In the mid-1970s the evidence about the greenhouse effect and its effect to climate change was growing among the scientific community. Data showed a steady increase of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere during the twentieth century at a rate of 25 times the historical average. Scientists, influenced by the work of Callendar, Revelle, Suess and Keeling have started to wonder if the worming trend which was occurring in the twentieth century was indeed, due to industrial emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2. At the same time, they discovered that the biological productivity of the oceans was an important regulator of the way the CO2 built up in the atmosphere, and that the water vapour which had been found to be an important factor in the formation of clouds, could also play a role in the modulation of weather and climate. And as the questions multiplied, scientists were starting to realise that only an interdisciplinary research programme could provide the much needed answers.
Tag: climate change (Page 2 of 3)
Only a few people in the world know ice better than Peter Wadhams. A professor of Ocean Physics at Cambridge, Peter Wadhams is a world authority on sea ice. His book ‘A Farewell to Ice’ is a report from the Arctic, and the consequences of the loss of the summer sea ice. It is also a personal history of a scientist and his extraordinary work in the polar regions in the past 35+ years.
Peter Wadhams believes the Arctic has reached a tipping point, that is a point at which a certain system that has been stressed beyond a certain level does not return to its original state when that stress is removed. He predicts that Arctic will be be ice free in the next few years and that would have a series of disastrous consequences for the whole planet.
The retreat of the summer sea ice in the Arctic is important because the loss of sea ice is changing the global albedo (the reflected sunlight). A vast area will change from white (ice) to blue (sea), therefore less energy will be reflected back into space. It means that the global warming will increase.
The darker ocean will absorb more energy which warms the water which melts more ice, which further warms the ocean, which melts more ice, in a spiraling feedback loop.
“My role is that of a witness, not a preacher”, says Dr James Hansen, one the world’s leading scientist on climate issues. A witness, as defined by the writer Robert Pool, is “someone who believes he has information so important that he cannot keep silent.”
In his book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, James Hansen, often called the father of global warming, talks about the science and the mechanisms that drive global warming in a way that makes it relatively easy for readers to understand.
“Politicians are happy if scientists provide information and then go away and shut up”, he writes. But science and policy cannot be divorced. ” Policy decisions on climate change are “being deliberated every day by those without full of the science, and often with intentional misinformation spawned by special interests.” “This book” says Hansen, “was written to help rectify this situation. Citizens with a special interest – in their loved ones – need to become familiar with the science, exercise their democratic rights, and pay attention to politicians’ decisions Otherwise, it seems, short-term special interests will hold sway in capitals around the world – and we are running out of time.”
A few weeks ago, representatives of 196 parties around the world signed an agreement in Paris (COP21) that requires countries to update and enhance their targets to cut greenhouse gases every five years. The targets themselves are not legally-binding but the majority of political leaders said they support working with other countries to curb global warming and were willing to take steps to do so. Still, there are politicians that there are still skeptical, the Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for example, said last week that if he was elected president he would withdraw the U.S. from the climate agreement.
In the absence of enforceable commitments to reduce emissions, concerned citizens and organisations look to the courts for an alternative way of driving emissions cuts by countries or companies.
More than 190 world leaders and representatives gathered this week in Paris to address the issue of climate change and to re-affirm their commitment to tackle climate change. The United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), the last, best chance to curb greenhouse gas emissions for many, aims to agree on a global legally binding climate treaty to cut out carbon emissions, halt deforestation and keep fossil fuel in the ground.
The surface of the Earth is warming with unpredictable consequences. Scientists, NGOs, and some of the biggest humanitarian organisations warn about the dire effects of climate change. IMF has warmed that human “fortunes will melt with the ice, evaporate like water under a relentless sun, and wither away like sand in a desert storm. And the planet’s poorest and most vulnerable people will be the first to feel the pain.”
The sociologist Antony Giddens published his book ‘The Politics of Climate Change’ almost a year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which almost brought down the world’s financial system. With the financial crisis still unfolding, climate change seemed a less immediate and alarming issue. But that does not mean the problem is going away, we will now to turn our attention on the urgency to mobilise the international attention and take action.
This is the central paradox of climate change politics, argues Giddens. Politicians and citizens cannot grasp the significance of climate change because it is too abstract, and not visible in the course of day-to-day life. Waiting until the effects of climate change become visible and acute, in order to take action, will be too late. He christened it Giddens paradox.
Anthony Giddens treats climate change as a political problem, and despite being a strong advocate of markets, he recognises the important role that states have to play in adaptation to climate change as ‘an ensuring state’ whose primary role is to help energise a diversity of groups operating in a bottom-up fashion.’ An ‘ensuring state’ acts as a facilitator, an enabler, rather than as a top-down agency. That prerequisites the return of planning, a word that came under shadow in the post-war period because it was associated with strong central direction by the state, the very basis of the economy in the Soviet-type societies.
‘There has now to be a return to greater state interventionism’, says Giddens, ‘a conclusion that is reinforced by the failure of deregulation.’ Many economists, such as Sir Nicholas Stern, have described climate change as an example of market failure. Unregulated markets have no long-term perspective, they have created externalities that their indirect effects have an impact on the consumption and production opportunities of others, while the price of the products does not take those externalities into account. They have overproduced CO2, and the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases from human activity has been identified as a major cause of global warming.
The privatization and the liberation of energy markets opened up sectors to ‘competition so that markers could do their work in encouraging efficiency and finding appropriate prices for energy goods’, but did little to encourage investments in energy infrastructure, since energy companies became focused on paring back their operating costs.
Nowadays, however, the world system and the world economy are changing fundamentally. The changes in the energy market create new threats and challenges, and thus the calls for a new energy paradigm for the 21st century. A proactive energy policy that revolves around three core principles:
- Transparency, cooperation and integration
- Deconstructing energy independence /Return to protection of national energy
- Energy efficiency and integration of energy policy with climate change policy.
Developed nations need to start taking action now. Technological innovations are essential to empower human societies to adjust to climate change but much more must be done to reduce emissions. Policies that will enable the radical restructuring of energy and transport and production systems could do their bit to address climate change.
The Politics of Climate Change, By Anthony Giddens, Polity Press, 256pp, Published 20 March 2009
Image Credit: NASA