Climate Conference of Santiago, Chile
It is no secret that island nations will suffer greatly due to rising sea levels. Because of their low elevation and small size, many small island states are threatened with partial or virtually total inundation by future rises in sea level. In addition, increased intensity or frequency of cyclones could harm many of these islands. Furthermore, its interference in local agricultural and other income-generating activities could intensify social inequalities and cause a worldwide humanitarian crisis. The most disturbing demonstration of inequality is that small island developing states that face the greatest negative effects of climate change, have contributed less than 1% to the global stock of greenhouse gasses now in the atmosphere.
I learned about the case of Kiribati, a small island nation in the Central Pacific ocean, more in-depth as I was reading the latest issue of the National Geographic magazine. I found out that most of Kiribati does not lie more than 3 meters above sea level and rising sea levels have already contaminated groundwater with salty water that is unfit for consumption. Furthermore, the scarcity of a vital resource like fresh water interferes with local agriculture patterns, damages the local economy and wipes out cultural practices. In, Kiribati, the increased salinity of the groundwater has hindered the growth of bwabwai, the prestige food of Kiribati culture that is used in feasts by the community. Although the government is helping farmers switch to crops that are more resistant to saltwater, this shift in agricultural patterns reflects the impact on climate change on the sustenance and cultural practices of island populations like Kiribati.
While the impact of climate change has already started to affect the current population of Kiribati, the future looks even more bleak. Recently, President Anote Tong revealed that his Cabinet had endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. The plan is to potentially move the entire population off of Kiribati. In 2014, the World Bank reported that climate change is going to lead to far more heat-waves and drought, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, exacerbating crop failure, food and water shortages, conflict and dislocation of people. In these circumstances, mass migration will be occurring in many regions of the world, with or without armed conflict. From our past experience with war refugees and other disasters, and our current experience with dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, it looks as though climate change, especially rising sea levels, could pose a threat to not only the populations that reside in high-risk areas but also to the the peace in the entire international community. As far as we know, no country is welcoming climate refugees to their countries.
It is not only developing countries and island nations that are at risk due to rising sea levels. Coastal cities like New York, Miami, New Orleans, Mumbai and Tokyo are also at high risk of damage due to increased storms, flood and other disasters. As expected, the poor and marginalized communities in these cities are at greater risk as they have pushed to the most vulnerable neighborhoods, often in low-lying areas and along waterways prone to flooding. This could ultimately lead to mass-migration to safer areas away from the coast.
“The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.” (Gillis and Chang, 2014: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/science/earth/collapse-of-parts-of-west-antarctica-ice-sheet-has-begun-scientists-say.html)
We may not have to abandon these islands and coastal regions for a few hundred years, but I'm left wondering, when the time comes, where will all the people go?
One of the greatest difficulties in climate education is convincing people that climate change is really happening, and that it has an effect on them. Basic human rationality says that people won’t invest much in something unless they believe it is in their best interest. Though it may be hard for the average non-climate-expert to notice changes to the ozone layer or to global temperatures, water is one way we can all see how climate change is affecting the planet right now.
Climate change causes torrential downpours and droughts. It seems almost silly to say that since those two things are so opposite from one another. However, increasing temperatures due to climate change allow the air to be able to hold up to 7% more water. This causes longer periods of time without rain, but heavy, damaging downpours when the rain does come.
Some of these droughts have been quite long, deep, and hot. They have caused not only water shortages, but also wildfires. Drought has led to fires in California, Brazil, and Moscow, some of these responsible for more than 55,000 deaths. In addition to being a safety hazards to humans, these fires and droughts have caused crop damage, which has had its effect on national and global economies.
And thanks to climate change, when it rains, it actually does pour a little bit harder now. Increases in the atmosphere’s water vapor capacity are responsible for tropical storms, torrential downpours, and mudslides. Recently, these heavy downpours caused a “1 in 1,000 year” flood in South Carolina. Further, heavy downpours increase agricultural runoff, pushing more phosphorus into our water supply. This has lead to algal blooms off the coast of Lake Erie, restricting thousands of people from drinkable water.
Climate change has already caused devastating effects to our global water systems, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that these trends will continue and probably get worse, affecting the water cycle in all seasons. High temperatures cause snow to melt earlier in the spring. This leads to more spring flooding, but less water in the soil later in the summer. Further, I have hardly even mentioned the most drastic, water-related climate change effect of all: the rising sea level that is already flooding some coastal areas.
Through water, we have already seen the effects of climate change. Though the looming impacts of climate change are dangerous, perhaps some of the events that have happened thus far can give the world’s citizens a wake-up call for the imminence of climate change’s negative effects. We are always told that the first step to solving a problem is admitting we have one, and water is one way for all of us to see that the effects of climate change are already starting to arrive!
*Special credits to the Intergovernmental Governmental Panel on Climate Change and a Seminar by Dr. Elizabeth Queathem at Grinnell College on October 2, 2015.
The poor air quality in China is linked to the rapid economic development. The energy to support this economic growth and overpopulation has come from combustion of fossil fuels, increasing the CO2 emissions, which is a greenhouse gas. In fact, China is the world leader on CO2 emissions. However, when the combustion is not complete, it also leads to a drastic increase in other air pollutants gasses and particles [e.g., NOx, SO2, CO, Black Carbon (BC), and organic carbon (OC)]. Those gasses can react chemically in the troposphere to form particulate matter. Recently, China has experienced severe haze pollution with the fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 µm (PM2.5). The PM2.5 had reached unprecedented high levels, exceeding the World Health Organization limit of 10 µg/m3. For example, the US embassy in Beijing had been reported a PM2.5 annual mean of ~100 µg/m3. However, the formation mechanisms leading to haze episodes remain uncertain.
Pictures taken from the website (http://www.chinaairdaily.com/#Beijing#2015-01-01) during the period that I was working in China.
Recently, I spent almost two months in Beijing, China doing part of my dissertation research. During this period, when the wind was stagnant, I experience PM2.5 concentration above 500 µg/m3 [with an Air Quality Index (AQI) >500], Hazardous levels). Being an asthmatic person, I had to use a facemask to protect myself even for “nice days” (AQI ~100) in order to stay healthy. There were other days, in part due to strong winds, that the PM2.5 concentration was below 10 µg/m3 (AQI <50). It was so great going outside, that I just want to take advantage and retake all the pictures but with the blue sky. Born and raised in a tropical Caribbean island, governed by trade winds, I had never experienced such a big difference in the air quality. Due to this experience, and all the air pollutants implications in both regional and global scale, it seems unbelievable that China was exempt of the Kyoto Protocol. Thus, not having to control their emissions due to their classification as a developing country.
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/12/china-and-us-make-carbon-pledge#img-1)
The 2015 UNFCCC – COP21 in France has a high expectation. The aim of the conference is to reach a "legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies”. This year will require both, developed and developing countries, to cut their emissions. Personally, I hope that the countries, particularly USA, China, and India, could agree and ratify the treaty proposed to reduce the CO2 emissions. USA and China have been negotiate, since last year, to reduce the greenhouse gasses emissions (among others things). China pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 60-65% from 2005 levels under a plan submitted to the UN. Moreover, they said it would increase the share of non-fossil fuels as part of its primary energy consumption to about 20% by 2030, and peak emissions by around the same point. Let see if we could have by the end of this year a “Paris Protocol”.
This week, Students on Climate Change will be focusing on how different countries are dealing with climate change in anticipation of the pivotal COP21 meeting in Paris later this year. Up first is India!
Just this past week, India, the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, after the United States and China, has finally submitted its climate change plan to the UN before COP21 in Paris this December. Among it’s commitments, India pledged to source 40% of its electricity from renewable and other low-carbon sources by 2030 and cut its “emissions intensity” (ratio of carbon emissions per unit of GDP) by up to 35% (from 2005 levels) by 2030.
India faces the unique problem of a large, growing population. Currently, the country’s population is estimated at 1.2 billion; it is projected to grow to 1.5 billion by 2030, surpassing China in 2028 with 1.45 billion people. Because of this, significant development will have to occur in the next decade, especially given that about 363 million of India’s current population lives in poverty. Of these, approximately 300 million Indians live without electricity.
As one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, India has had to get creative in finding alternative energy sources, an initiative heavily supported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Under his leadership, India built the Charanka solar park in Gujarat, an “ultra-mega” power project and the biggest solar park in Asia. It’s fitting, as India receives more sunlight than any other of the other top twenty economies in the world.
Unfortunately, not everything’s all that great. With the increase in industrial production in the country, there has also been an increase in the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, which India has in abundance. Coal was reported to meet 54.5% of India’s energy needs earlier this year.
To offset the increase in greenhouse gases emitted, India has proposed in its INDC to the UNFCCC to create additional carbon sinks of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 through additional forest and tree cover. With its new pledges for cleaner energy and an increase in solar power, we’ll have to hope that India stays committed to curbing climate changes as we move towards talks in Paris later this year.
Law was passed in early 2015 about new buildings requiring solar panels or plants on the roof.
According to this article published by The Guardian in March 2015, France passed a law saying all new rooftops needed to be covered either by solar panels or plants. The solar panels allow energy to be stored giving more renewable energy to the city, plants have multiple beneficial effects to being planted on the roof. While a solar panel may store the suns energy, the plants on top help to insulate the building-keeps cool air in during the summer and hot air in during the winter. Another benefit is the retention of rainwater, which helps to reduce runoff from storms!
Solar panels are a growing resource, more and more buildings are starting to install solar panels on the rooftops and sides. Originally when I first heard about solar panels being installed on residential buildings the price was estimated to be around $10,000 for a small system. Now, a small system that could help reduce the energy bill from the electric company can be reduced by a small solar panel system. Other technologies are being developed to help reduce the use of fossil fuels burning a hole in the atmosphere-literally.
Electric car company, Tesla Motors, has taken a step away from solely producing electric cars but as an accessory, has developed a "super" battery to run your home electricity on, plus charge your car. Tesla's Powerwall has multiple battery capacity sizes but Tesla is saying that even the smaller one will be more than enough storage to run an average size home storing energy during the day and relying on the battery during the night. Here's a short video summarizing the powerwall:
Also, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, decided that the battery was so important that instead of patenting it, he's allowing other companies to copy and remake his technology so that other major companies can create more environmentally friendly technology.
Could you live in a bus? A shipping container? An old trailer? A garage? A tree? A grain silo? The tiny house movement has people across the world opting to move out of their three and four bedroom family homes and into any of the above. But what exactly makes a “tiny home” a tiny home? According to thetinylife.com the tiny house movement is “a social movement where people are choosing to downsize the space they live in.” More specifically people are downsizing from homes that average 2,600 feet to homes between 100 and 400 square feet.
Why are people opting to downsize? Well, it depends on the person, some people move into a tiny home for economic reasons, some for the pure adventure, some opt for a tiny home to decrease their reliance on material positions, some for environmental reasons or for any combination of these reasons.
So what does a tiny home have to do with climate change? Tiny homes have the potenital to significantly reduce a person, or families carbon footprint. A carbon footprint, also referred to as an ecological footprint, refers to how much carbon (or more generally greenhouse gas) a person is contributing to the atmosphere. Tiny homes can reduce this footprint in a few ways. Not only will the house itself require less energy to power (less space to heat and cool, less rooms to light up, less space for multiple TVs and other electric appliances), there is also less room for the accumulation of stuff. The less stuff a person buys, the smaller their carbon footprint will be. The house itself also requires less material to build.
However, it is also important to realize, while some people take old buses, or shipping containers to build their dream tiny home, many people purchase all new materials. Yes, there is no doubt that the carbon footprint of building a 100-400 square foot home is smaller than building your 3000 square foot dream home. But, one should still consider whether the building of a tiny home from new materials, likely having to custom make/buy appliances and furniture to fit the small space, and the gas used if your tiny home is mobile, is better or worse for the environment than buying a home that has been in existence for years.
And what happens if you live in a tiny home for a year and decide it's not for you, what happens to the home? Do you now need to buy all new appliances and furniture for your new "normal size" home since you likely got rid of your old home furnishings when you moved into the tiny house? Living in a tiny house can sound romantic, but many people run into zoning problems, don't have space to entertain guests, run out of space as their family grows, begin to feel lonely in their secluded location, among other problems.
While tiny houses definitely have the potential to reduce a person or families carbon footprint, and in turn help mitigate climate change, moving into a tiny house it not something to be taken lightly. It is fun to browse through the endless images on the internet of tiny homes, and the transformations people have made (and distracted me from doing my grad school work for a solid hour while I was searching for images for this post), there are A LOT of factors to consider before making the transition, and before one claims it's the most sustainable way to live!
sources and more information-
This past week, Students on Climate Change have been focusing on terminology to equip our readers with the right words to start an intelligent and accurate discussion about climate. Whenever I start talking to people about climate change, one of the first questions I always get is “so what exactly is the difference between climate change and global warming”
The trouble is, depending on the person you are talking to, they can mean the same thing or something completely different. Many people (especially journalists reporting on the topic) use the two interchangeably, which has led to a lot of unnecessary confusion. For this reason, I have set out to clearly describe the difference between the two. The tricky part is these two terms are related.
Global warming specifically refers to the increase in the average temperature. This is caused by people adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere (like carbon dioxide) from burning fossil fuels. As the amount of gas builds up in the atmosphere, it causes the Earth to trap extra heat making the planet as a whole warmer.
Climate change, on the other hand, includes warming and the other “side effects” of warming like changes in weather patterns, melting glaciers, more frequent droughts, and many others. Average temperature is a global change, while climate refers local environments.
The main idea is that journalists or people are not wrong for talking about global warming, but climate change does a better job of accurately describing what is happening.
If you still have questions, here are some other excellent resources to check out!