BY EDGAR MACDONALD
Of the many assaults on the environment, none jeopardizes life here on earth more than climate change. We were told over 50 years ago by scientists that global warming needed to be addressed immediately, if a predicted warming trend were to be stopped, and perhaps reversed.
This message fell on deaf ears, and the disastrous effects that were predicted are now our reality. In the last year alone, extreme weather conditions have spawned vicious tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons, massive forest fires, floods, and brought on destructive and long - lasting droughts.
The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, contributing to increasingly higher water levels in our oceans, a reality that will increasingly challenge all of us who live near the water’s edge. Increased ocean temperatures and acidity levels, together with decreased oxygen levels, have severely damaged coral reefs and placed many fish stocks in danger. On land, the picture is equally bleak.
Melting of the permafrost, which for centuries has sequestered carbon, methane and other hothouse gases, is accelerating, thus fueling the warming cycle.
The irrefutable scientific evidence, collected over the past 50 years, points to the burning of fossil fuels as the main culprit. Back in the 1960s, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were measured at 323 parts per million. Earth’s temperatures were warming up, and sea levels were rising. By the turn of the century, carbon dioxide levels had risen to 369 parts per million resulting in a temperature increase
of almost one-half degree Celsius, compared to pre-industrial averages. The most recent measurement, taken in August 2018, gave a carbon dioxide reading of 406.99 parts per million.
Over the past 100 years the earth’s surface has warmed at an accelerating rate, nearly doubling since 1975. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and the four warmest since 2014. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that world temperatures rose by 0.7 degrees Celsius in the 20th century and that it predicts that temperatures will rise further, unless we decrease the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere.
Six countries or economic areas are responsible for over 40 percent of all emissions; China is responsible for a whopping 29.4 per cent, followed by the United States (14.3 per cent), European Economic Area (9.8 per cent), India (6.8 per cent), Russia (4.9 percent), and Japan (3.5 percent). Canada ranks 10th with emissions around 1-2 per cent.
The devastation that could result from out of control warming, has finally caught the attention of countries around the world. In December 2015, 196 countries convened near Paris to address greenhouse gas emissions. The long-term goal of the UN convention, referred to as the Paris Agreement, is to hold the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. As of September 2018, 195 countries have signed on.
Unfortunately, Russia, which is a major polluter, has not signed on, and the United States, another significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, is threatening to withdraw. As well, some other countries, including Canada, are not on target to meet their obligations. The pledge made by Canada in Paris is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
On October 08, 2018, working groups of the IPCC released an updated report on global warming. According to the authors of the report, the planet will reach the tipping point of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030. They forewarn that exceeding this point will result in the increased severity of droughts, wild fires, floods, and could result in food shortages for millions of people. Despite the pessimistic scientific data, the working groups suggest that we have the ways and means of keeping warming at an acceptable level, but it will not be a painless undertaking. The dramatic changes that are now desperately needed will require political leaders with grit, an uncompromising moral compass, and the support of all of us. The clock is ticking.
Dr. Edgar MacDonald, a concerned senior citizen, lives in Winsloe