Updated: 4 days ago
Keeping in view the scenario we are facing in Pakistan for the past two months or so, it is imperative to understand what exactly climate change is; its causes, impacts, and how it can be controlled or decreased to some extent, if not completely. Climate change refers to a long-term shift or change in temperatures and weather patterns. These changes or shifts may be material, such as variations in the solar cycle, but since the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, it has been largely due to human activities. The Industrial Revolution, no matter how beneficial it has been for the mass production of goods, is to be blamed for this change. It led to the construction and set up of industries and factories without keeping in view any safety procedures; they were implemented later after the change started to be seen. Uncontrolled burning and use of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas are also responsible for greenhouse gas emissions to a large extent which traps the sun’s heat and cause a rise in temperatures.
Examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane produced during the burning of gasoline in vehicles, the burning of coal for heating a building, or the production of electricity. Deforestation increases the production of carbon dioxide and reduction of oxygen, and landfills produce methane. All these are major emitters of these gases.
Let us look at the causes of climate change and its control. A major role in climate change is brought about by greenhouse gases which are at the highest level in two million years and the emissions continue to rise, not decrease. The earth is 1.1° warmer than it was in the 1800s. The last decade (2011–2020) was the warmest on record. Temperature rise is only the beginning of the story which leads to intense drought, water scarcity, severe forest fires, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and polar ice caps, storms, hurricanes, and a decline in biodiversity.
People are experiencing climate change in various ways e.g. difficulty in growing food, health, housing, safety at work, etc. Developing countries and island nations are facing it due to sea-level rise and intrusion of salt water which causes relocation of people to safer places. Protracted drought causes famine and an increase in mortality rates.
According to UN reports and records of scientists, limiting the global rise in temperature to not more than 1.5 °C could help us to some extent. Yet, based on current national climate plans, global warming can reach 3.2°C by the end of the century. The emissions that cause global warming come from all parts of the world with the hundred least-emitting countries generating 3% of total emissions, Pakistan contributes 0.5% of the total as pointed out in a conference last month in Seoul, Korea. The ten countries with the largest emission contribution of 83% include USA and China. If we are not going to do something today, we should be ready to pay heavily in the years to come.
Carbon dioxide is called a “greenhouse gas” because of its activity to trap solar radiation around the Earth in the form of a blanket as it does in a greenhouse during the winter season to help grow vegetables. It is produced naturally and without it, the planet will be cold and not support life. Its production has increased manyfold since the Industrial Revolution due to burning fossil fuels.
The global temperature is up nearly 2 °F since 1850 when scientists started keeping data track. The past five years have been the warmest since 1850 and eighteen of the hottest nineteen years have occurred since 2001; the average global temperature has risen 2° F or a little over 1°C since the 1880s, meaning we are two-thirds on the way to the warning limit of 1.5°C.
Ice is disappearing at both poles at an increasing rate and climate change is occurring the fastest at the poles causing a major change in the landscape of the poles – namely, the melting ice sheet in Greenland and Antarctica. The ice sheet or sea ice is less than half of what it was twenty years ago which results in fish and animals dying and coastal flooding.
A combination of melting ice sheets, glaciers, and an expansion of water as it heats up has caused sea levels to rise more than eight inches since 1900, with more than half the rise taking place in the last twenty-five years. It is a threat to millions of people living in areas below sea level, islands, and coastal areas. Many communities around the world are already flooding during the daily high tides.
The oceans around the globe are warming at an accelerating rate – about 93% of Earth’s energy imbalance ends up in the ocean. The oceans are constantly experiencing those changes since the 1950s, increasing in the 1960s with 2018 being the warmest followed by 2017 and 2015. Warmer waters lead to longer-lasting storms, hurricanes, dangerous coastal flooding, and less sea ice. Who can forget “Hurricane Katrina” which caused heavy loss of life and property or this year’s monsoon which caused horrendous flooding in Pakistan?
Another factor responsible for global warming is the disappearance of the ozone layer which is a protective blanket around the Earth. This is happening due to excessive CO2 production, and the use of CFC and ammonia for cooling.
To control or decrease climate change, it is important to take the following steps:
Fossil fuel subsidies should end – it sends a signal to discourage greenhouse gas emissions and the countries can relocate their spending where most needed.
Low carbon-resilient cities should be built with careful planning of transportation and land use as well as the establishment of energy efficiency standards. Avoidance of traffic jams is also important.
The usage of renewable energy is another method to decrease climate change. The use of solar energy, which the world gets free of cost from Mother Nature, is just an example. It cuts fuel costs and brings a decrease in energy bills. The use of biomass to produce biogas by making use of horse or cow dung along with agricultural waste like crop stubs is another way to decrease global change, which occurs when crop stubs are burnt after harvesting. A good example is New Delhi, the Indian capital, where the smog level is at its highest during winters. It also results in a decrease in methane production.
Wind energy can be used to generate electricity to run machines or grind wheat cereals etc. A good example is Netherland, where its coast is dolled with windmills.
Solar energy and wind energy produce electricity which can be stored in good quality batteries. Electric vehicles also eliminate the use of diesel and petrol, putting an end to CO2 and CO production.
Reforestation is a very important step to curb CO2 production. Plants use CO2 for their different activities and provide O2 to humans for survival. More trees lead to the cooling of an area and result in rainfall as well as land erosion by water or air. The roots bind the soil around the plant, resulting in compact soil which can not be easily washed away.
It is important that the developed and economically stable countries provide help to the poor or developing countries in the form of monetary help, technical help, or any other form of aid needed. Together, we can decrease the horrific scenario that is looming ahead and be extremely practical to do something about it.
There is no fiction in what I have mentioned; these are truthful, honest facts along with scientific research. Let us join hands and promise to play our part in saving our planet as well as our country from further worse incidents.
Faiza Zameer is an in-house writer for The Perspective Magazine.