A great deal of what we hear about green issues and sustainability has to do with climate change. While we know that climate changes constantly, what we have been experiencing over the past 100 years is an acceleration of the natural pace at which these changes occur. Scientists now agree that accelerated climate change and global warming are a direct consequence of human activities. While this is alarming, it is also a cause for hope: if our actions have created the problem, they can also be the source of a solution.
“so what if it gets warmer? we have aircon…”
Quite often we make the mistake of oversimplifying the issue of climate change and global warming. “So what if it gets warmer? We have air-con…” is a usual response to a really scary reality. Sadly, just one or two degrees more increase in our global average will significantly affect the ability of the planet to continue to provide the favourable conditions for humans to survive in. It’s not a case of saving the planet, it is a case of saving ourselves.
We can use a metaphor to explain the consequences of climate change: our planet it like a fine spider web. If we put too much pressure on one of the strands, the whole web collapses. It is almost impossible to remove any of the strands of the web without destroying the whole. Similarly, climate change is not just about global warming, it is about its ripple effects. And sadly, while air-con might make us feel comfortable now, it will provide no solace against the other consequences.
What are the consequences of climate change?
The major effects of climate change are being seen in water cycles and key human survival systems.
WATER CYCLE: With increased air temperatures there have been measurable increases in ocean surface temperatures which consequently increase the velocity of air speeds above them. These have resulted in a number of extreme weather events from the Philippines to New York State resulting in massive human and infrastructural damage. Increased air temperatures also result in more humidity in the air, which collects large volumes of water vapour that travel over far distances resulting in massive storms (both rain and snow-storms) towards the end of the wet season. Toward the end of the dry season, we see areas all over the world suffering from massive droughts; the increased air temperatures suck the water humidity right out of the ground resulting in massive crop failures, water shortages, drying dams, and for much of our continent, starvation. The most published effect of global warming is on the poles. In the North pole there has been severe mountain glacier melting thereby exposing dangerous methane pools trapped in the ice. In the South pole, sea glaciers can melt as quickly as 48m (vertical) in 24 hours resulting in massive sea-level rise. In certain coastal towns, the sea-level has risen so much that insurers will no longer provide insurance to property owners.
KEY SURVIVAL SYSTEMS: Humans depend on three things for survival; drinking water, food and health. These three systems are currently being severely affected by climate change. Drinking water is being depleted from ground water to be used in agriculture and industry and in many cases is being polluted through these activities. In addition, increased temperatures and are increasing demands for water which is not being replenished. It is also making it extremely difficult for certain plants to grow, with farmlands gradually shrinking in size and consequently affecting the economy too. In many areas, lack of water in combination with lack of food has led to unrest and war. The last survival system is that of health. Higher temperatures (and increased global connectivity) makes for the easy spread of viruses, leading to more outbreaks of deadly diseases like Ebola and Malaria.
What can we do?
We can achieve so much if we all work together to enhance the many solutions out there. These are no longer ‘nice to have’s’ but according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change essential changes we must make. Fortunately, there is already so much being done to limit the human effects on climate change. For example, rather than using wasteful coal-fired or questionable nuclear power-stations, more and more options for off-grid solar PV panels to generate electricity from the smallest villages in Africa, to the most powerful governments in the world. Alternative design strategies are begin used to build cities and infrastructure based on ecological principles that cherish natural resources. Wind farms are being improved and other forms of energy production are also being explored. There are initiatives to curb deforestation and to improve agriculture using more sustainable farming methods along with more an more people calling for better food production methods. For homeowners, we can also make a contribution: choosing to build using more sustainable methods, using solar and other alternatives for energy generation on site as well as harvesting rainwater and limiting storm water runoff from site. Choosing to use local products, systems and professionals also contributes to helping the economy while lowering carbon footprints. And lastly, in a consumer-driven world we should remember that every time we buy something, we are voting for they type of future we want to have.