Global warming is the single most important eco-political challenge facing humankind today. With every passing year, the average global temperature is rising, causing permafrost, sea ice and glaciers to melt at an alarming rate.
The average surface temperature on the earth’s surface has increased by approximately 0.6 degrees Celsius over the past century. Although this change may not seem all that significant, the effect on the Polar Regions has been tremendous.
View a multimedia representation of how sea ice has retreated over time here.
Rising sea levels threaten millions of people inhabiting coastal regions, whilst rising ocean temperatures are already leaving thousands of square nautical miles of “dead zones”.
The adverse medium to long-term affects of global climatic changes has been dubbed the Climate Crisis, and poses a very real and ongoing threat, not only to our continued existence as a species, but also to the earth’s ability to support life.
Understanding the Climate Crisis
The Climate Crisis, unlike the threat of a nuclear holocaust, for example, has historically not been treated as an immediate, clear and present danger. The fact that climate changes occur over centuries has created a false sense of public security, and effectively pushed climate changes to the very back of the political agenda.
Until very recently, that is.
With the groundbreaking An Inconvenient Truth, Former US Vice President Al Gore raised a flag for the climate advocacy cause.
It is the one film you have to see.
Challenges for crisis communications
During the last two decades, a lack of scientific consensus, combined with the fact that several successive conservative US administrations deliberately trivialised the need for environmental accountability, has led to the entrenchment of a global phenomenon: Apathy.
The climate change debate of the Eighties and Nineties was a largely unproductive hodgepodge of conspiracy theories, denialism and misinformation, effectively discrediting the valid scientific research that was being conducted in this field.
Whilst a lack of empirical evidence and administrations with vested energy interests continued to stonewall efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, global warming continued apace.
Every year, entire frozen continental basins thaw and disintegrate, never to refreeze again. Every summer, more and more polar bears are found drowning, simply because the icebergs they could rest on are disappearing.
What is causing this climate change?
Humankind is at fault. Scientists worldwide agree that the excessive carbon dioxide produced by industrial society is at the root of this problem. Carbon dioxide, although not harmful in itself, forms a heat-retaining atmospheric blanket when produced in large enough quantities.
Human beings burn fossil fuels to create energy, resulting in billions of tons of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere.
At no time preceding this century has deforestation and climatic change happened this fast. No previous civilisation has had such a significant and devastating impact on the earth’s resources and ecosystems.
No future generation will have the opportunity to reverse this.
How does climatic change affect us?
All of earth’s life systems are in decline. In essence, our generation has moved beyond the point where “this will be bad for our children’s children”. Climate change today threatens millions of people worldwide. If left unaddressed, global warming and the resultant rising sea levels could see the number of climate refugees climb from 1 million in 1990 to a staggering 70 million in 2080.
Chillingly, a more recent UN projection estimated that there may be as many as 150 million climate refugees worldwide by the middle of the century.
Learn more about the scientific findings about global warming; view a summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scientific Consensus Report.
We will be alive to witness this; it will happen in our lifetimes.
Terms such as “climate asylum seeker” for the first time ever start moving from the realm of the hypothetical to reality. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Catherina (New Orleans, August 2005), the floods of 2000 in Mozambique or the 2005 Tsunami in South East Asia are occurring increasingly frequently, and with unprecedented levels of destruction.
Climate change is a vicious cycle
With floods comes water-borne diseases, and more people tend to die from the aftermath of a catastrophe, rather than from the initial disaster.
Yet paradoxically, climate change also causes extreme droughts and freak-flooding. Both these phenomena disrupt the production of crops and primary food groups, effectively hitting commercial growers and destroying the livelihoods of subsistence farmers. Left destitute and without crops, such the drought-stricken are left with no choice but to further exploit their natural environs in an unsustainable way.
Climate change is bad for business
Across the board, businesses are starting to feel the adverse effects of climate changes. In New Orleans, home assurance companies had to deal with a spate of fraudulent fire-related claims, following homeowners realising that their homes weren’t covered for flood-related damages.
Another example of the economical impacts of climate change is that it can reduce the lifestyle appeal of towns or entire cities, thus adversely affecting the ability of local businesses to source skilled employees.
How will climatic changes affect the earth?
Climatic change is already causing thousands of species to go extinct. Animals and organisms play an integral in earth’s life-supporting systems, and the implications of global warming are mind-boggling.
What is being done to combat climate change?
Europe has been a central locus for climate and carbon-related advocacy, with civilians and institutions alike taking proactive steps to reduce and offset their carbon footprints.
Although the Kyoto Protocol, an international framework treaty compelling member countries to reduce their Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, was as adopted during 1997, major industrial players such as the United States opted not to ratify it, eliciting much criticism worldwide. The US also opted not to come to the party at the South African hosted World Summit on Sustainable Development, effectively ham-stringing the Protocol for more than a decade.
With international support for the cause steadily rising, the Bali Climate Summit was hoped to change this by setting firm targets for curbing carbon emission, yet in practice only managed to serve as pre-negotiations on how Kyoto’s recommendations are to be implemented – and who will be footing the bill.
The summit, attended by 190 nations, including the US, resulted in a commitment to create a new, strategically focused treaty for reducing carbon emissions, and for assisting the world’s poorest countries in dealing with the adverse effects of climate change.
Yet predictably, the world’s biggest carbon crook was playing hardball – especially when it came to determining the targets for emissions reduction. Environmentalists have expressed disappointment regarding the Bali Roadmap, yet the summit nonetheless constituted a landmark event in terms of international cooperation top combat climate change
Organisations involved in combating climate change
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- World Wildlife Fund
- Friends of the Earth