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Climate Change

Topic:

MAN AND HIS ENVIRONMENT: FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE, TILL

DEATH.

Essayist: OLUWATOYIN ELIZABETH KOMOLAFE

Date: Friday, 30th December, 2010

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1. Climate Change in Perspective

1.1. The Definition

Firstly, let us see ‘change’ in the perspective of someone who goes to a shopping

mall to purchase some gift items and gets a refund haven paid in ‘‘ excess’’.

‘Climate Change’, with climate serving as an adjective qualifying the ‘change’,

may be seen as what is released to alter the earth’s climate over a long period of

time as a result of ‘‘excess’’ release of Greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In simple and precise terms, climate change can be said to be a long time alteration

in global weather patterns, this is caused by heat trapping gasses which have been
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referred to as green house gasses (GHG) produced by vehicles, power plants,

industrial processes and deforestation. This suggests that this occurs over a period

of time, which may take decades or centuries. Greenhouse gases include, but are

not limited to, carbon dioxide and methane.

Technically, Climate Change refers to a regional alteration in temperature and

weather patterns over a long period of time, say 30 years or even more. Climate

change is both a natural phenomena and has also been created by man. In its first

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sense, it is like the human body facing the natural occurrence of wear and tear such

as the renewal of muscles and cells. In the second man induced part, it is like a

human being who introduces excess into his body system either through the over

dosage of drug usage or smoking and drinking excessively. In reality, Greenhouse

gases are a natural part of the biosphere and would exist if man does not take a

conscious step towards jealously protecting the environment. Indeed, they are

critical components that add essence to planet earth’s existence. If greenhouse

gases didn’t exist, the temperature on planet earth would average zero degrees!

Naturally occurring gases, however, keep the temperature at a much more livable

59 degrees. So, if climate change occurs naturally, what is the big panic about, you

might ask? Well, the problem we are facing is the volume of green house gases in

the atmosphere. These gases act as thermal blankets for the atmosphere. The more

gas in the atmosphere, the thicker the blanket and the less heat escapes. It is like

covering a pot firmly while leaving in on fire. How does the heat escape?

1.2 A lame man’s perspective on Climate Change

Often time, climate change has been confused by many with the hole in the ozone

layer; however these two factors which pose a geographical threat are not closely

related or interwoven. There is a large difference between the duo, though

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aggravated by same conditions. Imagine being in a kitchen, frying plantain soaked

in hot oil under intense fire of your stove. As the plantain gets fried, the heat from

the oil and fire from then stove increases the heat level one feels in the kitchen. In

like manner, the kitchen is the earth, the heat is the Green house emission and the

plantain is the Ozone layer. In the 1980’s it was realized that industrial pollutants

were damaging the ozone layers and holes had appeared in it. These same Green

house gases are responsible for the change we experience in our climate; same

cause but different effects and circumstances.

In making a distinction between the Climate Change and the hole in the Ozone

layer, it is pertinent to state that the Ozone layer is the upper layer of the

atmosphere where most atmospheric release to the earth is collected, absorbing

harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. The main cause of the hole in the ozone

layer is chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) such gasses which are found in industrial

machines, vehicles, refrigerator, air conditioners, these CFC’s in the atmosphere

cause warming.

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Diagram 1: Showing the Ozone depletion process

1.3 Climate Change and Weather: A differentiation

“It is really a sunny day. I feel heat because of the weather. The climate has

changed from that of last year” mutters Elizabeth. One would have to ask Elizabeth

what she really means; is it just the weather that is so unbearable or is it that the

climate has really changed. But in identifying the distinction between a change in

weather and a change in climate, a definition of the terms should suffice.

The difference between weather and climate involves a measure of time. ‘Weather’

is what the condition of the atmosphere is over a short period of time, and climate

is how the atmosphere "behaves" over relatively long periods of time. Weather is
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basically the way the atmosphere is behaving, mainly with respect to its effects

upon life and human activities. The difference between weather and climate is that

weather consists of the short-term (minutes to months) changes in the atmosphere.

In most places, weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-

day, and season-to-season. Climate, however, is the average of weather over time

and space, say 30 years or more. Such includes averages of precipitation,

temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, phenomena such as fog, frost, and

hail storms, and other measures of the weather that occur over a long period in a

particular place. An easy way to remember the difference is that climate is what

you expect, like a very hot summer, and weather is what you get, like a hot day

with pop-up thunderstorms. Weather, on the other hand, includes sunshine, rain,

cloud cover, winds, hail, snow, sleet, freezing rain, flooding, blizzards, ice storms,

thunderstorms, steady rains from a cold front or warm front, excessive heat, heat

waves and more.

1.4 Climate Change and Global Warming

Climate Change is about much more than how warm or cool our temperatures

are. Whereas "global warming" refers to increasing global temperatures,

"climate change" refers to regional conditions. However, the term ‘global

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warming’ is sometimes used to refer specifically to climate change caused by

human activity; for example, the United Nations Framework Convention on

Climate Change defines climate change as:

"a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity

that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to

natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods."

In the latter sense climate change is synonymous with global warming.

Fig 2: Diagram showing causes and effects of global warming

2. Causes of Climate Change

We can therefore divide the causes into two, namely:

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2.1. Natural: This is the reason for the earth’s climate change before man’s

mastery of his environment. Natural causes include emission of

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) from ocean, decomposition of organic matter

mashes (emission of methane), respiration of animals and plants

(carbon dioxide release).

2.2. Man Made: The root cause of climate change in this regard is simply

summed up in the six-letter word ‘excess’. Who produces this excess?

It is you and I; humans. In considering the effect of the emission of

Green house gases into the earth’s atmosphere, let us take a look at the

human anatomy. If I take in excess pain reliever, “paracetamol” for

instance, the side effect could be fatigue or death. Excess alcohol

means intoxication and high health risk of kidney or heart failure. A

pregnant woman who takes in excess drugs may be in form a

deformation of her child at birth. Then why should the earth be any

different? In the words of the scientists Michael Faraday, ‘the earth is

a closed system’ just as much as the human body is. The climate

change problem is related to changes in the concentration of the

greenhouse gases (water vapor, CO2, CH4, N2O, and CFCs), which

trap infrared radiation from the Earth's surface and thus cause the

greenhouse effect. This effect is a natural phenomenon, which helps


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maintain a stable temperature and climate on Earth. Human activities,

such as fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and some industrial

processes have led to an increase in greenhouse gases concentration.

Consequently, more infrared radiation has been captured in the

atmosphere, which causes changes in the air temperature, precipitation

patterns, sea-level rise, and melting of glaciers. Deforestation has

largely contributed to the quagmire.

Diagram 3: Showing how the Green House Gases(GHG) 2

contribute to climate change

3. Predictions on Climate Change: The Facts

Many of the scenarios indicate that by the middle of the 21st century emissions of

carbon dioxide should at least start to level off, though some predict increase in

emissions throughout this century. There is a prediction of further increase in

carbon dioxide concentrations by the end of the century, with some of the scenarios
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predicting a doubling or even more of today's levels of carbon dioxide. If the

predicted increase in greenhouse gas concentration is then translated into

temperature changes, a global temperature increase of between 1 and 5.5 degrees

centigrade is predicted. This implies a double or more increase in the losses and

disasters such as sea level rise, the thermal expansion of water and ice melts around

the world associated with Climate Change than we presently encounter.

4. The implications of Climate Change

4.1. . Environmental

Warming varies by regions and is accompanied by changes in rainfall pattern

leading to landslide, droughts, desertification, soil erosion, famine, and heat

waves. Such would culminate into the melting of ice caps in the cold region and

cause thermal expansion of oceans, overflow of water in coastal regions as well as

rising global surface temperature with arched soil, shrink soil and increased

chances of erosion and building subsidence. For example, in the past, the northern

Atlantic has traditionally been cooler than the southern Atlantic, drawing rain-rich

winds away from the Sahel. In the last 10 years of this period however, the

conditions changed so that the north Atlantic was now warmer, resulting in

increased rainfall in the Sahel, ending the drought in the 1990s. Also, on dry land,
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the situation is similar. It has been estimated that the average surface temperature

will rise between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees in the next 100 years. The greatest warming

is projected to occur in the Sahel and central southern Africa. In simple terms, this

amount represents a double increase in rainfall, drought and many of such

environmental abnormalities.

Diagram 4: Showing the implication of climate change to the

environment

4.2. Energy and Engineering

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Changes in our energy source with new policies will result in development and

reliance on new power source such as solar energy, geochemical, wind and water.

Also house building methodology would change with the use of ‘‘green roof ’’ to

reduce heat etc.

4.3. Economic implications

National income for oil producing and exporting nations would dwindle. For

example, in Nigeria, reduction in global demand for fuel will have great economic

implications. The same goes for nations whose national income is largely

dependent on oil. To mention a few, disease and medical conditions from adverse

climate change and disaster would be another economic burden for nations and

individuals.

4.4. Health and Agriculture

According to Nick Nutall of the United Nations Environmental Programme:

“There is very, very big connection between emergence of new disease and

environmental change”. Facts reveal this, for example:

• Chicago heat wave led to 700 deaths

• 25,000 people died in heat wave that hit Western Europe in 2003

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• A geometric increase in new diseases and infections with existing ones,

since 1976. In fact, according to World Health Organization (W.H.O.), there

is the emergence of 30 new diseases

• Nipah virus infection from deforestation Malaysia

• 10% rise in deforestation resulted in 8% increase in malaria as a study in

Latin America reveals. What is the fate of the globe? With a geometric

propensity for malaria increase in Africa.

• Increase in Cerebrospinal meningitis in Nigeria.

On Agriculture, farmers would have to adjust planting and harvesting techniques

and timing. For example, the rising sea level will lead to loss of the fertile coastal

lands; proliferation of agriculture pest like aphids, causing decrease in wood and

wood production.

5. Possible solutions and the way forward

In Winston Churchill’s words:

“The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients

of delay are coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of

consequences.”

5.1. Find alternative to Fossil Fuel


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The first challenge is eliminating the burning of coal, oil and, eventually, natural

gas. This is perhaps the most daunting challenge as citizens of richer nations

literally eat, wear, work, play and even sleep on the products made from such

fossilized sunshine. And citizens of developing nations want and arguably deserve

the same comforts, which are largely thanks to the energy stored in such fuels. 1

However, we must try to employ alternatives when possible—plant-derived

plastics, biodiesel, wind power—and to invest in the change, be it by divesting

from oil stocks or investing in companies practicing carbon capture and storage.

In finding alternative to fossil fuel, we must also Promote Future Fuels.

Replacing fossil fuels may prove the great challenge of the 21st century. Many

contenders exist, ranging from ethanol derived from crops to hydrogen electrolyzed

out of water, but all of them have some drawbacks, too, and none are immediately

available at the scale needed. Bio-fuels can have a host of negative impacts, from

driving up food prices to sucking up more energy than they produce. Hydrogen

must be created, requiring either reforming natural gas or electricity to crack water

molecules. Biodiesel hybrid electric vehicles (that can plug into the grid overnight)

may offer the best transportation solution in the short term, given the energy

density of diesel and the carbon neutral ramifications of fuel from plants as well as

the emissions of electric engines.

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5.2. The ‘monogamous’ approach to tree planting:

Every year, 33 million acres of forests are cut down. Timber harvesting in the

tropics alone contributes 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. That

represents 20 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and a source that

could be avoided relatively easily. By biological analysis, plants give out oxygen

and take in some of the major Green house gases in form of carbon dioxide, a

major cause of Climate Change. The more trees, the less the absorption of Green

emissions to the Ozone layer. Every individual should be encouraged to plant and

nurture a tree.

5.3. Promote Think Green:

What is fundamental is to fund the mental. The level of environmental illiteracy is

on the increase, especially in Africa. The easiest way to cut back on greenhouse gas

emissions is simply to ‘think green’. Whether by forgoing an automobile or

employing a reusable grocery sack, cutting back on consumption results in fewer

fossil fuels being burned to extract, produce and ship products around the globe.

For instance, if you are in the market for a new car, buy one that will last the

longest and have the least impact on the environment such as a vehicle with a

hybrid engine.

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Also awareness programmes in form of edutainment such as Drama, Music as well

as information materials in the language they understand. This should be done with

no sentiments in tribe, group or age as everyone needs to be informed on the need

to protect our environment and the risk involved if we fail to do so. Disseminating

of appropriate information should not be limited to tertiary institutions, primary

and secondary school students as well as the illiterates including those in rural

areas and people with little or no access to formal education and the

environmentally illiterates should be well informed and educated.

5.4. Recycling

Garbage such as soda cans, candy wrappers, juice bottles, plastics, metals, papers

and glass can be recycled which will help cut down on the number of trash

produced. A lot of this garbage can in turn be made into something useful thereby

conserving resources and utilizing energy. Recycling also conserves valuable lands

which can be used for other economic purposes. This means that fewer landfills are

needed for dumping and burning of trash thus reducing pollution of our natural

environment.

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5.5 Strict observance and enforcements by countries of the Kyoto protocols

as well as others such as the Montreal protocol, the Delhi Declaration, among

others.

5.6 Laws and strict policies should be made against illegal deforestation and

felling of trees.

6. CONCLUSION

The need for a serious approach on Climate Change can be illustrated from the

Carpenter’s story. Some years back, a contractor offered his Engineer the task of

building a house for him before he finally retires. The Engineer as it is usual of him

used sub-standard materials. After concluding, the Contractor gave the Engineer

the keys and told him ‘this is your house’. Only if the Engineer knew, he would

have built the house to standard. In the earth we are the Engineers and when we are

older what kind of world do we want to live in or leave as an inheritance for our

children to live in?

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Let us imagine couples joined together in holy matrimony as they say ‘I promise to

love you with my heart, in sickness and in health till death do us part’ .The same

applies to man and his environment. Man has a direct union whether consciously or

unconsciously instituted with the earth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY/ REFERENCES

 McMichael, A. J., and Haines, A. (1997). "Global Climate Change:

The Potential Effects on Health." British Medical Journal 315:805–809.

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 "The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change". 21

March 1994.

 2004's Global Temperature Review on

nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/article

Article 1: UN framework convention on climate change

Link between environment and disease by Jane Lloyd (published by

UN Chronicle, Volume 34, Number 2)

Onefeghara, F.A. (1990) Nigeria, Wetlands

Environment and the Emerging health risks by Professor Sridhar

M.K.C. and Dr. Oloruntobi E.O. (published by DOKITA Journal,

Volume 30, Number 1)

Climate Change: A ticking time bomb by Dr. Ebekozien Osagie

(published by DOKITA Journal, Volume 33, Number 1, February 2008).

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