Global Warming: Doing Nothing Is Not an Option

I could see how global warming does not make the impact it should on most people.  When people hear of a global temperature rise of 2 to 3 degrees, most people in the UK would say, please give me a bit of that, it would be nice to be warmer, and reducing my heating bill would be a bonus. But what does it mean globally?

The 2007 IPCC report narrowed the range of warming from 2.4 to 4.6 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100.  Climate scientists estimate that a temperature rise between 1 and 3 degrees Celsius will bring about the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and if that were to happen it would result in the world’s oceans rising by around seven meters. Imagine the devastation that would bring to the lives of millions!

Under the heading “Arctic expert predicts final collapse of sea ice within four years” the Guardian reports Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University thus: “As the sea ice retreats in summer the ocean warms up (to 7C in 2011) and this warms the seabed too. The continental shelves of the Arctic are composed of offshore permafrost, frozen sediment left over from the last ice age. As the water warms the permafrost melts, and releases huge quantities of trapped methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas, so this will give a big boost to global warming.”

Climate predictions are so complex, some would say, and the scientists are not in agreement about whether it is human-induced and the extent of it; so why worry about it! Actually the overwhelming majority of scientists believe that global warming is real, it is human-induced and could have catastrophic consequences for humanity and all life on our planet. There are, it is true, some scientists who disagree with some of the above conclusions.

In order for those of us who are not climate scientists to assess their findings, it is worthwhile going to fundamentals to untangle the argument.

Sunlight (short wave) radiation will go through the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, thus heating the earth; heat radiated back from the earth is in the form of thermal infrared (long wave) radiation. A property of greenhouse gases is that they absorb some of the heat, depending on their concentration, and emit some of it back to earth, in effect trapping it and preventing it from escaping back to space. This mimics the heating in a greenhouse on a sunny day, although the mechanism is somewhat different.

For nearly three million years the natural carbon cycle has ensured the atmosphere contained around 300 parts per million (ppm) of CO2, just the right amount to sustain our planet at a temperature suited to the variety of life on it. Estimates show that since the industrial revolution (the last two to three centuries) the burning of fossil fuel (coal, gas, and oil) has increased the concentration of CO2 by 42%, from 280ppm to 397ppm.  Increasing CO2 will mean more heat is absorbed and consequently more heat radiated back to earth, thus producing the increase in global temperature.

There are, of course, other factors, such as volcanic eruptions and ocean cycles such as El Nino, that may slow the rate of warming from year to year or over a number of years, but when these factors are removed from the equation the correlation between global temperature change and CO2 concentration is consistent and convincing over hundreds of thousands of years. The jump in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, combined with the strong correlation between global temperature and CO2, represent overwhelming evidence that global warming is real and it is human-induced.

What is unprecedented in the history of the earth is the ability of humanity to extract huge quantities of fossil fuels and burn them at an enormous rate to power our civilization, thus releasing these large stores of carbon through CO2 into the atmosphere. That such action would produce a rise in global temperature should come as no surprise to anyone. Carbon stored in fossil fuel, that took millions of years to accumulate, released in such a short time is bound to produce an imbalance in the equilibrium of our planet; global warming is the result of this human intervention in the natural carbon cycle.

There are people who would argue that it is too expensive to do anything about it; the selfishness, shortsightedness, and immorality expressed in such a view is summed up by Dr. Steven Chu, the departing US Energy Secretary: “Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world’s poorest citizens and those yet to be born…There is an ancient Native American saying: We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children…A few short decades later, we don’t want our children to ask, what were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care about us?”

Doing nothing or very little is not an option.

Read the 1st chapter of Obstacle to Peace for free!

Adnan Al-Daini

Dr Adnan Al-Daini (PhD Birmingham University, UK) is a retired University Engineering lecturer. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. He writes regularly on issues of social justice and the Middle East. Adnan is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. 

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  • Jack Wolf

    I commend Dr. Al-Daini for this piece.

    And, if you think the news above was bad, about 10 years ago, I started to notice that most climate change reports and scientific papers use less than realistic emission scenarios in their calculations. Since these emissions are long lived, this has led to a deepening concern about the climate situation and its impact on me.

    Dr. Anderson, link below, at the 2012 Cabot Lecture clearly points the finger at scientists and governments for not accurately reporting how bad the climate situation is.

    He also explains why we cannot meet the 2 degree C (3.8 F) target set by the world’s governments and its impacts on us today. His talk is timely in light of the recent report from the World Bank that found:

    “Even with the current mitigation pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20% likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met, warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s.”

    Globally, we are nowhere close to meeting our mitigation pledges and long lived CO2 emissions continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at an accelerating rate. Dr. Anderson is very animated and I think you will find it enlightening.

    • Adnan Al-Daini

      Thank you for your comment, I listened to Dr. Anderson on the link you provided for about 10mins, I intend to listen to the whole video when time allows; he very convincingly makes the point that the situation is far worse than we think. This is the same conclusion I came to doing my research for this article and the previous one. It seems that those whose duty it is to lead the change necessary to mitigate the worst outcomes are unwilling or unable to act. The inertia and the powerful interests represented by the fossil fuel lobby are a great obstacle to any meaningful action. Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at the Australian National University summed up the future awaiting humanity by the title of his book “Requiem for a Species”.

  • Andy Revkin recently noted that estimates of the Earth’s sensitivity to radiative forcing have been falling.

    So contrary to what you say, the situation is actually better than we thought.

  • Mary

    “Actually the overwhelming majority of scientists believe that global warming is real, it is human-induced and could have catastrophic consequences for humanity and all life on our planet.” I have done quite a bit of reading about global climate change/warming and have found that while scientists agree that global climate change is “real”, there is little consensus on it’s cause and how to address it and therein lies the conundrum. Take, for instance, James Lovelock, a favorite of the global warming community. While Mr. Lovelock has promoted the theory of global warming, he derides the installation of industrial wind across Europe and calls it “nothing more than a gesture” and “a gesture that will go down in history as the greatest folly of mankind.” Why is this critical information ignored. While it is important to recognize the importance of good stewardship of our resources, the current discussions about how technology being used to address global climate change are perception based and do not have science and rigorous environmental studies to support their implementation. This is worrisome. The US Fish and Wildlife Service cites a 47% loss of raptor abundance where we site industrial wind. Bats are severely impacted by industrial wind. We are fragmenting the air column, where birds and bats spend the majority of their lifetime, and do not recognize that this is a reality because it is does not meet our political agenda/goals. Doing the wrong thing can be worse than doing nothing at all.

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