The problem of global is one of the most important for the world today as it affects the global population, the environment and future of the Earth. The possibility of global climate change, induced by an increase in pollutants in the atmosphere, is potentially the most important international issue facing humanity. Yet, decision-makers have a very difficult time dealing with this concern because of the scientific uncertainties, and fighting against global warming may well carry them too far from the immediate social and economic needs of most of their constituents (Avery, 2007). This paper considers the limits and scope of global warming problem in dealing with the global commons. It stresses the scientific uncertainties that emerge when scientists attempt to understand the dynamics of the ecosphere. The paper is intended for a common citizen from any county of the world interested in the problems of environmental change and pollutions, ozone depletion and possible ways outs. Global warming is dangerous for the human population and the environment as it ruins the ozone layer and oxygen; it causes skin diseases and leads to temperature rise.
Threats of Global Warming
Global warming is dangerous because it has a negative impact on atmosphere and ozone layer of the Earth. The composition of the atmosphere is a major determinant of the Earth’s temperature and climate. The process of maintaining the Earth’s temperature within fixed ranges occurs, in part, because the sun and the Earth interact to create something that can be likened to a “greenhouse.” Thirty percent of the incoming radiation from the sun is scattered or reflected by clouds or by the Earth’s surface (Bailey, 2002). Twenty percent is absorbed by oxygen, ozone, water vapor and droplets, and dust. Recently, humans have been adding more carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere, and have been heating up the environment by their various activities at work, home and play. Another disturbing worldwide trend is the continuing loss of forests to urban and other developments (Gelbspan, 2000). During photosynthesis, plants incorporate carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Fewer plants means more heat-trapping carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere. The combined effect of greenhouse gases, heat pollution, and deforestation results in an increased warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Every human activity involves energy. The energy we need to live and work is supplied to us through the food we eat and is known as dietary energy. We need other fuels as well, such as fossil fuels. Fuel energy is used to reduce physical labor and provide such essentials as light, heat, and transportation. As dietary and fuel energy are burned, much of the energy is dissipated or diluted as waste heat. In highly populated urban centers, this waste heat is enough to cause inner-city temperatures to be 5°F to 20°F warmer than adjacent rural areas. On a worldwide scale, however, this waste heat is less significant. Recent studies indicate that in order to raise the global temperature 1°F, humankind would have to increase its energy consumption by a hundredfold. An increase in carbon dioxide and other gases is expected to have a significant effect on the global temperature (Avery, 2007). This is because carbon dioxide and other gases (e.g., methane, nitrous oxide, ammonia, sulfur dioxide) slow down the rate of heat loss from the Earth by absorbing infrared radiation. The combustion of fossil fuels is one of the primary causes of increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases (Goldenberg, 2000). Other contributing factors include the burning of forests and changes in the organic levels of soils, both of which are products of deforestation and cultivation. It has been estimated that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by 15-25 percent since 1800. Projections of future increases in fossil fuels combustion indicate that the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide could double over the next hundred years (Jordan, 2005).
Today, the ozone problem is one of the Earth’s most pervasive environmental concerns. During the past decade or so, scientists and public decision-makers have become increasingly interested in analyzing the processes that control atmospheric ozone. This is due to scientific warnings that human activities may have inadvertently and irreversibly depleted the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. As far as we know, ozone depletion seems to be linked to a combination of meteorological factors and ozone-depleting air pollutants (i.e., chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs). This phenomenon was first observed in 1985 when an “ozone hole” appeared in the stratosphere over Antarctica. The sun emits a large amount of ultraviolet radiation, but the Earth’s ozone layer in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) shields the planet from this kind of solar radiation (Lomborg 2001). This is fortunate because UV radiation is absorbed by nucleic acids (genetic information is stored in nucleic acids). The effects of UV radiation involve the excitation of molecules such as nucleic acids, which then form cross-links. These distortions of nucleic acids interfere with protein synthesis and can cause mutations and cancer. Consequently, many scientists have predicted that various life forms will be damaged by excess radiation.
Global warming is dangerous because it leads to incurable diseases and deaths. The epidermis, which is the outer skin that covers the more sensitive inner tissue, is what protects organisms from excess radiation. Moreover, in some species such as humans, specialized cells in the skin produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment responsible for skin color. Light-skinned people have cells that produce smaller quantities of melanin than do the cells of dark-skinned people. This characteristic is inherited (Mank, 2005). The production of melanin, however, can be increased by exposure to the sun, resulting in the bronze coloring of the skin commonly known as a suntan. In this process, the pigment absorbs much of the UV radiation and thereby protects the skin from further injury. However, if the skin is overexposed to the sun, the pigment cannot absorb the excess UV radiation, and the skin is injured. The skin becomes inflamed and over the years gets wrinkled. In addition, the radiation can cause dividing cells to become cancerous. Increased exposure to UV also has been associated with the increase of cataracts and the suppression of the human immune system.
As the ozone layer diminishes, the intensity of biologically damaging, ultraviolet radiation in natural daylight increases. A 16-percent ozone decrease will produce an increase of about 44 percent at mid-latitudes, and a 30-percent ozone decrease would increase radiation approximately 100 percent (Pielke 2005). The National Academy of Sciences predicts that a 16-percent ozone depletion would eventually cause several thousand more cases of melanoma per year in the United States. Many of these cases would be fatal, and thousands of other cases of skin cancers would arise. A 16- to 30percent depletion of ozone is also likely to reduce crop yields of several kinds of plants. Larval forms of several important seafood species, as well as microorganisms at the base of the marine food chain, would suffer an appreciable killing as a result of this 16- to 30-percent ozone depletion (Michaels, 2005). Studies of UNEP and others indicate that ozone depletion is now observed year-round at mid-latitudes in both hemispheres, with winter and springtime declines of as much as 6 to 8 percent observed poleward of 45 degrees. Two new ozone-depleting compounds–carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform–were added to the list of controlled chemicals. Parties to the treaty and the amendment agreed to phase out the production of CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals by the year 2000 (Ruddiman, 2005). An important feature of the Montreal Protocol is its technology-forcing aspect that requires sources of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer to meet a schedule of compliance with air pollution standards. Consequently, the international agreement may impose requirements for which control technology does not currently exist. In 1994 the Protocol’s scientific panel reported that substitutes for methyl bromide existed for 90 percent of its uses (Avery, 2007).
Increased pollution and millions of gases dumped into the air worsen the problem of global warming. If the particulates are making the Earth cooler, but the increased carbon dioxide, other gases, and heat are making it warmer, what direction will the Earth’s temperature ultimately take? The cooling of the Earth could speed up the inevitable ice age. On the other hand, a rise of 2°F-3°F in a period of three to four decades could lead to both a thermal expansion of oceans and the melting of the polar ice caps. As a result, sea level would rise and flooding may occur in many coastal and low-lying areas. The sea level might be raised by four hundred feet, and dust bowls and desert temperatures would be reached over most of the world. A number of recent studies suggest the possibility of global warming between 1.5°C and 4.4°C within fifty years, if no actions are taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions (Avery, 2007). However, environmental effects associated with climatic change would not be wholly adverse. Due to temperature change, productivity in high latitudes would increase (because of a longer growing season). Nevertheless, in the interior mid-latitude regions, such as the midwestern United States, the former Soviet Union, and China, potentially drier conditions coupled with higher temperatures could reduce productivity. New studies indicate that global warming may exacerbate the spread of tropical diseases into temperate regions in the next few decades. It is also projected that due to global warming, the tropical carriers of certain diseases, such as mosquitoes and flies, will increase their abundance and distribution. Thereby, it is expected that there will be an increase in the death rate of the world population due to malaria, cholera, sleeping sickness, yellow fever, bronchitis, asthma, and many other ailments (Ruddiman, 2005).
Scientists have long debated how the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will affect the temperature of the Earth. Too much is still unresolved, including the interaction of the effects of past air emissions, the risk of future air emissions, the type of pollution response curve between sources and receptors of present air emissions, and its socioeconomic factors. The latter includes the relative costs and benefits of various alternative courses of action One should note that, even if control measures are fully implemented, global climatic change will continue for nearly another century. Because of the long atmosphere life spans of many greenhouse gases (up to one hundred years), a return to near-natural levels of these gases will take centuries, if they are at all recoverable. As mentioned earlier, the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration has increased by 12 percent since 1958. This was largely caused by deforestation and the burning of vegetation and fossil fuels. If we continue to add airborne carbon dioxide at our current rate, the planet’s average temperature will rise, but it is uncertain by how much (perhaps between 1.5°C and 4.4°C). This increase is predicted to occur by the middle of the twenty-first century (Avery, 2007). Moreover, different computer models disagree on how each region of the world will be affected. Major sources of uncertainties are the roles of the atmosphere, oceans, photosynthetic organisms, and soil. The models estimate that about 55-65 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions generated by fossil fuels are presently retained in the atmosphere. It is reasonably well-known that only marine environments are currently the significant absorbers of airborne carbon dioxide, whereas terrestrial ecosystems are approximately neutral components (i.e., absorbing as much as they are generating) (Global Warming 2008). As a marine ecosystem warms, it will very likely absorb less airborne carbon dioxide, unless photosynthesis increases proportionally. If the removal of trees and other photosynthetic organisms continues, photosynthetic organisms would also represent a reduced resource for absorbing airborne carbon dioxide. These two unknowns can have an impact on the ability of scientists to predict rates of climatic modification (Avery, 2007).
The difficulty in understanding ocean physics and cryospheric relations is also related to the scientific uncertainty that still surrounds the greenhouse question. Even though it is speculative that alpine glaciers and polar ice packs would melt, the sea level would rise simply because water ex- pants when it absorbs heat. If the Arctic should melt substantially, it is expected that most of the world’s low-lying areas would be flooded. To make food, a plant must obtain carbon dioxide. It is well established that when carbon dioxide levels are raised in chambers, such as greenhouses, most vegetation responds with increased growth. Nevertheless, the potential effect of high carbon dioxide concentrations on agriculture and other plant resources remains largely uncertain. Scientists cannot predict what effects rising carbon dioxide concentrations will have on vegetation in natural ecosystems. One thing is certain, however: not all plants will respond in a similar manner. Consequently, species competition would be influenced, resulting in changes in the structure and functions of ecosystems (Bailey, 2002).
Deforestation worsens the problem of global warming and ozone depletion. Two effects of deforestation are noteworthy. First, changes in the Earth’s climate might result from alterations in the reflection of light (global albedo) and heat from the Earth’s surface, when light-absorbing forests are removed. (The percentage of the total radiation of a planet that is reflected from its surface is called albedo (Bailey, 2002). As mentioned earlier, the average albedo of the Earth is 30 percent.) The heat balance of the Earth would change, producing consequent changes in wind and rainfall patterns. Second, forests are a great storehouse of carbon; roughly half of the carbon in the Earth’s biomass is stored in forests. With large net losses of forests, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could rise by 30 percent, adding to the already rising present trend. While this global warming is continuing, people’s activities are also interfering with the environment by way of emitting pollutant aerosols into the atmosphere. Scientists warn that this increase of particulate matter in the atmosphere may scatter or reflect back into space about 30 percent more of the sun’s radiation than is currently being reflected, resulting in a cooler climate (Michaels, 2005).
International Activities to Stop Global Warming
International officials state that it is difficult and even impossible to stop global warming and control pollution of the environment. There are a number of reasons why international agreements on greenhouse gases are so difficult to achieve. Controlling these gases requires a massive change in economic priorities, including technology-forcing features and alternative sources of energy. In contrast, the prevention of ozone depletion is relatively easier because it requires less economic and technological change (Bailey, 2002). Ozone-depleting chemicals were produced mainly by a relatively small number of rich nations. Moreover, all nations will not be affected to the same degree if global warming occurs. Some nations, like the United States, have actively shown their commitment to comprehending the events that control the “greenhouse effect.” They do this by funding research that aims to minimize the scientific uncertainties that presently exist concerning the magnitude of projected temperature changes for different global regions. However, meaningful efforts to minimize global climatic modifications require binding international laws. Although virtually all nations have expressed interest in international negotiations concerning minimizing global warming, as with so many other major environmental concerns facing international policymakers, the timing and fortitude of their responses are shortsighted. This point is illustrated by observing the results of the biggest and most important environmental conference–the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). This conference, also known as the “Earth Summit,” brought together six thousand delegates from over 170 nations for discussions and negotiations on such topics as climate change, biodiversity, deforestation, and economic relations between developed and less-developed nations. Unfortunately, these lofty principles are not legally binding. Thus, the conference was not as fruitful as it might have been. Many developing nations stonewalled the rush into a legally binding treaty that might restrict the use of their sovereign and revenue-producing forest resources (Michaels, 2005).
In sum, the problem of global warming is caused by a number of reason including environmental pollution and deforestation. The importance of the world’s environmental movement should not be overlooked. Most environmental agreements are not yet subject to international adjudication, and other mechanisms may be used to enforce them. Some of these agreements have been enforced by means of trade measures, pressures from non-governmental organizations, and debt-for-nature swaps. International commitment to protecting the global commons, an effort that has attracted the attention of both public and private decision-makers, has demonstrated the value of widespread cooperation in the affairs of government. In the Western world, the central point of the technological debate has focused on how to decide, prudently, when technology should be put to use. In the twentieth century, modern culture has grown ambivalent about technology, welcoming the “progress” of new tools and processes while fearing the loss of control to machines.
Avery, D.T. (2007). Unstoppable global warming: every 1,500 years. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Bailey, R. (2002). Global warming and other eco myths: how the environmental movement uses false science to scare us to death. Prima Lifestyles.
Gelbspan, R. (2000). Modest proposal to stop global warming” Sierra, 82-85.
Global warming (2008). Web.
Goldenberg, S. (2000). The recent increase in Atlantic hurricane activity: Causes and implications. Science 293 (1): 474–79.
Jordan, S. (2005). The Global warming crisis. The Humanist 65.
Lomborg, B. (2001). The Skeptical environmentalist, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mank, B. (2005). Standing and global warming: Is injury to all injury to none? Environmental Law 35 (1), 1-19.
Michaels, P.J. (2005). Meltdown: the predictable distortion of global warming by scientists, politicians, and the media. Cato Institute.
Pielke Jr., R. (2005). Breaking the global-warming gridlock. Roger. The Atlantic Monthly, 286.
Ruddiman, William F. (2005). “How did humans first alter global climate?” Scientific American, 48-53.