[ By Gloria Ngu ]
Climate change (n)
- Climate change is the long-term shift in weather patterns in a specific region or globally. Unlike global warming, which refers to just one aspect of climate change – a rise in the surface temperature of the earth’s surface – climate change refers to changes in a region’s overall weather patterns, including precipitation, temperatures, cloud cover, and so on.
Climate change is no longer a stranger to us―we have either studied about it or experienced it firsthand. All over the world, various countries are facing drastic changes in their climate. With global temperatures rising off the charts, San Francisco underwent its very first rainless January since records began in 1850. Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is putting up with its worst drought in 84 years, and scientists have blamed this situation on the deforestation happening in the Amazon. At the other end, there is Winter Storm Juno, as dubbed by the media, that deposited more than 30 inches of snow over 54 locations in six states. Even here in Malaysia, we are starting to suffer the effects of environmental change. The recent floods have been speculated to be the worst in 30 years, due to the shift in the climate. Even the cooling Cameron Highlands, our strawberry and tea haven, has been experiencing a sharp rise in temperature due to severe deforestation.. Evidently, climate change is happening all around us and while some of us are thinking of ways to combat this issue, some are blissfully unaware.
What’s The Big Deal?
In recent years, extensive research has been done on the pattern of climate change in the past. Efforts to predict future changes that might be disastrous include tracing previous climate changes through ice cores, tree rings, stalagmites, historical records and various other sources.
All research found some sort of a pattern in the environmental changes, proving that the current generation is not the first to combat climate change. On the using of stalagmites to track climate changes, Professor Peter Swart of Rosenstiel School explained, “The stalagmites are solid, with layers that are basically like tree rings related to age, so you can date them.” Swart also theorizes that the red iron layer in the stalagmites is formed by particles of dust from the Sahara that blew across the Atlantic thousands of years ago. According to him, those massive storms appear to be connected to “Heinrich events,” periods where icebergs broke off from glaciers and traversed the North Atlantic. Heinrich events have also been seen as the cause (or even effect) of environmental change. In other words, all these patterns lead to the assumption that climate change is a part of nature and will happen, regardless of the actions of humans.
One controversial viewpoint on the environmental changes is the Gaia Theory, proposed by Dr. James Lovelock in the 1960s following his work with NASA in determining that Mars contained no organic lifeforms. This theory, also known as the Gaia principle or Gaia hypothesis, asserts that living organisms and their inorganic surroundings have evolved together as a single living system that greatly affects the chemistry and conditions of Earth’s surface. Put simply, the earth is able to self-regulate things like the salinity of the ocean and global temperature. This theory received mixed response, with most scientists and researchers ridiculing it while the masses embraced it with both arms.
Based on all this research, climate change shouldn’t be something worth worrying about. We could just go on living the way we do and not bother about the environment because A) climate change is not controlled by us and is part of a natural cycle or B) all will be balanced because the earth is a huge self-regulating system.
So, what exactly is the problem with climate change if it is just a natural phenomenon? Perhaps it is just that along the way, the versatility and ability to evolve to suit our surroundings has been lost. Humans are no longer able to adapt to evolving circumstances. Maybe, with our advancement and development, we have become rigid in our ways. Possibly, we are just holding on dearly to what we know as ‘good’ and ‘normal’, and we are rejecting the thought of having to lose our ‘civilisation’, in which we have invested time and effort to build. Probably, some of us are unwilling to acknowledge that human actions do harm the earth, knowing that when such ideas are acknowledged, action to slow the deterioration will be taken and certain groups might go out of business, both literally and figuratively.
Climate change might be a part of our world’s natural course. It might be something beyond our control. However, we cannot deny the fact that everything we do, especially when it’s done in excess, does accelerate the whole process. Let’s start with somewhere close: Malaysia. In 2014, our greenhouse gas (GHG) emission per capita was a whopping 5.9 million tons, a whole three times more than the levels recorded for Southeast Asia. The main contributor to the GHG emissions was found to be our transportation, in other words our fuel consumption. Southeast Asia isn’t the only part of the world spewing GHG: in 2013, global CO2 emissions due to fossil fuel use (and cement production) were 36 gigatonnes (GtCO2); this is 61% higher than 1990 (the Kyoto Protocol reference year) and 2.3% higher than 2012. Greenhouse gases trap heat easily, and when there is a large amount of such gases trapped in our atmosphere, the heat from the sun is not able to escape, which leads to global warming and subsequently, climate change.
In Semitic religions, homo sapiens are viewed as the caretakers of this world. In the Quran, Torah and Bible, humans are ordered to dominate and rule over the earth. Whereas religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, whether directly or indirectly, emphasize on doing good, which definitely can be extended to our environment. However, putting all religions aside, the act of taking care of the environment just falls back on plain ol’ respect. By doing what we do, are we respecting the earth that provides for us?
This is the age of knowledge. With the Internet leaving information at our fingertips, we have no excuse to feign unawareness. There are many things that we can do to lower GHG emission; just ask our good friend Google for suggestions and solutions. The question is, how will we respond to the knowledge and information that is passed on to us? What will we do?
What will you do?