Feverish Planet

Posted on May 16, 2008

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[This blog has a new domain: http://philippineaffairs.com/]

The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. If its age could be compressed into a 24-hour day, our existence as a species is equivalent to 1.92 seconds. For about a thousandth fraction of that time, we have changed the planet more radically than any species that ever lived — given the same amount of time.

We, Homo sapiens, have been around for about 100 thousand years but it is only during the last 200 years that we began to drastically change the face of the planet. Our ingenuity has led to the extinction of thousands of species on a massive scale within a very short span of time. We continue to threaten the existence of others. We are causing the collapse of entire ecosystems. We are threatening the existence of life itself – including our own!

However, more than our wars and our genocidal tendency towards nuclear holocaust, industrialization is the main culprit of ecological imbalance and climatic change. Industrialization has caused the poisoning of the environment and led to the consumption of its resources at the brink of total destruction. Industrialization has made the Earth a sponge for toxic wastes and greenhouse gases. Power plants, factories, farms, and automobiles have been saturating the atmosphere with greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has caused the small but significant steady increase of the global average temperature for the past century. According to the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global temperature has been steadily rising on an alarming rate. If the present trend continues, experts predict that the global average temperature could reach as high as 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. This increase may seem trivial but it should be considered that it only took 9 degrees Fahrenheit shift to end the last Ice Age. Even at best case scenario of 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit increase, it is enough to cause catastrophic changes. Storms will be more frequent and intense. Droughts will be more severe. Coastal areas will be more eroded. Low-lying cities will be permanently submerged in floods. Fresh water supply will be contaminated with salty sea water.

The sea could rise as high three feet within a century!. This could erase many densely populated lands, including Florida, Nile Delta, Bangladesh, and some parts of the Philippine archipelago. Even at present, the sea is already rising at the rate of 1.8 millimeters per year around the archipelago. This was based on PAGASA records from 1961 to 2003.

At present, the global average temperature is more than one degree Fahrenheit compared to the average temperature of the world a century ago. This is only a small amount of increase but it is significant enough to melt some ancient glaciers. The legendary snows of Kilimanjaro, for instance, are now gradually disappearing. The small increase in temperature is also significant enough to cause the bleaching of corral reefs. As the coral reefs slowly die, other aquatic organisms die with them. Breeding grounds of fishes are disappearing. It is not surprising why world fishery production is now on a decline. Couple that with the decline in agricultural production due to droughts and flooding, the result is more severe world hunger.

On the other hand, food production is not the only thing that is affected by the radical change in climate. Public health also suffers. The higher level of urban ozone and other greenhouse gases is now causing the steady rise of respiratory diseases among city dwellers, especially during summer. The warmer temperature is also triggering the population increase of disease-carrying pests such as rats, mosquitoes, and ticks. Malaria, encephalitis, dengue fever, Lyme disease, and other afflictions are now on the rise and on epidemic proportions in some regions.

Hunger and diseases are just some of the more pressing social concerns brought abut by the changing climate. As world population becomes hungry and afflicted, political and economic tensions will worsen.

World leaders are now recognizing the seriousness of the problem. The Climate is indeed changing and even getting worse. The Kyoto Protocol and IPCC research are just some of the global measures taken to address the issue of climate change. These initiatives will not arrest or reverse the changing global climate but they will at least mitigate its impact and prepare the world population to adapt.

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