Climate change is a scientific problem that is often erroneously portrayed as a matter of personal opinion. What remains of utmost importance is that the people responsible for making global decisions on the issues of climate change are well informed about the effects it will have on our world. Are the changes to the environment truly caused by human activity over the past three centuries, or will we be wasting our efforts improving the planet for nothing? Does an increase in temperature spell the end of days for humanity, or can we find a way to adapt to our new world? In the end, the key question we must address is can climate change be avoided?
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An increase in the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide was detected and correlated with a rise in temperature as early as mid-1970s. The conclusion made was that human activity is the driving force for this change and over the decades that followed, enough evidence has been collected to make this an irrefutable fact. Analysis of the available data was carried out and several proposals for long and short term solutions were drawn up through the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Yet nothing changed. The levels of carbon dioxide continued to rise. As did global temperatures. The proposals rightly took care to consider political and economic feasibility, however the focus of the industries contributing most to the emissions remained centred on financial agenda, leaving them reluctant to explore alternative sources of energy. This problem remains significant even today, and will continue to play a role in future developments.
The aim has been to keep average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. Evidence suggests that such a seemingly small change would result in catastrophic alterations to weather patterns, from droughts on one side of the world, to floods on the other. Temperature rise has become a concept to be feared, an omen of disasters to come, but when considering the geological history of the Earth, we find ourselves in an ice age. Average global temperature has been as much as ten degrees higher in the past. Can this be taken as proof that what we are experiencing is a natural fluctuation of the world? Can we wash our hands of all blame?
So let’s say that temperature has risen by 2 degrees. Weather patterns have begun to show instability. Ecosystems have started to collapse. What effect will this have on humans? Several species have gone unchanged for millennia, despite the geological restructuring of the Earth and the changes in its atmosphere. Cyanobacteria have not only survived for several billion years but have also played a key role in altering the very chemistry of our world, producing the oxygen we need to survive. Surely a species that stepped foot on the Moon and produced nuclear fusion could survive a slight change in our environment? Yet we humans are a fragile breed. In developing our brains, we have lost our natural defences. We have frozen to death in the snowy mountaintops and died from overheating in desert planes. Even in its current state, our host planet can find innumerable ways to kill us. So perhaps a change in climate will not affect most species we share the Earth with – perhaps cyanobacteria will live on for another billion years but the ones most likely to be exterminated are the big brained apes responsible for causing this change in the first place.
Yet the technology that can come from these big brains may deliver us from such tragedy. We have developed ways to survive in the harshest of environments, to build shelter and produce food despite the geological obstacles. With advancements in irrigation we can harvest crops from formerly deserted land and alter the genetic makeup of these crops to make agriculture more efficient. We have even begun to atone for deforestation by developing vertical forests.
The effects of humanity on the planet may be so profound that some propose a new epoch has begun (The Anthropocene), which brings to light the changes we’ve made to the atmosphere, ecology, and composition of the Earth. If we have any hope of reducing these changes, a global collaboration requires immediate and decisive action. Yet this will become increasingly difficult to arrive at as competition for land and depleting resources becomes more desperate.
We can no longer deny that the world is changing by our hand. The results may be irreversible and have already severed some of the fragile fibres of life holding our intricate ecosystems together. There is a lot we can do, both individually and collaboratively, to halt the oncoming transformation but it is unlikely that we can avert it entirely. The wheels of change are in motion and the reluctance to acknowledge this among world leaders will only lead to acceleration. We will be required to find ways to survive in this transforming world, to adapt and bear the changes. I have full faith that our innovative minds will carry us through.