buy energy-efficient products. Even if they cost a little more initially, the savings involved usually pay for themselves via lower energy bills, and the environment benefits as well.
Ken Ostrowski, leader of the project report team, says, "What the report calls out is the fact that the potential is so substantial for energy efficiency. Not that we will do it, but the potential is just staggering here in the U.S. There is a lot of inertia, and a lot of barriers. The country can do the job with tested approaches and high-potential emerging technologies, but doing the work will require strong, coordinated, economy-wide action that begins in the near future."
The report also suggested solutions such as rewriting regulations for the utilities, enabling them to make as much promoting conservation as in selling energy. It also supports the notion of a "broad public education program focusing on wasteful energy consumption."
Taking the lead in one aspect is Delta Airlines. Beginning in spring 2007, the airline gave customers the opportunity to become involved in reforestation efforts by making donations to their Conservation Fund when they booked their airline tickets. The following December, Continental Airlines created a "carbon offsetting calculator" where travelers are able to view the "carbon footprint" of their flight and make a donation to a nonprofit group called Sustainable Travel International. While there, they can choose one of four "offsetting portfolios" that range from reforestation efforts to renewable energy projects. Other airlines such as Air Canada and British Airline are starting to follow and offer similar services.
The National Assessment currently consists of 16 separate regional projects. Project leaders are charged with assessing their region's most vulnerable aspects—the resources that would be affected most by global warming. These include resources such as water supply and quality, agricultural productivity, and human health issues. Once potential impacts are identified, strategies are proposed and developed to cope and adapt to global warming impacts should they occur.
Michael MacCracken, head of the coordinating national office, says, "The goal of the assessment is to provide the information for communities as well as activities to prepare and adapt to the changes in climate that are starting to emerge."
The more successful that mitigation strategies are toward the effects of global warming today, the less human populations will have to adapt in the short and long term. According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, however, in recognition that the climate system has a great deal of inertia and is increasing, mitigation efforts alone are now insufficient to protect the Earth from some degree of climate change. Even if extreme measures to combat global warming were taken immediately to slow or even stop emissions, the momentum of the Earth's climate is such that additional warming is inevitable. Some of the warming that is unstoppable now is due to emissions of greenhouse gases that were released into the atmosphere decades ago. Because of this, humans have no choice but to adapt to the damage that has already been done.
According to the Pew Center, adaptation is not a simple, straightforward issue for humans or ecosystems. Each system has its own "adaptive capacity." In systems that are well managed (in developed countries such as the United States), wealth, the availability of technology, responsible decision-making capabilities, human resources, and advanced communication technology help tremendously in successful adaptation to climate change. Societies that are able to anticipate environmental changes and plan accordingly ahead of time are also more likely to succeed.
The ability of natural ecosystems to successfully adapt is another issue, however. While biological systems are usually able to adapt to environmental changes and inherent genetic changes, the timescales are usually much longer than a few decades or centuries (such as the case with global warming). With changes in climate, even minor changes can be detrimental to natural ecosystems. An example of this is the polar bear in the Arctic. Today sea ice is melting at a rapid rate, leaving the polar bear with limited areas to breed and hunt. The situation has already become so grave in a short period of time that the polar bear's survival is now in jeopardy. The polar bear is now under consideration as a threatened and endangered species.
Like the polar bear, many of the world's ecosystems are stressed by several types of disturbances such as pollution, fragmentation (isolation of habitat), and invasion of exotic species. These factors coupled with global warming are likely to affect ecosystems' natural resiliency and prevent them from being able to adapt long term.
As far as human adaptability, the Pew Center advises that some adaptation will involve the gradual evolution of present trends; other adaptations may come as unexpected surprises. Changes will involve sociopolitical, technological, economic, and cultural aspects.
Because of the reality that populations are increasing, more people live in coastal areas, and more people live in floodplains and in drought-prone areas, adaptation measures will be required as climate changes. Fortunately, however, technology has developed to a point that there are better means today to successfully respond to climate change than there were in the past. For example, agricultural practices have evolved to the point that most crop species have been able to be translocated thousands of miles from their regions of origin by resourceful farmers.
The polar bear faces extinction as global warming steadily destroys its habitat. As the Arctic ice retreats, polar bears are negatively affected. Lack of ice takes away valuable hunting ground and migration corridors. (Publitek, Inc.)
A critical key to success is reactive adaptation; how willing will populations be to permanently change behaviors in order to adapt to changing climates and environmental conditions? Topics that populations will have to address encompass issues such as:
• changes in water use habits,
• resource conservation plans,
• mandatory use of renewable energy, and
• restricted transportation types.
Based on a study conducted by the Pew Center, waiting to act until change has occurred can be more costly than making forward-looking responses that anticipate climate change, especially with coastal and floodplain development. A "wait-and-see" approach would be unwise with regard to ecosystem impacts. According to the Pew Center, "Proactive adaptation, unlike reactive adaptation, is forward-looking and takes into account the inherent uncertainties associated with anticipating change. Successful proactive adaptation strategies are flexile; they are designed to be flexible under a wide variety of climate conditions."
An extremely important note in adaptation that cannot be overlooked is government influence and public policy. Governments have a strong influence over the magnitude and distribution of climate change impacts and public preparedness. When climate and environmental disasters occur, it is usually government institutions that provide the necessary funding, develop the technologies, management systems, and support programs to minimize the occurrence of a repeat situation. A well-known example of this is the dust bowl that occurred in the midwestern United States in the 1930s. It was through the efforts of the U.S. government that conservation efforts were started in order to properly manage the nation's soil and agriculture in order to prevent a repeat disaster of that nature.
In view of global warming today and the already unstoppable effects in the future, adaptation and mitigation are necessary (and complementary concepts). Adaptation is a key requirement in order to
lessen future damage. It is important to understand, however, that even though society will have to adapt, losses suffered will be inevitable and certain geographical areas will experience more extreme losses than others, particularly the developing countries.
According to a report that appeared in National Public Radio News (NPR) in December 2007, Australia is already taking proactive adaptation measures with its drinking water. Over the past 10 years, Perth, Australia, has been faced with drought conditions. Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's minister for the environment and water resources, says, "Over the past 10 years or so, the city has seen a 21 percent decline in rainfall, but the stream flow into dams—the actual amount run-
ning into storage—has dropped about 65 percent. We've seen similar declines in stream flow, though not quite so dramatic across southern Australia."
He further refers to Perth as Australia's "canary in the climate change coal mine"—a city scrambling to find other sources of water for a growing population. Due to the population growth in Perth and resource demands, the city's water resources are currently under great demand and pressure. Because of it, Western Australia Water Corp. has turned to the Indian Ocean to help solve the problem.
In order to adapt to the accelerating water demands, the Kwinana Desalination Plant was constructed—the first desalination plant in Australia. The plant is currently producing nearly 40 million gallons (151 million liters) of drinking water a day, equal to about 20 percent of Perth's daily consumption rate. Simon McKay, the project manager, says the desalination process from seawater to tap water only takes about 30 minutes. He also points out that in the past, desalination plants have been extremely expensive (the Middle East has used them for decades), but new technology has made them cheaper and more efficient.
Unfortunately, they still consume a large amount of energy. For this reason, the operation in Australia runs on wind energy, generated from 48 wind turbines, each as tall as a 15-story building at the Emu Downs Wind Farm.
Kerry Roberts, Emu Down's general manager, says, "If you look at the combined output of the wind farm at maximum wind speeds—24-28 miles per hour (39-45 km/hr)—you're looking at an output of close to 80 megawatts. That's enough power to run Perth's desalination plant 160 miles (257 km) to the south.
Gary Crisp of Western Australia Water Corp. says, "I predict that desalination will account for at least half of Perth's water in the next 30 years."
While it is understood today that both mitigation and adaptation must occur simultaneously, each country will be faced with different issues to resolve and overcome. This issue has been a major reason for the lack of universal cooperation among nations, specifically, a major stumbling block in getting the United States to ratify the Kyoto
Protocol, committing the country to put a mandatory curb on greenhouse gas emissions.
President George W. Bush consistently opposed any plan that included specific targets or binding commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which could have economic impacts, or which assign more responsibility for solving the problem of global warming to developed nations such as the United States than to developing economies such as China, India, and Brazil. Those were the two reasons President Bush gave for refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol along with the nations that did. As of February 2009, 181 nations have ratified the protocol.
On February 14, 2002, President Bush announced his proposal— an alternative plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under the proposal, the United States would host and lead a series of talks that would include the nations that emit the most greenhouse gases— including large developing nations such as China and India. The aim of those negotiations would be to draft an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012 by setting "a long-term goal" to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Bush plan, however, the goal would be "aspirational" and, therefore, voluntary. There would be no binding commitments, and each nation would be free to devise its own strategies for meeting the goal. Overall, the plan was met with criticism, with opponents inferring it did not have the "backbone" to make a real difference.
This topic is so controversial because it has such a moral dilemma attached to it—do wealthier nations help support developing nations by adopting an "open door" policy, or do they focus only on themselves? Which countries should take more responsibility and initiative—the wealthier ones or the biggest greenhouse gas contributors? These issues are very real and must be addressed in a practical, workable way before a solution can be obtained.
President Obama, in the current administration, has vowed to make global climate change a priority. Many environmental organizations, academic institutions, private and government researchers, the general American public, and foreign countries worldwide anxiously await to see what changes his administration will bring to the big pic ture of global warming and what solutions the United States is willing to commit to now. As temperatures continue to climb, time is of the essence.
Developing nations may face different issues of climate change than do developed nations. Varying geographic locations will also experience differing ranges of climate change. The only way to manage this overwhelming issue is for nations to work together in a global effort to control greenhouse gas emissions, understanding universal cause-and-effect relationships. Without international cooperation, there is little hope of stopping the problem before it is too late.
chronology ca. 1400-1850 Little Ice Age covers the Earth with record cold, large glaciers, and snow. There is widespread disease, starvation, and death.
1800-70 The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are 290 ppm.
1824 Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician and physicist, calculates that the Earth would be much colder without its protective atmosphere.
1827 Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier presents his theory about the Earth's warming. At this time many believe warming is a positive thing.
1859 John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, discovers that some gases exist in the atmosphere that block infrared radiation. He presents the concept that changes in the concentration of atmospheric gases could cause the climate to change.
1894 Beginning of the industrial pollution of the environment.
1913-14 Svante Arrhenius discovers the greenhouse effect and predicts that the Earth's atmosphere will continue to warm. He predicts that the atmosphere will not reach dangerous levels for thousands of years, so his theory is not received with any urgency.
1920-25 Texas and the Persian Gulf bring productive oil wells into operation, which begins the world's dependency on a relatively inexpensive form of energy.
1934 The worst dust storm of the dust bowl occurs in the United States on what historians would later call Black Sunday. Dust storms are a product of drought and soil erosion.
1945 The U.S. Office of Naval Research begins supporting many fields of science, including those that deal with climate change issues.
1949-50 Guy S. Callendar, a British steam engineer and inventor, propounds the theory that the greenhouse effect is linked to human actions and will cause problems. No one takes him too seriously, but scientists do begin to develop new ways to measure climate.
1950-70 Technological developments enable increased awareness about global warming and the enhanced greenhouse effect. Studies confirm a steadily rising CO2 level. The public begins to notice and becomes concerned with air pollution issues.
1958 U.S. scientist Charles David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography detects a yearly rise in atmospheric CO2. He begins collecting continuous CO2 readings at an observatory on Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The results became known as the famous Keeling Curve.
1963 Studies show that water vapor plays a significant part in making the climate sensitive to changes in CO2 levels.
1968 Studies reveal the potential collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet, which would raise sea levels to dangerous heights, causing damage to places worldwide.
1972 Studies with ice cores reveal large climate shifts in the past.
1974 Significant drought and other unusual weather phenomenon over the past two years cause increased concern about climate change not only among scientists but with the public as a whole.
1976 Deforestation and other impacts on the ecosystem start to receive attention as major issues in the future of the world's climate.
1977 The scientific community begins focusing on global warming as a serious threat needing to be addressed within the next century.
1979 The World Climate Research Programme is launched to coordinate international research on global warming and climate change.
1982 Greenland ice cores show significant temperature oscillations over the past century.
1983 The greenhouse effect and related issues get pushed into the political arena through reports from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency.
1984-90 The media begins to make global warming and its enhanced greenhouse effect a common topic among Americans. Many critics emerge.
1987 An ice core from Antarctica analyzed by French and Russian scientists reveals an extremely close correlation between CO2 and temperature going back more than 100,000 years.
1988 The United Nations set up a scientific authority to review the evidence on global warming. It is called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and consists of 2,500 scientists from countries around the world.
1989 The first IPCC report says that levels of human-made greenhouse gases are steadily increasing in the atmosphere and predicts that they will cause global warming.
1990 An appeal signed by 49 Nobel prizewinners and 700 members of the National Academy of Sciences states, "There is broad agreement within the scientific community that amplification of the Earth's natural greenhouse effect by the buildup of various gases introduced by human activity has the potential to produce dramatic changes in climate . . . Only by taking action now can we insure that future generations will not be put at risk."
1992 The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), known informally as the Earth Summit, begins on June 3 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It results in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development Statement of Forest Principles, and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
1993 Greenland ice cores suggest that significant climate change can occur within one decade.
1995 The second IPCC report is issued and concludes there is a human-caused component to the greenhouse effect warming. The consensus is that serious warming is likely in the coming century. Reports on the breaking up of Antarctic ice sheets and other signs of warming in the polar regions are now beginning to catch the public's attention.
1997 The third conference of the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change is held in Kyoto, Japan. Adopted on December 11, a document called the Kyoto Protocol commits its signatories to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
2000 Climatologists label the 1990s the hottest decade on record.
2001 The IPPC's third report states that the evidence for anthropogenic global warming is incontrovertible, but that its effects on climate are still difficult to pin down. President Bush declares scientific uncertainty too great to justify Kyoto Protocol's targets.
The United States Global Change Research Program releases the findings of the National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. The assessment finds that temperatures in the United States will rise by 5 to 9°F (3-5°C) over the next century and predicts increases in both very wet (flooding) and very dry (drought) conditions. Many ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change. Water supply for human consumption and irrigation is at risk due to increased probability of drought, reduced snow pack, and increased risk of flooding. Sea-level rise and storm surges will most likely damage coastal infrastructure.
Heavy rains cause disastrous flooding in Central Europe leading to more than 100 deaths and more than $30 billion in damage. Extreme drought in many parts of the world (Africa, India,
Australia, and the United States) results in thousands of deaths and significant crop damage. President Bush calls for 10 more years of research on climate change to clear up remaining uncertainties and proposes only voluntary measures to mitigate climate change until 2012.
2003 U.S. senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman introduce a bipartisan bill to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases nationwide via a greenhouse gas emission cap and trade program.
Scientific observations raise concern that the collapse of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland can raise sea levels faster than previously thought.
A deadly summer heat wave in Europe convinces many in Europe of the urgency of controlling global warming but does not equally capture the attention of those living in the United States.
The level of CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 382 ppm.
2005 Kyoto Protocol takes effect on February 16. In addition, global warming is a topic at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, where country leaders in attendance recognize climate change as a serious, long-term challenge.
Hurricane Katrina forces the U.S. public to face the issue of global warming.
2006 Former U.S. vice president Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth draws attention to global warming in the United States.
Sir Nicholas Stern, former World Bank economist, reports that global warming will cost up to 20 percent of worldwide gross domestic product if nothing is done about it now.
2007 IPCC's fourth assessment report says glacial shrinkage, ice loss, and permafrost retreat are all signs that climate change is underway now. They predict a higher risk of drought, floods, and more powerful storms during the next 100 years. As a result, hunger, homelessness, and disease will increase. The atmosphere may warm 1.8 to 4.0°C and sea levels may rise 7 to 23 inches (18 to 59 cm) by the year 2100.
Al Gore and the IPCC share the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring the critical issues of global warming to the world's attention.
2008 The price of oil reached and surpassed $100 per barrel, leaving some countries paying more than $10 per gallon.
Energy Star appliance sales have nearly doubled. Energy Star is a U.S. government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency.
U.S. wind energy capacity reaches 10,000 megawatts, which is enough to power 2.5 million homes.
2009 President Obama takes office and vows to address the issue of global warming and climate change by allowing individual states to move forward in controlling greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, American automakers can prepare for the future and build cars of tomorrow and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. Perhaps these measures will help restore national security and the health of the planet, and the U.S. government will no longer ignore the scientific facts.
The year 2009 will be a crucial year in the effort to address climate change. The meeting on December 7-18 in Copenhagen, Denmark, of the UN Climate Change Conference promises to shape an effective response to climate change. The snapping of an ice bridge in April 2009 linking the Wilkins Ice Shelf (the size of Jamaica) to Antarctic islands could cause the ice shelf to break away, the latest indication that there is no time to lose in addressing global warming.
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