Monday, 16 May 2011

Climate: The fundamental force that shapes the life on Earth

News of extreme weather from all parts of the world like floods, famines, hurricanes are becoming a common factor today. Apart from sporadic climate fluctuations unprecedented long term changes like ice melting, rising temperature, desertification are bringing far-reaching economic, social and ecological consequences.
In our maiden article we will try to understand whether we - the human race - is responsible for this and if so, what can we do to avoid this disaster.
As we know now, Global Warming is the greatest threat to life on earth today. Climatic conditions around the world are being transformed by rising temperatures. Every place on earth is undergoing alarming changes, which is causing huge loss of habitat for plants, animals and human beings as well. Green house gases are heating up the atmosphere, affecting crops and exposing it to new deadly diseases. As the polar ice is melting at alarming rate there is a rise in sea levels due to which coastal areas and islands are getting flooded or submerged. It is now a question to understand how much high will sea levels rise? How much carbon dioxide can the atmosphere safely hold? It is therefore important to see that how will the civilization cope with increasingly dangerous weather conditions. In the following series we will try to understand the reasons of climatic changes its effect and what must be done today for the sake of our planet and thereby securing it for the future generations to follow.

Let us see some of the recent incidences and try to evaluate if the climate is really changing.

In 2002-03 Australia experienced its worst drought in a century. The lack of rain has devastated Australian farmers. Farm income has dropped drastically. The population of sheep, a backbone of Australian economy, has gone down to its lowest level ever. Grain production has plunged down by more than half. With temperatures rising and water becoming scarce the problems are becoming worse. Added to it forest fires have become rampant. Drought continues in many parts of South Australia. In many areas of the country, rainfall is decreasing. It is feared by many that drought has become a permanent condition.
Portugal witnessed the most devastating forest fires in year 2003. The fire damaged some 2,500 houses and other buildings and destroyed around ten lakh acres of forest land. Similarly throughout the region from Spain to Greece wildfires are on increase. Apart from trees and human properties, habitats of wild animals, birds and other living organism are being destroyed, putting further stress on already threatened species.
United States is witnessing more hurricanes than ever. One of their states, Florida seemed helpless when four hurricanes hit it in year 2004 within a span of just two months, with wind velocity as high as 233 km/hr, in all killing hundreds of people, thousands homeless and damaging property worth billions of dollars.
In Fiji a South Pacific nation, made up of hundreds of islands the residents have noticed that coastal flooding have increased and the coastlines are getting eroded faster. Tides come in farther than they used to, whereas fresh water is becoming scarce and the soil less stable. The villagers depend on sea food, but the local marine life has been far disturbed. Coral reefs are bleached white having lost the microscopic algae that live inside their cells. Villagers across other islands have similar stories to tell. With sea level rising, some low lying islanders are considering moving their entire population to mainland.
In the Arctic, Polar bears are going hungry and their young ones are starving to death for lack of food or because their nursing mothers lack body fat which they need to nourish their offspring. The scarcity of their food is due to melting of ice. As their main food are seals. And their hunting pattern and arrival of seals is getting disturbed their by making the conditions poorer for them.

We ourselves have also witnessed the unprecedented July 2005 disaster in Mumbai, floods in Rajasthan and the recent havoc of Bihar.
What is the causing all these dramatic events? Is it really due to climate change or are they merely a coincidence? Is the human activity accelerating the changes?
Climate varies from region to region, but its long term stability is part of what gives every region its special character. Human beings around the world, like all other organisms depend on climate remaining about the same. We rely on steadiness of climate to travel, work, plant crops, build houses which suit the local climate and so on. Though climate has changed to extremes in earth history, the question is whether it is changing now? are we responsible and how we are going to cope-up with it.
As climate can be measured only over the long term period no single weather event attribute to climate change. On the broader scale climate is influenced by five different factors. The atmosphere (air), the lithosphere (earth), the hydrosphere (water), the cryosphere (ice and snow) and the biosphere (the total life on earth). The sun being the power source that drives most of the above elements.
For many years now, evidence from around the world has been mounting that the global climate is indeed changing. Conditions and events that have been documented by climate researchers indicate that temperatures are rising around the globe. Glaciers are melting faster and the danger to low lying coastal areas is evident. The answer to whether human activity is contributing to this change is becoming increasingly clear as evidence continues to mount. Scientist world over have observed that human activity is indeed contributing to climate change and that natural processes alone cannot account for the massive change.
After the formation of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the United Nations in 1988 over 3000 scientists world over are examining the factors contributing to the climate change, The 2001 report of IPCC clearly states that "Earth's climate system has demonstrably changed on both global as well as regional scales since the pre-industrial era with some of these changes attributable of human activity." The level of carbon dioxide - a gas normally present in marginal quantity in atmosphere - is higher now than pre-industrial period due to excessive burning of fossil fuel, which emits carbon dioxide. Scientists have little doubt that this and other gases like CFC, Methane and so on released by human activity is preventing heat from escaping from the planet, causing global temperatures to rise faster than ever before as compared to past hundreds of decades.
Earths climate has undergone through many radical changes since time immemorial from ice ages to hot house periods, long before humans appeared on earth. The present crises makes some sense in the context of that history which shows that the forces that shape climate are complex and that climate's effect on people and other living things are far ranging and profound. If nothing is done to arrest the current global warming, the pace of change in the natural world will quicken dramatically and the price we would pay would be far more than our society is willing or rather able to pay. The cost of change will not only be economical but through agricultural losses, extended droughts, productive and habitable land being permanently lost to oceans making lakhs and lakhs of people becoming homeless as well as increased deaths from sun strokes and heat waves, unprecedented epidemics in our society and extinction of species that are invaluable to humans for what they provide; directly or indirectly, making our living comfortable.
The impact of our actions today and our willingness to anticipate and work for a sustainable future will show whether we really care for our only place to reside- The Earth- in order to avert the worst, while the time is ticking away.

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