Climate change is the greatest environmental threat humanity has ever faced. It is caused by the built-up of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and destruction of areas that store massive amounts of carbon like the world’s rainforests. In recent years, global warming has been the subject of a great deal of political controversy.
The March 2014 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was unequivocal: Human-induced climate change is happening and the effects are already evident — shrinking ice caps, droughts and flooding, storms and extinctions. If greenhouse-gas emission levels continue to rise, future changes are likely to be even more extreme. Though scientists warn that global warming may continue for centuries because of the long natural processes involved. However, there are a few things that we can do to decrease the effects.
Fossil Fuels: This is perhaps the most daunting challenge as citizens of most developed and developing nations literally eat, wear, work, play and even sleep on the products made from such fossil. We must try to employ alternatives when possible — plant-derived plastics, biodiesel, wind power — and to invest in the change.
Infrastructure Upgrade: Buildings worldwide contribute around one third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Electric grids are at capacity or overloaded, but power demand continues to rise. Bad roads can lower the fuel economy of vehicles. Investing in new infrastructure or radically upgrading existing highways and transmission lines will help cut greenhouse gas emissions. Mining copper and other elements needed for electrical wiring and transmission also causes global warming.
Move Closer to Work: Transportation is the second leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. One way to dramatically curtail transportation fuel needs is to move closer to work, use mass transit, or switch to walking, cycling or some other mode of transport that does not require anything other than human energy.
Consume Less and Be Efficient: The easiest way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions is simply to buy less. Paradoxically, when purchasing essentials, buying in bulk can reduce the amount of packaging. Good driving and car maintenance can limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from a vehicle and also lower the frequency of payment at the pump station. Similarly, employing more efficient refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances can cut electric bills while something as simple as weatherproofing the windows of a home can reduce bills. Such efforts can also be usefully employed at work, whether that means installing more efficient turbines at the power plant or turning the lights off when you leave the office. Purchasing energy-efficient gadgets can also save both energy and money. Swapping old incandescent lightbulbs for more efficient replacements, such as compact fluorescents would save billions of kilowatt-hours.
Stop Felling Trees: Every year, 33 million acres of forests are cut down. Timber harvesting in the tropics alone contributes 1.5 billion metric tonne of carbon to the atmosphere. That represents 20 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and a source that could be avoided relatively easily. Improved agricultural practices along with paper recycling and forest management — balancing the amount of wood taken out with the amount of new trees growing — could quickly eliminate this significant chunk of emissions.
Family Planning: The UN Environmental Programme estimates that it requires 54 acres to sustain an average human being today—food, clothing and other resources extracted from the planet. Continuing such population growth seems unsustainable. Falling birth rates in some developed and developing countries have begun to reduce or reverse the population explosion. It is clear that more humans mean more greenhouse gas emissions.
Future Technologies: Replacing fossil fuels may prove the great challenge of the 21st century. Many contenders exist but all of them have some drawbacks too and none are immediately available at the scale needed. Massive investment in low-emission energy generation, whether solar-thermal power or nuclear fission, would be required to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Geo-engineering is one area that has gathered momentum in recent years. It requires the deliberate intervention in the climate system with the aim of curbing global warming. One example is Solar Radiation Management, which involves reflecting more of the sun’s rays away from the planet back into space. This could be done by pumping sulphur aerosols into the high reaches of the atmosphere, where they would have similar reflective properties to the ash released naturally by volcanoes.
IPCC’s third report also considers a technique called Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage. As the name suggests, this would combine the burning of biomass, such as wood, for energy and then piping the CO2 into rocks.
Considering the several indicators and the growing adverse impacts of climate change and global warming at an alarming rate, it is of prime importance to implement methods and technology so as to curb the damage and work towards attaining sustainable development.
(The author is a law student at Symbiosis Law School)