Tuesday, April 7

Effects of Climate change

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Plant and animal extinctions

are predicted as habitats change faster than species can adapt, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the health of millions could be threatened by increases in malaria, water-borne disease and malnutrition.

As an increased amount of CO2 is released into the atmosphere, there is increased uptake of CO2 by the oceans, and this leads to them becoming more acidic. This ongoing process of acidification could pose major problems for the world’s coral reefs, as the changes in chemistry prevent corals from forming a calcified skeleton, which is essential for their survival.

Reduced Fertility

A recent study in Germany found flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. Similar effects have been seen in the rainforest of Puerto Rico.

The new research, published in the Nature Communications journal, found that exposing red flour beetles to a five-day heatwave in the laboratory reduced sperm production by three-quarters, while females were unaffected.

Heatwaves halved the amount of offspring males could produce, and a second heatwave almost sterilised males. Other research has shown that heat can damage male reproduction in humans as well as other mammals.

Heatwaves are predicted to become more common under climate change, with consequences for human and animal health.

Increased Criminal Behaviour

Prof Székely told BBC News that data show the impact of climate change is driving increased nest predation among shorebirds.

Warming maybe changing the behaviour and habitat of animals, such as foxes, which steal eggs. For critically endangered species such as the spoonbill sandpiper, this could be the last nail in the coffin.

But, even human criminals are benefitting from warmer winters according to a new American study. The explanation is simple enough: warmer temperatures mean more people are out and about, creating the opportunity for crime.

In technical terms, three elements needed for a crime to occur – a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a guardian such as a police officer – are more likely to come together when the weather is decent.

The link between warmer temperatures and crime all but disappears during the summer months, the study found. That finding cast doubt on an alternative theory, known as the temperature aggression hypothesis, which holds that heat causes stress which makes people more likely to commit crimes.

The Next Revolution

Mass extinctions due to the Earth’s warming caused by human endeavour will lead us to the next revolution. The buzzwords for years to come will be sustainability and cooling. How can we reverse the significant damage that our development has done since the industrial revolutions. Prior to which, there had always been more resources than the demand for them.

The next revolution therefore will be that of sustainability.

It would take just one person in the 1960s to make the general public aware of the cause and effect of human outgrowth from the Industrial Revolution. That was Rachel Carson, in her globally acclaimed 1962 book, Silent Spring. For the first time, the public and industry would begin to grasp the concept of sustainable production and development.

It was the fossil fuel coal that fueled the Industrial Revolution, forever changing the way people would live and utilize energy. While this propelled human progress to extraordinary levels, it came at extraordinary costs to our environment, and ultimately to the health of all living things.

American geophysicist M. King Hubbert predicted in 1949 that the fossil fuel era would be very short-lived and that other energy sources would need to be relied upon.

Cooling the Earth

One new study says that every year, for the past 25 years, we have put about 150 times the amount of energy used to generate electricity globally into the seas – 60% more than previous estimates.

“The heat stored in the ocean will eventually come back out if we start cooling the atmosphere by reducing the greenhouse effect,” said Dr Resplandy.

“The ocean circulation that controls the ocean heat uptake/release operates on time scales of centuries, meaning that ocean heat would be released for the centuries to come.”

As well as rapidly reducing the carbon dioxide that we humans are pumping into the atmosphere in huge amounts, recent scientific assessments of climate change have all suggested that cutting emissions alone will not be enough to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 or 2 degrees C.

First on the list is

Coastal blue carbon

There is a lot of potential for increasing the amount of carbon that is stored in living plants and sediments found in the marshy lands near the sea shore and on the edges of river estuaries. They include mangroves, tidal areas and seagrass beds.

Together, these wetlands contain the highest carbon stocks per unit area of any ecosystem.

The National Academies study says that by creating new wetlands and restoring and protecting these fringe areas, there is the potential to more than double the current rate of carbon extracted from the atmosphere.

What’s more the study says that this is quite a cheap option, where carbon can be captured for around $20 a tonne.

The downsides, though, are that these coastal ecosystems are some of the most threatened areas on Earth, with an estimated 340,000 to 980,000 hectares being destroyed each year.

When you degrade these areas, instead of soaking up CO2 they themselves become significant sources of the gas.

Other problems are that rising seas around the world might swamp and destroy marsh lands. Another restriction is that there just aren’t enough coastal areas.

Engineering Cooling Systems

Another way apart from reducing carbon dioxide emissions, is to change the way we keep food and buildings cool.

Currently, air conditioners and refrigerators run on hydrofluorocarbons, also known as HFCs, which heat up the planet. HFCs will start being phased out in high-income countries in 2019 as part of the Kigali accord, but they will still be used in other corners of the globe, where incomes are rising and more people are buying fridges and A/C units. Plus, we will still have to make sure to properly dispose of all HFC-powered fridges and air conditioners; otherwise the refrigerant left inside could become a huge source of emissions.

One ecologically motivated team has developed a roof-top sized array for cooling, built from a highly reflective material made from glass and polymers.

In tests, the system kept water around 10C cooler than the ambient air when exposed to midday sunlight in summer.

The approach could also be scaled up to cool power stations and data centres.

The system is based around what’s termed a cooling meta-material, which is essentially an engineered film not found in nature.

Educating Girls

But there’s also a solution to global warming having nothing to do with energy.

Eight of the other 20 items on the list have to do with the way our food system is set up, from how we till and fertilise land to what we consume. That is something anyone can take action on right now, Mr Frischmann said.

“The decisions we make every day about the food we produce, purchase and consume are perhaps the most important contributions every individual can make to reversing global warming,” he said, adding, “we don’t need to cut down forests for food production. The solutions to reversing global warming are the same solutions to food insecurity.”

But beyond food and farming, there is another powerful weapon that the Project Drawdown list does not fully highlight.

“Taken together, educating girls and family planning is the number one solution to reversing global warming,” Mr Frischmann said.

Letting more girls continue their education, receive wanted contraception and space out their youngsters as they would like could cut around 120 billion tons of greenhouse gases that we would otherwise emit over the next 30 years, according to Project Drawdown’s calculations.

That is because better control of the population size would reduce demand for energy, food, travel, buildings and all other resources on the planet.


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