Our Hand in Climate Change

 

Climate change is already here now; yet there is still a heated debate on what to do about it. Every single aspect of the issue is marred with disparity, from the reality of climate change itself, to its anthropogenic nature, to the futility of resolving it. It is true that climatology is such a complex and challenging area of study, and this is where most scepticisms spring from; however, we must not play down the truth about what is happening now in our societies if we are to survive this environmental crisis.

First of all we must confront the issue of denial. There is indeed a consensus from climate experts around the world about the existence of global warming and its related effects. [1] We see it from the melting ice caps in the Antarctic, record high temperatures during summer, extended droughts and rainfalls, stronger typhoons, disappearance of glaciers, and changes in behaviour of animal species that are sensitive to environmental temperatures. The strong argument against the existence of global warming is that these aforementioned observations are just normal fluctuations of weather which are to be expected as shown in the evidence of the dynamic changes in the earth over millennia. Another argument is that climate does not just span a few years but centuries, thus the environmental changes now as compared to weather patterns of the world’s earlier climates are hard to differentiate considering that we do not have the same recording and observation technologies then.

However, this argumentation displaces the observation of the accelerated changes in the earth’s atmosphere that cannot be explained by natural processes. It is an accepted fact that the earth cannot infinitely sustain an extended period of calm climate suitable for the human species as this is a dynamic and living planet; however it must be emphasized that the drastic climatic changes in the past were brought about by active natural processes such as immense eruption of volcanoes, geographic changes in the earth’s crust due to tectonic activity, or collision with mega-asteroids from space. These events are few in our lifetimes and are insignificant to cause such drastic effects to the global climate. What is different in this era of change is the presence and prevalence of the human species in all corners of the globe.

If we consider the impact of our presence in this planet, the doubt about our hand in climate change diminishes. It is noticeable that since society’s shift to industrialization, the composition of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has steadily risen to levels that would otherwise not be possible if the earth were left without humans’ economic activities. Our industrial and economic goals are consistent in ideals of expansion and increase in productivity, using more of nature’s reserves every single year. But nature’s design is one that cannot support these models, since what the earth currently has will neither increase nor decrease, but will only transform. As such, whatever processes we apply to the natural materials that we increasingly gather for human consumption will produce by-products that will go nowhere but in the earth itself, changing its overall composition.

Consider our voracious appetite for fossil fuels. The raw materials required to produce it are found at the deepest recesses of the crust, inert and unreactive. The greenhouse gases produced in its manufacture and consumption, on a daily basis, ever increasing, over the span of decades, will most certainly have an effect to the atmosphere’s chemistry. The clearing of vast areas of land to make way for human habitation in response to the exponential rise of our population has certainly displaced an innumerable variety of plants and animals that are key components in the stability of our ecosystem. The consumption of marine resources for food has resulted to extinction or endangerment of species that play important roles in the hierarchy of marine life. Trees and other flora are being harvested unsustainably to respond to the increasing demand for construction and various human commodities.

The excessive success of the human species has tipped the environmental scale in the sense that the natural balance that has kept earth’s climate relatively calm for such an extended period has been disrupted. Global warming is not a crisis of the earth because it is only naturally responding to the changing conditions within it. Rather, it is a crisis of humanity because the place that we have taken for granted for so long is already showing signs that it might not be suited for us anymore. This is the motivation behind acknowledging the anthropogenic nature of climate change. It is to look back far behind to see the consequences of man to nature, and to also look far ahead to see what it might result for him.

However, this altruistic and sociological imagination is proving to be an arduous task. A careful scrutiny of the motivations behind the sceptics of climate change shows that it is hard for our modern society to let go of ideals that will not be economically feasible or which might not produce immediate good results. It is such a challenge for governments to come up with new technologies that will lessen our dependence on fossil fuels because they are too expensive and that the resulting reduction to greenhouse gas emissions will not be so significant as to make a dent in the global scales. In other words, the result is not worth the expense.

Moreover, other sceptics on global warming know the troublesome impact of an environmentally altruistic mindset to our existing social structures. The global economy is largely driven by the fossil fuel industry. Some nations are completely dependent on this resource as their primary source of income. Since fuel is at the bottom of the manufacturing pyramid, all the other industries above it will be affected – food, automotives, home products, even medicines. Fuel consumption is at the heart of modern society; advocacies that go against it will naturally be met with great opposition.

Despite all the resistance and scepticism, the more important and simpler question to ask is, Is there something that we can do? Our species’ intelligence and innovation certainly equip us. What we need are solidarity, passion, and the right mindset. We ought to try to resolve it, and we must. After all, our capable hands are the same hands that made this crisis happen.


[1] Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Naomi Oreskes (2004).  Science. 306 (5702).

 

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