take preventative action to circumvent the worst case scenario - that is what the Kyoto protocol is all about. We know that excessive CO2 emissions, released when we burn carbon fuels, traps heat in the atmosphere, but how will that impact our everyday lives, or the environment at large, or the economy?

Well, we don't know all the feedback mechanisms - climate is a complicated thing. But we do know that ice sheets are melting, glaciers are shrinking and water levels are rising as we speak. We know that we have witnessed more extreme temperatures, more storms, hurricanes and draughts in the past couple of decades than at any other time since records were started. We know that ecosystems are highly complex communities of co-evolving life-forms that have adjusted to a particular set of environmental factors, such as average rainfall or temperature, within which they live and thrive. Variations on such factors may only affect one or two species of a particular eco-system directly, perhaps causing their decline or eventual extinction. But in an interrelated web of life all the other species may be affected by their absence in such a way that the community as a whole will be perilled. A vacuum needs to be filled. Other species, better adapted to the new climatic conditions may take over - more than like to the detriment of the overall ecological balance.

Warmer winters have already been blamed on an increase of harmful insect populations. Larvae, which would normally be controlled by icy temperatures during the winter months survive, giving rise to a menacing swarm of hungry parasites that is not just a bother, but potentially can ruin crops - and livelihoods. Warmer weather also provides better living conditions for bacteria and other pathogens.

Increased flooding around the globe, as we have seen in recent years, also has numerous dire and expensive consequences. Apart from the obvious, death toll among victims, the material damage to crops or dwellings, and homelessness among countless flood victims, there are also less obvious consequences - valuable top soil gets washed into the ocean leaving a wasteland behind. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for disease; environmental toxins and human or animal waste matter, previously confined, often get absorbed in the toxic brew and sloshed around, ...

Elsewhere draughts parch the countryside, increasing fire hazards and threatening to drain the life from the land. Errosion, desertification, salination...leaving barren ground.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, 'weather-related disasters including floods, droughts, and windstorms are growing in frequency and intensity. Since 1980, 10,867 weather-related disasters have caused more than 575,000 deaths and have forced many more people to flee their homes. Since 1980, the cost of weather-related disasters has totaled more than $1 trillion.'

Changing ocean temperatures also affects the ecologic balance below sea level - fish populations are very specific with regard to the temperature ranges they can tolerate, a few degrees either side may spell their total demise. The ecologic balance of the ocean does not only affect what we might find on our dinner plate. Although we know very little about the role of the ocean, we do know that it is vitally important to keeping our climatic living conditions balanced and comfortable to support a wide range of living species - and not just those within its water.

What we are tampering with is the balance of life. We know that the game is dangerous, yet some politicians seem to refuse to take action until there is undeniable proof. We can't afford to wait that long. By that time it will almost certainly be too late to do anything about it.

The US is responsible for about 25% of CO2 emissions worldwide, the largest polluter among the community of all nations. Yet, it has refused to sign the Kyoto treaty on the grounds that it would be too costly for the US economy (the most powerful economic force in the world) to implement energy efficiency changes that could reduce emissions and avert the unfathomable, yet very real threat we are all facing.

The fact is that the US, as the single largest polluter, has a responsibility, not just towards its own people, but towards the entire world. Unfortunately, pollution, CO2 emissions or the subsequent weather changes do not stop at the border. They spread around the globe and the consequences are felt by all. Often the poorest people suffer worst from climatic disasters. Island nations are in the front line of danger - rising water levels mean that they will literally be inundated. Shanti-towns don't withstand much flooding and their inhabitants often loose everything they have in just one big storm.

All this is very depressing and seems an issue too large to fathom. It is easy to get completely overwhelmed by its magnitude. But what can we do - you and I?

First of all we must acknowledge that not dealing with this problem is going to be a whole lot more expensive and risky than to try our best to do something about it and although it may seem as though there is not a lot we can do, we must all start somewhere - with our own lifestyles. Here are some suggestions that will help you save money and help reduce co2 emissions at the same time:

  1. Make consumer choices based on energy considerations, e.g. buy only new appliances that have excellent energy efficiency ratings;
  2. Elaborate packaging costs a lot of energy and resources to produce and usually serves only one purpose: to be thrown away and fill up garbage dumps. Try to buy things with as little unnecessary packaging as possible.
  3. Buy things that are produced locally - transport of items from half way around the world is very energy costly. Plus, you will support your local economy.
  4. Take steps to insulate your house, especially around the windows and roof.
  5. Don't leave the lights on unnecessarily and use energy efficient light bulbs, or at least low wattage bulbs and applications.
  6. Use a thermostat to regulate temperatures and set it at a reasonable constant. It is not really necessary to recreate the tropical weather conditions of your summer holiday in your own home in the midst of winter.
  7. Support tree planting schemes or schemes to save tropical forest. Most of the world's carbon is locked up within living trees, e.g. in the Amazon. Forest destruction spells increased CO2 levels.
  8. Consider walking, taking the bicycle or using public transport.
  9. Consider organising a car sharing or pooling scheme.
  10. Lobby the US government to ratify the Kyoto treaty.
  11. Lobby industry to adopt energy efficiency standards

RESOURCES

image001 (4K)
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the heat is on
High Tide : The Truth About Our Climate Crisis
Mark Lynas; Paperback;

Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists Are Fueling the Climate Crisis--And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster
by Ross Gelbspan

The Heat Is on: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription
by Ross Gelbspan

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