Bhimsen Thapaliya, KATHMANDU: Greenhouse effect in its natural form is necessary as it helps the heat of the sun falling on the surface of the earth to stay back. Were all the heat to escape into the space, the earth would be very cold and inhospitable to live in. Atmospheric boon is that it provides air for animals and plants to breathe as well as keeping the earth warm. Then, why are we seeing greenhouse gases as culprits in reference to global warming and climate change? The problem is with the exceeding presence of carbon based greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are pushing heat beyond natural limit. The heat had to remain stable as per the natural process of heating and cooling. The problem of global warming started when this natural check and balance was disturbed. Human activities have been blamed for this.
Things took a disastrous turn after the industrial revolution that saw excessive emissions of carbon-dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels. Scientific records show that global temperatures are increasing on gradual basis with most recent years recorded to be hottest in history. Scientists have established a link between the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the earth’s average temperatures. As the largest component of greenhouse gases is made up of carbon, it has been scientifically ascertained that burning of fossil fuels is the chief culprit. According to the United Nations, “after more than a century and a half of industrialisation, deforestation, and large scale agriculture, quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years.” But industrial revolution is only one and half century old.
The earth has limited deposits of fossil fuels such as coal, petrol, diesel and kerosene and we will have to turn our attention to cleaner energy sources sooner or later. However, excessive burning of these carbon emitting substances will have done much harm to the planet before they are used up. These fuels are burned to run industries, operate vehicles, produce electricity, heat homes, do farming and process food. As populations keep growing, urbanisations expand and lifestyles get more consumerist, there is no pausing and looking back in this trend. “As populations, economies and standards of living grow, so does the cumulative level of greenhouse gas emissions,” says the United Nations. Can we afford to raise our life standard while degrading that for our posterity?
In the past one and a half centuries, global average temperatures have risen to nearly 1 degree Celsius. For a layman the increase may appear tiny and insignificant. But its consequences have already proved to be disastrous. Unprecedented and unexpected phenomena of natural calamities, weather patterns and their impacts on health, agriculture, livelihood, ecology and bio-diversity have been visible over the decades. Rainfall and snowfall patterns are changing with the occurrence of scanty or excessive rains. Longer droughts, altering of monsoon timing and altitudinal shifting of vegetation and wildlife prevalence have also been observed.
Permanent snowlines are shifting upwards due to rise in snow melting while former glaciers are turning into glacial lakes. When water volumes in these lakes increase to critical levels, the natural dam can no longer hold the water in place. Bursting of glacial lakes is not just a fairy tale or an alarmist assumption. Such events have really happened at different times in Nepal, Bhutan and China. In the event of such a disaster, the flash floods racing down the steep slopes can cause untold havoc in the downstream areas. Melting of huge masses of ice and snow in the polar areas has caused sea level to rise. Coastal towns and small island countries face the threats of inundation and situation is exacerbated by occurrence of increasingly catastrophic cyclones and hurricanes.
It has been a scientifically established that excessive emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has caused steady increase in temperatures and invited serious climatic changes. The impact of climate change is global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Though no country and no community is untouched from the impact of climate change, it is the poor and backward people that are most vulnerable. Without financing from the rich nations, which have largest role in emissions of greenhouse gases, poor nations and communities cannot adapt to the hostile climate. Climate adaptation may need shift in farming calendar, shifting shelters, re-designing of homes, change of occupations, adoption of new technologies and use of clean energy sources. Global actions are needed to tackle climate change but those who face immediate survival threat should be helped with priority.
The world has to deal with climate change menace on two fronts– mitigation and adaptation. The first is about cutting the emissions of greenhouses and latter is involves making necessary arrangements to deal with the impacts of the hostile changes. Making delays in actions will make the situation more costly and unmanageable. “Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly,” says the UN.
Though there still are skeptics and business interest groups out there expressing the other view on climate change, science has established that the phenomenon is real. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global scientific body, in its 2013 report cleared all ambiguities and made it clear that climate change is real and human activities are its main cause.
(File Photo: The Khumbu glacier is seen in the Solukhumbu region northeast of the Nepali capital Kathmandu on April 21, 2018. Photo: Prakesh Mathema-AFP)
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