Words John Gray

Ten years ago former US Vice President Al Gore shocked the world with his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which painted a dire picture of the damaging effects of global warming.  If anything the award-winning documentary served as a wake-up call that sparked international public awareness about global warming.  It was no longer a topic that was debated only among scientists. Everyone suddenly became curious about the alarming trend. Today, while many advances are being made to reverse global warming, the road is arduous and long.  Here’s a summary of some of the issues and developments.

We can say that the biggest culprit is carbon emissions – no question about that. Carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases are warming the world at a rapid rate. There has been a 40 percent rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) since pre-industrial times. And what’s more, in these last ten years CO2 levels have increased by six percent.  This translates into more heat trapped in our atmosphere, which is not good news.

Carbon emissions and rising sea levels

All of this heat means that glaciers melt faster and water temperatures increase, causing oceans to expand. Already 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 2001. Last year was the hottest year on record, and 2016 is expected to be even hotter.  As the temperature increases, the sea levels will keep rising and eventually nearly half the global population, which lives near the coast or within 60 kilometers of it, will be at risk.  The rising sea levels means that cities and towns are immersed in water as storms intensify and more extreme flooding occurs. Can you imagine the doomsday scenario when big cities start flooding? Do you recall Hurricane Sandy in 2012 in the East Coast of the US? Well, rising sea levels means that this kind of storm will climb higher and reach farther inland. In other words, brace yourselves, as future hurricanes will cause more damage. The global average sea level currently rises about three millimeters per year, but if carbon emissions aren’t curtailed that figure could increase to a meter and maybe more by 2100.

Heat waves and droughts

As the planet continues to warm up, deadly heat waves will increase. Experts claim that climate change will increase humidity in many places, as well as causing higher temperatures. And as temperatures rise, more moisture evaporates from land and water, leaving less water behind. Some places are getting more rain or snow to make up for it, but other places are getting less.

Since the 1970s, droughts have become longer and more severe throughout the globe, and scientists expect that trend to continue. Dwindling agricultural production in certain high-population areas such as parts of Africa and Asia could lead to food shortages that could spark more refugee crises.

What is being done?

While the current outlook and statistics so far may not sound encouraging, a great deal has actually been achieved in the last decade.  To think optimistically, there have been plenty of positive developments: climate science has advanced, renewable energy technology is growing rapidly, and there is more international cooperation. Renewable energy, such as solar and wind, is now cheaper than fossil fuel-based electricity in many parts of the world, and many more governments are pledging to shift to renewables. Solar panels are becoming widespread all over the world (and getting cheaper), while in some countries electric cars are gaining popularity.

There have been also numerous agreements to reduce emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol, Copenhagen, and more recently the COP21, which for the first time obtained commitments from the biggest carbon emitters – the US, China, and India – to agree on targets for reducing carbon emissions.  We know that global warning can be reversed.  No doubt it will take a tremendous collective effort, but if there is a will there is certainly a way. There is simply too much at stake for us not to make a 100 percent effort.