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Derrick Spies
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Climate Change is being compounded

29 November 2012, 12:20

Climate Change is being compounded, and the longer we decide not to do anything about it, the worse it will get.

There is very little doubt that the global climate is changing. The people who were vehemently opposed to the concept of climate change ten years ago, most notably the scientific advisers of some of the greatest polluters  and greenhouse gas emitting nations of the world, have grown few and far between.

This is most likely because the empirical evidence simply cannot be ignored anymore. Severe storms, flooding, heat waves  and drought are occurring at unprecedented rates across the globe. Staple food crops that have thrived in areas for decades are being decimated by drastic changes in weather.

But while there is now almost universal agreement that climate change and global warming is a stark reality facing the world, there is very little political will power from those most responsible to change their ways.

In fact, the climate change talks  among 200 nations in Doha is faltering. As the nations of the world struggle to agree to even modest targets to tackle global warming, the greenhouse gas emission cuts needed grow ever deeper, more costly and less likely to be achieved.

UN talks have delivered only small emissions curbs in 20 years, even as power stations, cars and factories pump out more and more heat-trapping gases.

The Doha talks are aimed at reaching a new deal that would start in 2020, with very little agreement over what will be done between now and then to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

But six years of little to no action could be devastating, because climate change is being compounded, and every delay in addressing the problem means the changes are going to get worse.

It's like Eskom asking for a 16% tariff increase a year for the next five years.

Your brain tells you that if the price goes up 16% a year over five years,  it's an increase of 16x5, which is a massive 80% hike! But that's not exactly true, it's even worse, because next year's 16% is calculated on the new price, not the original price.

In fact, over five years the Eskom price tariff will increase by just over 110%, which means that if the tariff structure is approved, for every R100 you spend on electricity today, in five years time you will be spending R210.03 for it.

So how is Climate Change compounded.

I'm sure many of you are, by now, familiar with the compounding effect of melting arctic ice on Climate Change.

As the ice melts, the white reflective surface of the ice, which reflects heat, gives way to the dark blue of water, which absorbs heat. So, the more ice melts, the less heat is reflected, the warmer the surrounding water becomes, encouraging more ice to melt.

In fact the World Meteorological Organisation reports unprecedented melt of Arctic sea ice in September, shrinking to just 3.4 million square kilometres, 18% less than the previous record low in 2007.

The new record was also 49% below the 1979-2000 average, corresponding to an additional ice loss of nearly 3.3 million square kilometres, about the size of India.

This could be one of the contributing factors to why the sea levels are rising 60% faster than originally predicted by scientists.

But this is just one example of compounded Climate Change.

Another example is melting permafrost in northern Siberia, Canada, parts of China and the United States.

Permafrost comprises an "active" layer at the surface, of up to two metres, which melts in summer and refreezes in winter, and beneath it is permanently frozen soil.

If warming penetrates this under-layer, it could release vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane from vegetation deposited thousands of years ago, which has been safely locked up in the ice, until now.

These greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere, adding to global warming, which then accelerates the permafrost melt, compounding the problem.

Worse, as the surrounding temperature increases, the ecosystem also changes, which in turn can further add to Climate Change.

In Canada, for example, an army of rice-grain-sized beetles have moved into Canada's western forests and are killing off the trees by the thousands. The beetles lay their eggs under the bark of pine trees, at the same time injecting a fungus that protects their offspring but kills the trees. 

As trees are felled, the cooling effect of their transpiration, similar to human sweating, is also lost, and the surrounding temperature increases further, improving the ecosystem for the beetle, which in turn kill off more trees.

The longer Climate Change is left unchecked, the faster and more extreme Climate Change will become.

So what can be done?

Make a personal decision to reduce your carbon footprint.

You can do this by supporting local companies rather than purchasing goods that need to be imported; reduce your travel and use alternative forms of travel such as a bicycle to cover small distances; use energy efficient products and reduce your energy consumption; invest in alternative, renewable energy supplies such as solar and wind; recycle your waste; grow your own food.

It may not be enough, but at least it's a start...

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