Climate Change

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Also referred to as global warming, the earth has experienced changes to its temperature, weather and general climate over recent decades. The majority of scientists say these changes are largely due to an increase in human-related greenhouse gases created through the burning of fossil fuel and deforestation. Hawaii could be among the first to feel dramatic impacts from increased storm intensity and rising ocean waters.

Overview

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is leading the way as people try to understand climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization to “provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences,” IPCC says.

In its most recent assessment report, published in 2007, the IPCC said that climate change is “unequivocal,” pointing to data that shows the global surface temperature rose by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit during the 20th century. The temperature is expected to rise by another 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the next century.

The report said the cause of the changes are “dominated” by the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically since before the industrial revolution, and rose 70 percent between 1970 and 2004, the report said.

Impacts

Two areas in which climate change is already being felt in Hawaii are sea level rise and ocean acidification. A rise in sea levels combined with the islands’ erosion could lead to dramatic problems, for example, because of big wave events. Sea level changes could also impact infrastructure and carry huge costs to fight. Increasingly acidic oceans threaten coral reef systems and the sea life that relies on them for survival. This could impact Hawaii residents’ food supply from the ocean.

The continued increase of global temperatures will also cause:

  • Glacier retreat
  • Melting polar ice
  • Changes to precipitation patterns
  • Increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events

Mitigation

Mitigation efforts include programs designed to reduce the intensity of climate change and global warming. These include the development of new technologies to prevent further warming, because reducing existing global warming seems to be unlikely.

Most proposals to mitigate climate change start with an emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by curtailing energy use through a transition to clean energy sources. These efforts include fuel-efficient vehicles, renewable energy from solar, wind, ocean thermal and geothermal sources and other conservation efforts.

Other important ideas focus on preventing deforestation and promoting reforestation. Planting trees is often promoted as a way of counteracting oil-burning activities because trees ingest carbon dioxide and can help reduce greenhouse gases. Carbon capture projects would store carbon dioxide gas released from power plants either deep underground, deep in the sea or in the form of solid minerals.

The United National Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. As of July 2010, 188 countries have signed and ratified the protocol. Seven nations have yet to express a position. The United States has not ratified, meaning it has not agreed to cap its emissions.

Population control has also been discussed as a means of mitigating global warming.

Adaptation

In addition to attempts to stop, slow or reduce global warming, efforts are under way to minimize the impacts of climate change once it inevitably arrives. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines adaptation as “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.”

Examples of adaptation strategies to prevent damage from climate change include shore protection like seawalls or beach nourishment that can protect low-lying coastal property from rising seas. An alternative could be a planned retreat in which structures are relocated inland. President Barack Obama‘s Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force produced an interim progress report in March 2010.

Skepticism

Skeptics, including many scientists, disagree about whether the earth is actually warming, and also disagree about whether any warming effects are caused by human behaviors.

Among them are longtime Colorado State University meteorologist Roger Pielke, who maintains a climate science blog, and Danish environmental writer Bjorn Lomborg, who authored a book titled, “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming.”

Others have voiced their beliefs that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by liberal governments and Al Gore in an effort to control big business. Pielke says human activity and not CO2 buildup account for most of green house gases.

Key Players

Government

Scientists

Skeptics

Advocacy Groups

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