By Rajendra Shende
In spite of being a moot point for a couple of centuries, climate change has raised many concerns in the recent decades. Many international conferences have dealt with the issue on an urgent basis. These alarmist tendencies have come with the dawning realisation of the irreversible impact that climate change can and will definitely incubate.
Melting ice signifies impending disaster
The ‘breaking news’ about Antarctica’s fourth largest ice shelf Larsen C measuring 48,600 square km, irreversibly breaking away from its mother continent has recently fluttered in. Exceptionally high temperatures are a major cause of this fracture.
Further, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported a dramatic collapse of smaller parts, Larsen A and B. Larsen C which is the largest of the three is now clinging by the umbilical cord of about 25 km. The ABC breakaway is depressing because it would mean the splitting of some of the world’s biggest icebergs from an Antarctic ice shelf. The concurrence of this breakaway with ‘disruptive’ climate change policies of President Trump makes the issue more worrisome.
Fuel behind the global fire
According to the data released recently by USA’s National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the year 2017 is the second warmest year (2016 being the warmest) since the modern observations began in 1880.
Melting of voluminous icebergs, as opposed to floating icebergs, is a threat to human settlements in coastal areas. The icebergs-turned water make their way to the glaciers and from the land mass of both the Arctic and Antarctic, pour into the oceans resulting in a rise in sea-level. What’s more surprising is the fact that loss of ice causes global warming. Due to loss of white cover of ice, the heat from the sun gets absorbed instead of being reflected, resulting in soaring temperatures.
The release of greenhouse gases due to the melting of permafrost is another reason for the uncontrolled and accelerated warming of the earth. The study released by Nature Climate Change on 10th April has revealed that global warming will thaw about 20% more permafrost than previously thought, potentially releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide trapped under the layer of ice into earth’s atmosphere. A widespread thaw could make the ground unstable, putting roads and buildings at risk of collapse.
Alarm sounded by animals’ migration
As per a new analysis by the University of Tasmania in Australia, rising temperatures and sea levels, increasing acidity of the oceans due to additional absorption of carbon-dioxide, and increased frequency of extreme weather events like droughts, floods and so on are forcing terrestrial as well as marine species to move pole-wards.
New Scientist magazine published in March 2017 that ticks which spread Lyme disease in animals and humans are moving towards North America and Europe as the winters there are getting milder. In 2017 and 2018, this “ticking” time bomb is expected to cause major Lyme disease outbreaks in the hitherto uninfected areas.
The many perils of climate change
The threat to any element of an ecosystem, due to climate change, risks the existence of all the other elements of the ecosystem, who are dependent upon the former. For instance, mangroves, are migrating polewards in Australia and in the Southern US, thereby stripping the mankind of natural storm protection and fish nurseries.
Food production, including coffee and wine that needs cooler climate, will move towards higher latitudes, causing economic destabilisation in poor countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Costa Rica. Due to bleaching of the coral reefs, fish stocks that depend on marine supply chain will migrate to cooler and less acidic waters. The memories of ‘mackerel war’ in the 1980s and recent fish wars in troubled waters have heightened the possibility of ‘cod war’ in the post-cold war era.
Climate change studies are ample, solutions aren’t!
Interestingly, climate change has been a subject of numerous authoritative studies by prestigious institutes around the world. A pioneering study by Science from last year hints at possible genetic changes due to climate change and even physical traits including body size and shape. Current warming (just one-degree Celsius) has already disturbed 77 of 94 different species and their ecological processes.
Another study released in March 2017 by American Psychological Association (APA) says that climate change also takes a significant toll on mental health. Loss of personal and professional identity, loss of sense of control, feelings of helplessness, fear of actual or potential impacts of climate change can lead to stress that can build over time and eventually lead to stress, culminating in substance abuse and depression.
With the deliberations on climate change becoming a domestic matter, nobody can claim ignorance of the negative impacts of climate change. Having said this, mere studies pointing out the harmful effects of climate change will not make a difference. If some impact is to be made on the ground, the answer to the question, “how do we tackle this menace of changing climate?” must be sought.
The author is the Chairman at TERRE Policy Centre, an IIT Alumnus and former Director of UNEP.
Featured Image Source: National Snow & Ice Data Center