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Global Warming Vs. Climate Change

December 11, 2009

There is a big hoohah over the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen, many members of the public start to take interest and would like to find out what exactly is this issue all about. Many of us use the word “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” interchangeably. But do you know that they are 2 seperate issues? What is the difference behind these 2 terms? Is global warming a subset of climate change or vice versa? Lets check these terms out.

Global Warming

To put it simply, global warming is the phenomenon of the increase in temperature across the globe. Therefore, the ramifications of this would be the melting of polar and mountain ice caps as well as longer summers and shorter winters. Sea levels are rising due to global warming as well, which is why low lying countries like Maldives, Tuvalu and other small island states are fighting very hard in the UN for a ambitious, legally binding and fair agreement in Copenhagen.

Ice caps melting

Now, the main cause of global warming is (or at least from what we see in current research data) is our Greenhouse gases, or GHG for short. Some of the GHG are carbon dioxide, methane from agriculture, CFCs which are known to destroy the ozone and are now banned, and, surprisingly, water vapour. Each of them has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) and we calculate the GWP using that of the CO2 as the base unit. So for example, methane has a GWP of 12, which means it is 12 times more powerful a greenhouse gas as compared to CO2. After we take into account of the GWP of each gas and the concentration of it in air, we are able to tell which gases contribute the most to the heating effect. and the list goes like this:

  • water vapor, which contributes 36–72%
  • carbon dioxide, which contributes 9–26%
  • methane, which contributes 4–9%
  • ozone, which contributes 3–7%

Looking at the data above, you might wonder: Why are we focusing so much on CO2 and not water vapour? CO2 emissions are increasing drastically as we consume more electricity and we burn more fossil fuels for it, especially in countries like the US where many states heavily depend on fossil fuels for energy. Furthermore, as India and China, 2 of the biggest economies pick up, the amount of electricity they consume, the fossil fuels that they burn will exponentially increase by the day. Imagine if 10 years ago, everyone is China has a bicycle and now all of them own a car, how much more fuel would be needed? the amount of CO2 increase, if kept unchecked, will cause temperatures to increase, causing ice caps to melt, and…. well, you know what happens.

Climate Change

So what is Climate Change? Climate basically refers to the long term weather patterns in a certain region, like how much rainfall per month, average temperatures in the area etc. Climate change will then mean a change in these weather patterns. (Note that climate change can mean an increase or decrease in the average temperature of the area)

Climate change

The direct impacts of Climate Change are issues like drier summers, more serious floods and more, if not most importantly, the decrease in crop yield. This can mean political instability because when crop yield drops, there is lesser food to sell, food prices rise, poor people have no food and then they fight for survival. Economies will fall as trade drops. Food importing countries, Singapore for one, will be confronted with issues such as food exporting countries start to keep stock to themselves or sell foodstuffs at high prices. Many negative things can happen, and its usually the poorest countries and people who will be hit the hardest. This is why back here in the UN, many are fighting for these Less Developed Countries, mostly African countries in the sub-Sahara area, are working really hard to make Copenhagen a success.

So which is more serious?

The answer is: both are equally serious. These 2 issues are closely related to each other such that you cannot talk about solving one without solving the other, for better or worse. The solution that many climate scientist propose is that carbon emissions will have to be cut drastically before this whole problem sets to go into vicious cycle that gets worse and worse. Some reports have stated that methane that is trapped in tundra ice in certain permafrost areas are now a ticking timebomb and if the permafrost melts and the methane is released into the atmosphere, the whole problem may be no longer in our control. Other reports have also talked about keeping the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to be at 350 parts per million (it is currently at about 382 ppm) before 2015 or the increased greenhouse effect may be out of our control as well.

It never was beyond our control, its only a matter of your action and will

Be it global warming or climate change, this is a high level emergency and it can no longer be ignored. We have to stop global warming & climate change before things get out of hand. One must understand that even though it may seem to not hit us that bad yet, our environmentally-unfriendly actions will come back and haunt us one day. We still have time, to change our habits, our thinking, our way of life. We still have this one last shot to get things right, and we certainly do not need miracle technology to make a difference. For the youths out there, your actions now can make a great difference in what happens 50 years down the road. You need not to be here to be able to make that difference. As my friend once aptly put across, “Its not the General’s battleplan that won the war, its the recruits’ ability to carry out their task that did it.” Policies by itself is not going solve the problem, the grassroots have to play their part as well. As youths, it is time for us to band together, channel that positive energy towards the same cause and start molding our future, shaping our destiny, and write our own history.

We still have time, and the time is now.

The world changes when I change. =D

Live from COP 15,

Zhi Kai

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