Grim news from UN report on climate change


B. McPherson 

The UN report on climate change has issued some grim words. They emphasize that climate change is happening. Humans are changing the Earth’s climate. All fossil fuel consumption must cease by the end of the century to avoid irreversible changes to the atmosphere.

World climates change without human input, but the changes that have happened since the Industrial Revolution which saw coal fired steam engines come into common use has accelerated the release of ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are those that act like the glass in a greenhouse, allowing the sun’s energy to enter but not leave. Carbon dioxide gets much attention, but other gases are also potent greenhouse contributors – methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases are some of the important contributors.

Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the report's launch in Copenhagen.
While climate change affects the whole planet, squabbles among countries over who is responsible for the mess we are heading into interferes with solving the problem. The developed countries are urging emerging powers like India and China, to cut back on their emissions and are being told that the responsibility for clean- up resides with those who benefitted from the Industrial Revolution. Some countries, like Canada, have a low overall emission footprint but a large one for each individual. Countries like China have low individual emissions but massive amounts on a countrywide scale.

There are already signs that massive changes have begun.

·         Ocean levels have increased. Some atoll countries in the S. Pacific are gradually being inundated. London, UK, has installed massive flood gates on the Thames at great expense. Most great cities of the world are port cities and will be affected by higher water and higher storm surges.

·         Ocean temperatures and chemistry change as more heat is absorbed and more CO2 enters the water, affecting ocean life.

·         Melting sea ice changes the environment for polar mammals and birds.

·         Thawing permafrost in the northern lands change solid ground to muskeg as the once permanent ice in the ground melts. Huge amounts of methane trapped in the frozen ground are released into the atmosphere.

Global Warming Potential(GWP) for some greenhouse gases
·         CO2 measured at one unit per molecule
·         Methane – 20x carbon dioxide
·         Nitrous oxide – 300x carbon dioxide
·         Fluorinated gases – 21x carbon dioxide
Sources:
UN and Climate Change                    
CBC News         
Wikipedia       

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