by Henrylito D. Tacio
In his book, Slowing Global Warming: A Worldwide Strategy, Christopher Flavin gives the reason: “Global warming is an environmental threat unlike any the world has faced (before). While human activities during the past century have damaged a long list of natural systems, most of these problems are local or regional in scope and can be reversed in years or decades if sufficient effort is exerted.”
Geird Leipold, international executive director of Greenpeace, decried, “Climate change is the biggest environmental issue because it threatens to be disastrous. It will not only directly affect our climate. It will severely affect human beings and the ecosystem. We will have millions of people suffering from it.”
In the poverty-stricken Asia, global warming means less food. The Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said rising temperatures can reduce rice yields. An IRRI study showed that rice plants could benefit from higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but an increase in temperature by up to four degrees Celsius would “nullify any yield increase.”
“Global warming is more disastrous to the agricultural industry of the Philippines and its neighboring Asian countries than in other parts of the world,” said Dr. David Street of the US Argonne National Laboratory. This is so, he argued, because most countries in Asia and the Pacific have very large populations that are heavily dependent upon their marine ecosystems and natural resources.
Take the case of West Java in Indonesia where 7,227 hectares of aquaculture ponds and more than 11,000 hectares of rice fields are expected to be wiped out in the climate change. This translates into a loss of more than 4,000 tons of fish and 62,000 tons of rice a year.
Higher temperatures also affect species’ migration and spawning patterns. As temperatures warm, many plants, fish, insects, and bacteria may move into new areas, eradicating indigenous species. “The numbers and ranges of agricultural pests will likely increase, while growing ranges for many crops will shift,” warned the Washington-D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 2,500 scientists, said the rising of sea level is one of the most certain outcomes as a result of global warming. “A continuing rise in average global sea level would inundate parts of many heavily populated river deltas and the cities on them, making them uninhabitable, and would destroy many beaches around the world,” the UN panel said.
The Philippines, whose coastline stretches 18,000 kilometers, is vulnerable to sea level rise. Since 1965, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) reported “an increasing trend in the sea level rise.”
And this trend has been continuing to this day. A study conducted by the Philippine Country Study to Address Climate Change found that the Manila Bay is already subjected to several hazards, including flooding and storms. “Shoreline changes due to reclamation for housing, ports, coastal roads, buildings and other urbanized development are high, adding to an increased threat of inundation,” the study noted.
While some skeptics believe that global warming is hogwash, signs are now more translucent. In the Philippines, for example, typhoons and persisting weather disturbances are now a common reality even a few weeks before Christmas last year. In 2004, some experts blamed the erratic climatic condition for the series of landslides and floods that wrought death and destruction in the central and southern Philippines.
“I believe that the weather-related disasters we are having are due to global climate change,” noted Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, executive director of the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Marine and Aquatic Research and Development. “The unusual heavy rains we are experiencing are an indication of this.”
Global warming refers to an increase in average global temperatures, which in turn cause climate change. “To completely understand why global warming happens, it is important to know that our atmosphere, which is made up of gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide as well as water vapor, has a profound influence on Earth’s surface temperature,” explains the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization.
Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane absorb heat, thus reducing the amount that escapes back to space. “As the atmosphere absorbs heat energy,” Worldwatch notes, “it warms the oceans and the surface of the Earth. This process is called the greenhouse effect. Without this effect, the Earth’s atmosphere would average about 50 degrees Fahrenheit colder, making it impossible to sustain life on Earth. Rising levels of heat absorbing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase global temperatures (called global warming).”
Carbon dioxide – released when we burn fossil fuels to produce electricity, use gasoline in our cars, or switch on our natural gas stoves for cooking – has been singled out as the biggest factor in changing the Earth’s climatic conditions.
Since 1750, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 31 per cent — from 280 parts per million (ppm) to about 367 ppm today. Even if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are eventually stabilized at quite modest concentrations, sea levels will continue to rise “for more than 1,000 years,” said Jason Lowe of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in the United Kingdom.
Although people may adapt to gradual climate change, the effects of extreme rain and flooding are often broad, devastating, and costly to society. Landslides, avalanches, and flooding damage infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and buildings, and hurt agricultural productivity because of lost crops and soil erosion. Disaster relief often requires enormous funding, and the loss of human life may also be high.
Already, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of natural disasters and the trend is likely to continue, according to a report compiled by Pier Vellings and Willem van Verseveld of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the Vrije University in Amsterdam. The report says global temperatures will increase, sea levels will rise, and few places in the world will be spared an increase in violent rainstorms, droughts, tropical cyclones and other climatic disruptions.
“On the basis of a systematic analysis of observed changes in average temperature, precipitation patterns and intensity, sea level, snow and ice cover, ocean and atmosphere circulation patterns, and ecosystems behavior, we conclude with reasonable confidence that we are now experiencing the first effects of the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” the two researchers pointed out. “At least part of the observed changes should be attributed to human-induced climate change. This implies that at least part of the damage caused by weather extremes is due to human-induced climate change.”
In a bid to slow global warming, scientists have suggested the curtailment of fossil fuels to reduce carbon dioxide emission. Global warming could also be slowed down, they believed, by curbing the rate of deforestation and increasing carbon sinks through the help of oceans which extract carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into carbonates.
Think globally; act locally, so they say. “We can pledge to do our part to conserve energy and pollute less,” the Worldwatch suggests. “Whether at home, on our commute to work or school, or at the store, there are things we can do to lessen our impact on climate change.”
“The issue is not stopping global warming – this will almost certainly not be possible within most of our lifetimes,” notes Flavin. “Rather, the challenge is to slow the production of greenhouse gases immediately, so as to avoid the most sudden and catastrophic climate changes. If trends continue unabated, only radical, draconian measures would be sufficient to save the climate later on.” — ###