Human impact: how we trigger global warming, and what each individual can do about it
warming is arguably the biggest environmental problem that we face in the 21st century.
The scientific consensus is that human
activity is altering the planet's climate. Reports from the International Panel on Climate Change - the key scientific body
organized by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization - have made it clear that the warming atmosphere
will cause dramatic changes that will affect every corner of the earth.
More frequent and extreme weather events
can be expected, including floods, heat waves, windstorms, droughts and disruption in water supplies. As a result, serious
diseases like malaria and yellow fever will spread. Natural resource industries such as agriculture, fishing and forestry
will be impacted. As polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise, entire island nations will disappear. Coastal flooding will
leave hundreds of thousands homeless mostly in poor, developing countries.
Despite the urgent warnings of the scientific
community, our political leaders have stalled in their attempts to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The Bush
administrations withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol was both disappointing and predictable. For almost a decade, the leaders
of the world have been unable to fulfill the promises that they made at the Earth Summit in 1992 to reduce carbon dioxide
emissions, the primary cause of global warming.
In 1997, world leaders met in Kyoto, Japan
to review the goals they had set in Rio five years earlier. But rather than seeing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,
the net amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere had increased substantially. The National Energy Information
Center reports that in the U.S. alone, CO2 emissions increased 10.7 percent from 1990 to 1997. In light of this, the Kyoto
Protocol offered a watered down version of the Earth Summits goals in an attempt to reach an attainable reduction target.
The U.S. is the largest single source of
fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions. According to Online Trends, U.S. emissions reached an all-time high of 1447 million metric
tons of carbon in 1996. As a result, without U.S. participation, critics say that the Kyoto Protocol is doomed to failure.
But despite the U.S. withdrawal, the remaining Kyoto partners will meet again in Bonn, Germany, this summer in an attempt
to breathe some life into the agreement.
While governments attempt to make some
progress toward mitigating the impacts of global warming, corporations are beginning to view climate change as a business
opportunity. Increasing energy prices are forcing companies to look at ways to cut consumption and new energy technologies
are promising to open up business markets for innovative companies.
Car giants Toyota and Honda have invested
heavily in producing hybrid cars that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and corporations like IBM, Johnson
& Johnson and Polaroid have all committed to reducing their carbon dioxide emissions well below the Kyoto target. (To
find out more see Climate Savers)
Individually, we can also make a difference.
Carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are the largest source of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. The
average American is responsible for about 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, a far greater volume per capita than
that of any other industrialized country.
Switching to fuel-efficient vehicles, installing
energy efficient lighting and purchasing newer, more efficient appliances are all ways that we cut carbon dioxide emissions
and fuel the economy.
Changing our every day habits can also
help reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Slowing down when we drive, car pooling, cycling or taking public transit to work are
all ways to reduce our consumption of fuel fuels. Recycling saves 70 to 90 percent of the energy and pollution including CO2
- used to created virgin materials. Planting trees around your home can cut cooling costs by up to 40 percent, further reducing
our energy needs.
These are all small steps, but collectively
they can have a significant impact. Our future depends on it.