Global warming – a real cause for concern?

Global warming and climate change – both are familiar terms within an average household. Understanding the key yet simplistic relationship, as well as the distinction between the two is paramount in understanding the potential changes that will occur perhaps unpredictably, both within our lifetimes and beyond. Climate change is the gradual change of the earths temperature, that has occurred over millions of years and as far as data demonstrates, cannot currently be solely controlled by humans. However, global warming is very much an influence on climate change, as increasingly, human activity has been shown to increase the rate at which the average global temperature is rising. This is primarily due to the evolution within society. For example, causes of this include more efficient fertiliser that produces nitrogen as well as cows producing methane, and not forgetting the ever increasing levels of fossil fuels being burnt; only further demonstrating fuels inelastic demand even in the restraining times we are now experiencing. In short, I believe that this inelasticity only further proves that global warming is an inconvenience in today’s busy and hectic society. Do we all really have time to wait for a bus when we could simply drive, and is it really worth spending significant amounts of time and money on investing in ways to control methane levels produced by cows? The question we all need to ask ourselves, is do we care significantly about future generations in order to alter our lifestyles? The division of opinion within the global society is the key route to this.

Temperature increases are primarily driven by the concept that increased levels of pollution, leading to an enhanced greenhouse effect. When put simplistically, more heat is trapped under the ozone layer in the stratosphere, as the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere continues to absorb the long wave radiation heat that the earth is emitting due to human activity. As the atmosphere becomes richer in carbon dioxide, so it absorbs more heat and thus leads to less heat escaping back into space. Therefore although it is evident that small scale alternations to our lifestyles such as recycling, turning the lights of and using more public transport rather than travelling individually will have a positive impact locally, changing the global output of pollutants is required in order to reduce the enhanced greenhouse effect. Some therefore question if local attempts therefore have an effect when countries such as China and America don’t support the concept of enforcing quotas on large firms pollutants. Of course small efforts have an effect, but obviously on a lesser scale.

Personally, I believe that a large scale shift in current ways is paramount in order for a noticeable change. There is an abundant array of of supporting evidence that global warming is increasing at an astonishing rate, particularly shown by Al Gore’s documentary – The Inconvenient Truth. Increasing precipitation levels, increasing sea levels, more extreme monsoon climates, large scale agricultural shifts and species distribution change to name but a few. In 1997 there was a large scale attempt to reduce the problem of global warming, with an international agreement begin formed called the Kyoto Protocol. This made a clean cut division between both developing and developed countries. Those who were currently developing didn’t have to cut emissions, but monitor and report their emissions. The already developed countries however had to cut emission levels by 2012, by 5% of the 1990 level. Over 190 countries joined, showing their commitment to reducing fossil fuel emission. However, some state that the most significant problem with this is due to the fact that four high emission countries refused to sign; America, China, India and Australia. It was also said to restrict growth of those emerging economies, and many countries failed to meet their targets. This subsequently ended in 2012 and provoked the creation of the Copenhagen Accord, with similar attempts. This however is not legally binding, so could be said to have problems from the outset.

Therefore when analysing the above, it is clear that global warming is a serious problem when America and China believe policies to reduce emissions are restrictive on economic activity. With America recently experiencing a ‘fiscal cliff’ and them believing that spending is paramount to get out of recession, cutting emission levels seem to be last on their list of important issues. Some state that the global recession and lack of production due to reduced demand therefore reduces emissions, but this I believe is only a short term, by-chance solution. With populations ever expanding and the growing need for technology improvements, global warming it seems, is a cause for concern, but one that comes secondary to those of growth.

Contributed by Elizabeth Down

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