Feeling the heat

An issue that has assumed centre stage in the last two decades is “Global warming”. It has uncovered the deep rooted antagonism that exists between the developing and the developed nations. It is an issue that delves on development, ethics and survival. So what exactly is global warming? What is it that made it a point to ponder over for the world leaders? To simply put it, owing to increased human activity, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere is increasing in monstrous proportions, holding up the heat and in the process heating up the planet. The projected figures of IPCC say that temperature is expected to rise by 1.1 to 6.4 °C in the twenty first century. So how did it all happen? What human activities, of the past few centuries ruined our environment?

Something that had been happening in the earth since its creation is the “greenhouse effect”. It is the property by which air around the earth filters in sunlight exactly like a glass roof (in the green house where plants are kept). The gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons which contribute to greenhouse effect are known as green house gases. Of all the solar radiations to the earth, a part is reflected back as low energy radiations. Green house gases absorb a part of these rays and reflect back to earth. This is “secondary warming”. This leads to the further emission of IR radiations in space.

The reason of our existence in the planet is the property of green house gases to trap enough heat in the atmosphere to keep the temperature within a very narrow range, without which the earth would have been colder by 31 °C. But owing to increased human activities such as pollution and deforestation, the content of the gases in the atmosphere that create the greenhouse effect has increased. It is being said that the level of concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during the pre industrial revolution days was 280 ppm, as compared to the 380 ppm at the beginning of the millennium. This in turn, increased the surface temperature of oceans and earth’s near surface air.

The most evident consequence of global warming is the melting of ice caps in the poles, which is creating a world wide sea level rise. It is said that if the whole of ice in Greenland melts, the sea level will rise by 7 meters. A change in the amount and pattern of precipitation is also created. This has increased the risk of flooding and frequent droughts. Other effects include changes in agricultural yields, extinction of species and increased incidence of diseases as increasing temperature provides better breeding ground for harmful moulds, bacteria and insects.

The effects it will have in India is the acute water shortage in the rivers of the west such as Mahi, Tapti and Sabarmati, while severe floods in the rivers which flows towards the east such as Godavari, Brahmaputra and Mahanadi. 67% of the Himalayan glaciers are retreating at a rapid rate. It will lead to frequent flooding and landslides. One meter sea level rise can inundate up to 3000 sq. km in Bangladesh and 5000 sq. km in India, displacing millions of coastal dwellers. Mega deltas of Dhaka and Shanghai will suffer. The chances of salt water intrusion into groundwater aquifers and stronger storm surges will increase. Just as an indication of the impending crisis, 2 of the 102 islands in the Sunderbans are already submerged. The island of Tuvalu in Pacific Ocean will submerge within a decade. The atoll of Maldives is predicted to submerge by the end of the century.

The scary predictions are enough to make us understand about the dangers ahead. When green house emissions can spell doom for all the inhabitants of the blue planet, what hinders us from acting against it? It is the lack of consensus between the developed industrialized nations and the developing nations.

Since industries are the major source of pollutants, Industrial production has to be checked. This was the highlight of the Kyoto Protocol as well. But if this is implemented, the growth rate of developed countries (who are the biggest polluters) will be affected. Since this is something undesirable for their national interest, they didn’t comply with the norms, eventually derailing the means to check the evil called Global Warming. Since the least developed countries are the most vulnerable ones to the evil effects of Global Warming, they are now paying for the economic growth of developed nations. Thus we can very well say that its time we choose between wealth and nature. If industrialized nations fail to act judiciously at the moment, generations to come will inherit a more dangerous earth.

Regil Krishnan

[Image source: http://mpinkeyes.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/global-warming.jpg]