Term Paper: Global Warming the Reality

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Global Warming

The reality of global warming can no longer be denied. Some of the harsh consequences of global warming on water, food production, health, and the environment are already apparent as our earth warms because of greenhouse gases. The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce emissions of these gases. Yet, the protocol exempted some of the world's largest offenders, China and India, because they are classified as developing countries. The United States, in turn, did not ratify the protocol because it felt that these countries would have an unfair advantage that would damage its economy. Rather than signing a binding international commitment to reduce its emissions, each country claims it has a plan to deal with the problem, but these plans continue to go unexecuted. Ultimately, these countries and the rest of the world will pay a huge price for their inaction because the problem simply becomes more expensive to fix over time.

Although there is still some disagreement on exactly why global warming is happening, global warming is now a widely-recognized reality rather than a debated phenomenon. Most experts agree that the earth is warming because of the release of heat-trapping gases, often called greenhouse gases, and believe the leading cause is pollution from factories, cars and burning forests (Global warming, 2006). Heat-trapping gases allow sunlight in, but prevent resulting heat from radiating back into space. According to the Stern review: the economics of climate change published by the British government, "Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world -access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms." (HM Treasury) Despite these disturbing predictions, the major offending countries don't seem to be doing very little about the problem of global warming; instead, they are motivated by their own short-run economic advantages for continuing the status quo even though they and the rest of the world would be better off if they took immediate actions.

Overwhelming evidence supports global warming. For example, since 1990, the world has experienced ten of the warmest years on record and since 1980 the world has experienced nineteen of the twenty warmest years (Global warming and sudden climate change, 2004). The average temperature of the earth has increased more than one degree Fahrenheit since 1900 and the rate of warming has been three times the average rate over the past 100 years since 1970. Scientists expect average temperatures to increase three to ten degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century (Global warming and sudden climate change, 2004).

As temperatures have risen, evidence shows that glaciers have already receded substantially throughout the world. Of particular concern are the Himalayan glaciers that are shrinking at a rate of thirty-three to forty-nine feet each year (Himalayan glaciers 'melting fast', 2005). Scientists fear that glaciers will eventually melt and, along with thermal expansion, lead to a rise in sea level. Only a small increase in sea level would flood coastal plains and displace refugees living in these areas (Global warming, Wikipedia). A sea level increase of approximately thirteen feet would impact almost every coastal city in the world. By 2100, forecasters predict an increase in sea levels from anywhere between 3.54 inches and three feet (Global warming, Wikipedia).

After this time, however, scientists fear irreversible harm to glacial systems will accelerate their demise at a far more rapid rate (Global warming, Wikipedia).

The direct health impacts of global warming are also expected to be serious. Directly from hotter tempeatures comes the increased risk of illness and death for everyone, especially the elderly and people with heart and respiratory problems (Consequences of global warming). This is because global warming threatens the ozone layer that protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation. Ozone pollution resulting from higher air temperatrues damages the lungs. Increased exposure to UV-B radiation also causes skin cancer, cataracts and immune suppression in both animals and humans (Earth's protection shield is being destroyed - ozone depletion and global warming). Warmer temperatures will increase the prevalence of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and encephalitis that ae spread by mosquitoes, other insects and rodents (Consequences of global warming). As the earth warms, transmitters of diseases will relocate to new places where they can survive, exposing more people to diseases. Changes in sea surface temperature and sea level can lead to higher incidences of water-borne infectious and toxin-related illnesses such as malaria, cholera, dengue, and leishmaniasis (Earth's protection shield is being destroyed - ozone depletion and global warming).

In addition to the health implications of global warming, UV-B radiation from ozone depletion has the potential to disrupt the entire food chain, leading to widespread starvation (Earth's protection shield is being destroyed - ozone depletion and global warming). Because this radiation damages both plants and animals, human susceptibility to infections will be further compounded by malnutrition. UV-B harms amphibian eggs, midge larvae and trout as well as food crops, reducing food availability. and, UV-B harms the productivity of phytoplankton, thereby reducing the available food for animals that feed on phytoplankton.

Given the dire consequences of global warming, one would assume that it would be one of the most pressing priorities for all countries. Some work has begun. Most notably, the Kyoto Protocol is an agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (U.S. Climate Policy and Actions). Countries that ratify this protocol commit to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2012, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases. Emissions trading allows companies to purchase or sell allowances from the market should they have deficits or surplusses. Enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol just began in February 2005.

Although a total of 166 countires have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the countries that would have the most impact have not participated (Kyoto Protocol). The United States, currently the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has refused to sign the agreement because it states that exemptions to developing countries such as China and India provide unfair competitive advantages that would seriously harm the United States economy. Instead of ratifying the Kyoto Protocl agreement, the United States is sticking to its "strategy" announced way back in early 2001 to, "reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the American economy by 18% over the 10-year period from 2002 to 2012" (Kyoto Protocol). Clearly, ample evidence suggests this "strategy" simply isn't being executed.

Carbon dioxide emissions account for approximately eighty-four percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and continue to grow (Emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States 2005, 2006). From 2003 to 2004, carbon dioxide emissions increased in this country by 1.9%, 113.4 million metric tons, and 0.3%, 19.9 million metric tons, from 2004 to 2005. Rather than United States policy, the slower growth in emissions from 2004 to 2005 can be attributed to higher energy prices that suppressed demand, low or negative growth in several energy-intensive industries, and weather-related disruptions in the energy infrastructure along the Gulf Coast (Emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States 2005, 2006).

Unregulated emissions from exempted countries under the Kyoto Protocol are also getting progressively worse. The International Energy Agency has just released a report in late 2006 revealing that China will surpass the United States in 2009, a decade ahead of previous predictions, as the largest emitter of the main gases linked to global warming (China to pass U.S. In 2009 in emissions, 2006). In fact, unregulated emissions from China, India and other developing countries are predicted to account for most of the global increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the next twenty-five years. Like the United States, China and India discuss their commitment to stop global warming with no credible actions to support their words. For example, China has just stated that it plans to improve energy efficiency by twenty percent over its current five-year plan (Tanner, 2007). However, China has no binding international commitments to reduce its emissions and failed to meet similar targets it set five years ago (Olesen, 2007). it's hard to imagine how China can meet its plans considering that this country is continuing to open a new coal-fired power plant every week (Tanner, 007). Even though it is far behind more developed European countries and the United States in using technology to clean its coal, China maintains that converting to cleaner energies on a mass scale would be too costly (Olesen, 2007). For now, China is content to research the problem. For its part, India asserts that it is simply following the principle of common, but differentiated responsibility where reducing emissions rests primarily with the developed countries that have accumulated emissions over a longer period of time (Kyoto Protocol).

While countries such as the United States, China and India seem… [END OF PREVIEW]

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