An unparalleled calamity is in the making. No, it is not just global warming. Increase in temperature is easy to record, document and debate about. Global emissions, far from decreasing, remain on a steep upward curve of almost exceptional growth. What goes unnoticed is the human effort to dismantle the planet and fiddle with biodiversity. Aren’t we relentlessly working to lay it waste?
E very year thousands of species vanish due to human activity. To take an example of 5743 known amphibian species, 43 percent are in decline, 32 percent are threatened, and 168 individual species are believed to be extinct. The twenty-first century could witness a biodiversity collapse – 100 to 1,000 times greater than any previous extinction since the dawn of humanity, according to the World Resources Institute.
No one knows exactly how many species exist on earth, nor are we aware about the rate of extinction and its impact on the ecosystem. Global warming is just one of them. Rainforests are disappearing. By burning them we not only contribute towards pollution but we are destroying the very greens responsible for the removal of this gas from the air. Besides promoting global warming, the shrinking forest habitat impacts human life. Diseases like AIDS from apes, SARS from civets, Ebola from fruit bats and several others have changed boundaries.
We are evolving a planet where exotic diseases flourish but natural medicinal cures are lost. More than a quarter of the medicines on our pharmacy shelves originate from plants – quinine, taxol, asprin, to name a few. Of the roughly 250,000 plant species on earth, less than 5 % have been studied for pharmacy. Possibly a lot of life saving drugs are still hidden in those greens that we are destroying. Loss of rainforest worsens global warming and in fact it acts synergistically. It leads to more extinction of species and this downward spiral of destruction continues.
Blue Planet Blues
20 % of the people on Earth lack access to clean water which is so unevenly distributed across the globe. The Americas have the largest amount while the Pacific islands have the least. Diminishing freshwater is a threat to humanity. Add to this the infectious pathogens and countless chemicals that seeps into it at an alarming level.
Millions, mostly children, die of diarrheal diseases. We should not take water for granted. A UN estimate suggests that by 2025, 48 nations, with a combined population of 2.8 billion, will face freshwater ‘stress and scarcity.’ If water scarcity is a concern, a bigger menace emerges from water surplus. Rise in sea levels, even by a fraction of a meter, would spell disaster.
One study suggests that although coastal areas, less than 10 meters above sea level constitute only 2 % of the world’s landmass, they are home to 10 % of the population. This hydrological change would compel us to relocate this 10 %. We need to think before it is too late.
At the hub of climatic change dilemma lies the cities that contribute around 80 % of greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide, factories and other stationary sources emit 7 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, a number that may increase in coming years. Carbon-dioxide emissions could reduce the earth’s outer atmosphere by 3 % by 2017.
The thinning atmosphere could mean that satellites in low Earth orbit would have less resistance and could stay in operation longer, according to a group of researchers from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research. Half of humanity finds comfort in cities and this figure is ever on the rise. Cities are the ultimate consumer of energy, utilizing three quarter of world’s total in transport, construction, industry, and in the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings.
Domestic heating is the biggest contributor to personal carbon emissions, accounting for 75 % of household energy use. Cities tend to get hot for various reasons – buildings, roads, pavements that soak up heat during the day. City concentrations are vulnerable targets for doom and disasters.
Cities with ageing sewer infrastructure already experience sewage overflow to rivers or even into homes during heavy rainstorms. Coastal cities face even bigger challenges as they explore better flood defences. The science is clear that the planet is heating up and the process will continue to do so leading to catastrophic consequences. City leadership plays an important part in climatic change.
By far the biggest impact on a city’s emissions will come through policies that affect the way individuals and businesses use energy. Cutting on carbon emissions is all about strategies, planning and implementation. The obvious places to start are buildings and transport.
China’s approach to Dontang is worth appreciating. It has become the world’s first ‘carbon neutral sustainable city. Similarly, planning and construction rules can be based on energy saving measures. Laws in Barcelona requires all buildings ( above certain height) to use solar energy for water heating.
Call it “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”. The reality is, the planet is getting hotter. There is no doubt the climate is changing. But did you know that kids feel it the most ? The Arctic will feel the impacts of climate change more severely than the rest of the world. Average temperature in the Arctic have risen at about twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Rapidly retreating sea ice and glaciers, eroding coasts, and thawing permafrost are among the major environmental problems the Arctic faces in the decades ahead. As global warming accelerates in polar regions, the Arctic Ocean could be temporarily ice free during the summer of 2040 – ( Lawson W. Brigham, “Thinking about the Arctic’s Future: Scenarios for 2040.)