Current Status

  • The composition of Earth’s atmosphere is changing. One of the early indicators of this was the fact that a hole appeared in the Ozone Layer, and this hole is increasing in size.

    Research showed that the reason for it was the release of ChloroFluoroCarbons (CFC’s) into the atmosphere. These gases are commonly used as refrigerants, and although safe enough when confined, cause damage by destroying Ozone molecules when released.

    Research has concentrated on developing safer refrigerants, but CFC’s are still in widespread use, and even the ‘safer’ refrigerants are not completely inert, but will only slow the process down. Furthermore, there is already enough free CFC in the atmosphere to continue attacking the Ozone layer for the next 50 years, and CFC’s increase the retention of heat from the sun, ie. they contribute to global warming.

  • Other gases are known to increase the retention of heat, namely Water Vapour, Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide, and there may well be more. The overall effect of increased water vapour is uncertain at this time, for the increased cloud cover that would result is expected to increase the amount of energy reflected away from Earth, and thus offset the amount of heat retained. For the other three gases, there is no such redeeming factor apparent.

  • Pre- Industrial Revolution levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere are known to be about 270 ppm (parts per million), but even at these levels it was sufficient for the expected overall cooling to be reversed, and a slow warming was apparent. Today, the concentration is up to 380 ppm, and is still rising. The rate of global warming has therefore increased, and will increase faster still with higher concentrations.

    The source of this additional Carbon Dioxide is the burning of carboniferous material, whether it be from a renewable resource, (wood, straw, leaves, etc.), or from fossil fuels. Since the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels have become the predominant source, and the rate of use has increased exponentially. Although the supply is limited, and will reduce, demand is still increasing.

  • The Kyoto Protocol, initiated as the effects of increasing Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere were understood, seeks to limit its concentration to specific levels, but these levels are higher than Pre- Industrial Revolution levels, and even if successful will not stop global warming, only limit the rate of increase. Furthermore, not all contributors to increasing Carbon Dioxide concentrations have been required to limit, (developing countries), and not all developed countries have accepted the need for voluntary restraint, notably America and Australia.

    Unfortunately, as America produces an estimated 25% of the increasing Carbon Dioxide concentrations, the overall reduction target will not be met unless the remaining developed countries are willing to accept an extra share of the burden. There is no indication that this will happen; on the contrary, signatories are doing their utmost to minimise the impact of reduction and limitation on their economies.

  • Ongoing monitoring of Carbon Dioxide concentrations indicates that a revision to the Kyoto Protocol targets is necessary, and a new round of talks is scheduled. There is concern that the process of global warming will trigger a natural acceleration effect that further compounds the problem, and evidence that global warming accelerates is already available from the planet’s history.

    However, seeing the reluctance to compromise economies exhibited by the participants so far, and not expecting those countries which have hitherto refused to sign to repent, it seems unlikely that a new agreement will come anywhere near solving the problem.

  • Although the Carbon Dioxide concentration is being addressed, the other two gases mentioned benefit from no such research or attention. This is particularly unfortunate, for both are far more effective at retaining heat than Carbon Dioxide – (Methane, 21 times, and Nitrous Oxide, 270 times).

    Methane is a natural product of digestion, and is also released from the soil by growing crops. As agricultural activity increases, as it will with increasing population levels, so the amount of Methane released into the atmosphere will increase. Nitrous Oxide is a product of using fossil fuels, and with the apparently insatiable demand currently exhibited, its concentration will steadily increase too.

  • Ice is melting in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and from glaciers around the world. The Greenland Ice Cap, estimated to contain about 10% of the world’s ice-locked water, will raise sea levels by 7 metres when fully melted. Previous estimates of 1000 years for this event to be completed have now been drastically revised downwards to only 100 years, one reason being that free water acts as a lubricant underneath the glacier, and enables a much faster rate of movement.

  • Recent data on the rate of ice loss in the Antarctic indicates a similar rate to that in Greenland, and we can therefore expect the rise in sea level to double to 14 metres in the same time period. However, if the rate of ice loss increases, as seems most likely, for no effective measures to reduce it are yet in place, 14 metres will be an under-estimate by an unknown factor. However, as the Antarctic Ice Mass is estimated to contain about 90% of the world’s ice-locked water, we can put an upper ceiling on the amount of sea level rise possible from this source. This would work out to about 63 metres.

  • Data on the rate of loss of ice from glaciers follows the same pattern as the Arctic and the Antarctic, but the amount of water involved is lower and the timescale is shorter. However, the significance of this loss cannot be discounted, for glaciers provide the meltwater for irrigation of large areas of the world’s agriculture. This is especially true in China and India, and the forecast floods, which will be followed by permanent drought, will decimate large proportions of food production in at least those two countries.

  • Governments around the world show little sign of having understood the urgency of the situation. Proposed actions will not even come close to a solution of the problem, and the insistence on growth, and “business as usual” is a certain recipe for a worldwide disaster that could possibly, even at this late stage, be avoided, or at the least, mollified in extent.

    Those non-signatories placing reliance on a technical solution that does not yet exist, even in concept, are taking unjustifiable risks with all our lives. Although it is said that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, this is no guarantee that a workable solution will be available at the right time, irrespective of the price.

It seems that we will all be subjected to the full effects of global warming, whatever we as individuals may intend.

In this case, it would make sense to evaluate what this entails.

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