You may see adds on TV, that say “send money to Africa” or some other country of interest. These adds are created by people who want to help others. They try to make you look at the world and its issues through compassion. With the medium of television, social media, and the like, people have had the ability to connect more often, and more effectively. With them, we can see more clearly the issues in the world around us, and hopefully, try to solve them. In my opinion, never in human history have we had such a large problem, and such a large means to solve it than we do right now. As governments and policy makers look at the details of bureaucracy, healthcare, taxes, what have you, sea levels rise and those developing nations go under water. The largest emitters are not the ones who bear the brunt of the issue (Clark). Those effected by climate change seem to not be covered in the media. The media covers the things that are obvious, that are statistical and photographical; the people starving and dying of disease. They can only cover the massive hurricanes like the recent typhoon in the Philippines, not the longterm trends. Climate change is the silent killer more so than any disease in human history, and possibly in the history of life. The great irony is that solving climate change is not a selfless act to preserve the environment. The environment will survive, it will come back with new life, but humans won’t unless they adapt. Solving climate change is the salvation of the human race, and those that accept it are looking for solutions, that need to be found. To coordinate international cooperation, foreign and international policy regarding climate change needs to be addressed. That is where change will be made on a world wide scale. Science is the key to understanding the world’s problems, and policy and cooperation are the lock and the door to solutions.
The key to addressing a problem is first understanding it. To do this, we will look at the global carbon cycle (see figure 1).
As shown, carbon in the air is processed by plants to produce oxygen. This is called carbon fixation (a redox reaction, see figure 2).
CO2 + H2O + light energy —> CH2O (stands for a simple carbohydrate) + O2.(Green) (Figure 2)
As shown above, through the process of photosynthesis energy is converted to, and is stored in the form of, carbohydrates (represented by CH2O). Carbohydrates are then converted into useable energy in plants and other forms of life, by the reverse process (with energy instead of light energy, see figure 3). The carbohydrates may also be used as is, or in other reactions, to create complex structures i.e. plant cell walls, etc…(Green)
CH2O (stands for a simple carbohydrate) + O2 —>. CO2 + H2O + energy.(Green) (Figure 3)
Through the process of decomposing, carbon is released again into the cycle. In some cases, the carbon is trapped in the ground, and over time due to movements of the dirt and soil, is compressed in the earth to form fossil fuels. A major contributor to climate change is the burning of these fuels i.e. coal, natural gas, oil, etc… which results in the anthropogenic production of green house gasses. Currently, we produce so much CO2 that only 40% of our output can be processed annually by the environment, through this cycle.(Green)
This system is being put out of balance by climate change. The amount of CO2 the climate can support is being exceeded, and consequences are clear. The IPCC’s (Which stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) recently published fifth assessment report shows the scientific consensus and concern. A summary by Gian-Kasper Plattner, director of science for the IPCC Working Group I, regarding the groups contribution to the report explained that:
In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence)(5).
The observed warming 1951−2010 is approximately 0.6°C to 0.7°C(8).
Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century and virtually certain beyond 2100(14).
It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century(10).
There is clear scientific consensus on the issue of climate change, with 97% of climate scientists agreeing (NASA), adding support (and fear) to the trends predicted and observed. The IPCC forecasts that the area hit hardest is currently and will be the third world (Vidal).
Institutions focusing on world economics are concerned about this, like the world bank who believes without action now, years of social/economic progress will be worthless, and that climate change threatens to put prosperity out of reach for millions (World Bank). The increased intensity of storms as a result of rising sea levels (see figure 5.) will affect the smallest nations most. With the known fact that climate change exists, and that it is an issue, a question arises of whose fault it is, and who is responsible to fix it. Small nations say it is their turn to industrialize, and that they should not be limited in their pursuits by regulations to solve the issues the first world created. Larger nations protest that despite this unfairness, the world can not allow the same mistakes to be made.
As shown to the right in figure 6, since 1870, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased (Plattner). Although not related to climate change, government intervention to solve environmental problems can be dated back to the turn of the 20th century, with the progressive era and its presidents, coinciding with the conservation movement in the United States. Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive president and conservationist, established the parks system, preserving many natural areas to prolong their usefulness. This was a fundamental change in ideas, first, it accepted that humans have an impact on the environment, and second, it used policy to protect it.
In 1962, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published, which highlighted on the connection of man and nature, and man’s new ability to control and destroy it. (A Fierce Green Fire)
Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world.
– Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring
As we go into the 70s, the same participants in the civil rights and anti-war movements fought for the cause of environmental protection (A Fierce Green Fire), a cause brought to national attention with the first Earth Day in 1970 (Cooper). The policy results of this rebirth of environmentalism can be found in the clean air act, the clean water act, and the endangered species protection act (see figure 7).
The domestic concern which ignited national policy change, also stimulated international policy. The United Nations, founded in 1945 (United Nations), sought to be a tool of international peace and prosperity, through discussion and cooperation. As an extension of this, it attempted to address environmental issues, one of the most famous bids of which was the Kyoto Protocol.
The protocol, adopted in 1997 (Kyoto Protocol), tried to address the growing issue and fear of climate change. As shown to the right; however (see figure 8.), the overall success of the protocol is questionable. Some believe that it was a failure, but it is worth noting that it was a strong first step, for the international conversation, even though its physical climate impact was negligible (Clark, Kyoto). Of all of the countries combined that adopted the protocol, there was a significant decline in emissions, but not all nations signed on, specifically in the third world (Clark, Kyoto), which was largely exempt, plus China. Most developed nations did; however, adopt it. Yet overall, global green house gas levels spiked since Kyoto went into effect (Clark, Kyoto).
For the international community to solve the issue of climate change, they first had (and have) to understand it. This is shown through the creation of the IPCC (mentioned earlier) in 1988 (IPCC, History). The group sought (and seeks) to understand the issue of climate change, with science, through the lens of possible solutions. In 2007, the IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work (along with Al Gore) (IPCC, History). Overall, their contributions show the ability of science and policy to coincide, and from this, the solutions that can be produced.
The solutions to anthropogenic climate change are somewhat controversial. In my view, policy is the only method to achieve the massive cooperation necessary for change. Technology and science could be used to limit energy use by making more efficient systems, investing in nuclear power (and research in nuclear fusion), and changing habits. Sustainable development, a current goal of the UN (United Nations), could be achieved in the third world through incentives. Other lures can be put in place in developed nations, along with accountability through systems like cap and trade, or a carbon tax.
Never has there been greater opportunity for global unification under the banner of solving a problem. We have the tools and it is within our reach. Through science and understanding along with implementation of solutions on the world stage, climate change can be solved for future generations.
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“7.3 The Carbon Cycle and the Climate System.” – AR4 WGI Chapter 7: Couplings Between Changes in the Climate System and Biogeochemistry. IPCC, 2007. Web. May 2015. <https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch7s7-3.html>.
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