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Lime light: Too hot to handle
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 06 - 2007

Lime light:
Too hot to handle
By Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Are you feeling the heat? They say the temperature on planet Earth is rising to such dangerous levels, grilling, roasting, baking and boiling our globe to a predetermined course of death and destruction. General scientific opinion concurs that global warming has become one of the world's greatest concerns. Reason enough for universal panic, but the world G8 leaders have come to the rescue. Last week 7 June, in Heiligendamm, Germany, the great 8 agreed on a plan calling for "substantial cuts" in greenhouse gas emissions, the chief villain behind this grievous greenhouse gas phenomenon. Now we can sleep peacefully knowing that the UN, EU, and UK, and even the US, are capably handling this formidable crisis. There, by the fresh clean air of the German seaside resort, the clouds disappeared and all major matters like the Middle East, Kosovo, Darfur, etc, seemed rather minor among friends.
According to the American Meteorological Society, there is now clear evidence that the mean annual temperature at the earth's surface, averaged over the entire globe, has been increasing in the last 200 years. This assessment has been endorsed by the world's leading climate scientists, academies, institutes, societies, ad infinitum. They even agree on the cause of this drastic climate change, and we are it! Humans and their actions are "very likely" nearly 90 per cent, the cause of this global warming. Moreover, now that we have started it, we cannot stop it, not for centuries. Why would we do a thing like that? The answer is progress. Human progress is destroying humanity. What are we supposed to do? If we wish to endure we are to stand still or regress. Even floods, quakes, cyclones, and hurricanes are increasing as a result of global warming. This time we cannot lay the blame on Mother Nature. Natural influences cannot explain the rapid increase in "global near-surface temperatures observed during the second half of last century". We did it, and now we need to undo it. How do we impact the climate system? By increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, air pollutants, increasing concentrations of airborne particles and land alteration.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide may be rising faster than at any time in Earth's history "except possibly following rare events, like impact from large extra-terrestrial objects." While it started in the 1700s, 80 per cent of this increase has occurred since the 1900s. Such levels will remain in the atmosphere for "hundreds of thousands of years". Maybe "what's done" cannot be "undone," after all.
With such a joyful and peaceful name as "greenhouse" these gases are deadly. Discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1829, the name comes from the warming of air inside a greenhouse, but is a misnomer, as greenhouses are made of glass and operate differently. According to NASA the polar ice caps are now melting at the rate of nine per cent per decade. The current sea level is eight times the historical rate and appears to be accelerating. A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) determined that 154,000 people die every year from the effects of global warming. They predict the number will double by 2020. Professor Anderson Haines of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested that while a warmer climate may lower cold-related deaths and provide greater crop yields, the spread of mosquitoes and malaria would outweigh any benefits.
Animals are at an even greater risk, as one million species are threatened with extinction between now and 2050, according to Professor Chris Thomas of the University of Leeds, UK. Moreover 25 per cent of all plant and animal species could disappear by 2100. Birds and animals are stressed by rising temperatures. Polar bears are now "vulnerable". Penguins and walruses, and other Arctic animals are also at risk. The Arctic sea has declined by one million square miles, the size of Norway, Sweden and Denmark combined.
While the G8 debated every letter of their accord in 2007 in Germany, governor of California better known as Arnold Schwarzenegger, started his "terminator" plan a year ago. California is the United States' most populous state, the world's sixth largest economy, as well as its 12th largest in emission of greenhouse gases. Schwarzenegger has put a cap on vehicle and industry emissions, making California a trendsetter in fighting global warming. This may be his best role yet.
How can we help save our race from self-destruction? Rising temperatures will cause a decrease in grain productivity. Future food supplies will weigh heavily on our expected nine billion population in 2050. Each global increase of 1 degree Celsius will reduce grain yields by 10 per cent.
Are you petrified by these alarming facts? There is some comfort in the knowledge that not all scientists agree with this general "consensus". While they concede that carbon dioxide levels are increased, the concentration in our atmosphere today has not been exceeded in the last 420,000 years, and likely not in the last 20 million years. On a global scale they see little evidence of sustained trends in climate variability or extremes. Some extra tropical cyclone activity may have increased in one area, but has decreased in another.
Earth has experienced warming and cooling many times in the past. A rapid build-up of greenhouse gases caused warming in the early Jurassic period (about 180 million years ago), with average temperatures rising about 5 degrees Celsius.
With some minor sacrifices we can contribute to reducing the atmospheric nasty gases. Driving more fuel-efficient cars is a major step. Recycling paper, plastics and glass can save 2,000 lbs of carbon dioxide per year. If we can remember to unplug electrical devices we can save 1,000 lbs of carbon dioxide, for even when they are turned off they use energy.
If you can plant a tree, start digging! Trees provide a micro-climate and sustain moisture. They suck up carbon dioxide and produce clean air for us to breathe. Is that not, after all, the crux of the matter? Cleaning our air should be an individual matter of conscience, from which eventually the whole human race will benefit. Perhaps, "what's done, can be undone" after all! We can at least give it a try.
Accuse not Nature, She hath done her part.
Do thou but thine
Paradise Lost, John Milton (1608-1674)

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