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How Climate Change Came to Light

December 9, 2009

Hi again everyone! Today’s post will be on how climate change came to be recognized by the international community as a pressing global problem, and why exactly it is so problematic.

First and foremost, let us understand what is meant by the term “Climate change”. The term refers to the change in weather patterns over an extended period of time, spanning from decades to millennia. These changes can manifest themselves in the form of melting glaciers and icecaps, changing distribution of vegetation cover and perhaps most famously, rising sea levels.

The science of climate change dates back over 2 centuries. The global warming potential of gases in the atmosphere was first discovered by mathematician Joseph Fourier in 1820. Carbon dioxide was identified as a greenhouse gas through experiments carried out by John Tyndal in 1850 while in 1890 Svante Arrhenius elucidated the exact mathematical relationship between global temperature and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Photo of Svante Arrhenius

By the 1970s, climate change had become a megascience, attracting scientists from diverse fields. Through ice cores extracted from Greenland, concrete proof that carbon dioxide causes global warming was produced. It was found that carbon dioxide dropped to a low of 180ppm during to the worst glacial periods and 280ppm during the warmer years. Since the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased rapidly together with global temperatures to unprecedented levels, and given the scientific proof, it is evident that humans are causing this change in global temperature.

Correlation between Global Temperature and Carbon Dioxide Concentration

With the scientific proof laid out and beyond reasonable doubt. The next step was for the masses to recognize this nascent threat to humanity. This process was catalyzed through documentaries and concerts by high profile members of the community such as policitians (Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth), actors (Leonardo di Caprio’s 11th Hour) and musicians (Live Earth Concert). With the aid of technology, their actions could be seen at every corner of the world, and this greatly abetted the process of generating environmental awareness in people around the world, allowing climate change to be recognized by the international community.

An Inconvenient Truth

Currently, one of the most pressing concerns with regards to climate change is the the rising sea level which threatens low lying coastal cities as gradual encroachment of the shoreline robs the country of precious economically productive land. The situation is especially dire for small island countries, who are at the risk of being completely inundated by the rising sea levels. For them, it is a struggle of survival, and this coming COP, these states have formed the AOSIS (alliance of small island states) to fight for their survival.

Other pressing problems include imminent collapse of ecosystems as species unable to adapt to the warmer climate go extinct at a rate far higher than the natural rate. Proliferation of diseases has also increased as a result of rising temperatures which enable disease carrying micro-organisms expand their geographical reach such as in the case of malaria in Africa. Weather patterns have also become more unpredictable and violent, a trait clearly exhibited by hurricanes in the North Atlantic ocean.

There are many more problems associated with climate change, and we could go on for days if we wanted to cover them all. Those listed above are just some of the major issues, and if you wish to find out more, good readings include Common Wealth by Jeffrey Sachs and The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, which are both written by seasoned experts in the field of climate change.

Common Wealth

For the last two centuries, climate change has been neglected and even rejected. But we are now running out of time, and our generation needs to act swiftly and decisively. What role would you assume?

Live from COP15

Zhang Yi Tao

ECO Singapore

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