Climate Change – Part I

This article is the first part of the ‘Climate Change’ series of articles.

‘Climate Change’ is a hot topic for UPSC. Questions from this topic can be expected in the essay paper or any other general studies paper. Therefore, in order to cover various aspects and dimensions of this topic we bring to you a series of posts dedicated to this specific topic. We would be analysing the topic from multiple angles and at the same time provide data, quotes etc. related to the topic.

Wherever required, we will link the article with previous parts of the series. This will not only help a better understanding of the topic but also would help in revision.


1

The Equilibrium of the Earth

A group of scientists have recently published a paper on how the planet might move into a high temperature “hothouse earth” pathway from where there would be no return.

We are living in a precariously equilibrated earth where the temperature is just right for ecosystems to flourish.

A geophysical tipping point is a threshold beyond which a system moves from one stable state to another. This study indicates that crossing a threshold (roughly determined to be about 2º Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times) would lead to the tumbling of a series of tipping points, like a set of dominoes. The destruction of the Amazon forest due to wildfires, the loss of permafrost with warming, the weakening of CO2 absorption by the oceans or the melting of polar ice caps, among many other slow-moving catastrophes, are examples.  If many tipping points tumble beyond 2ºC (as suggested by the scientists), it would irrevocably disrupt ecosystems and societies and there would be runaway climate change, taking us to a hothouse earth. Even if the Paris Agreement of 2015 is implemented and we managed to keep warming below 2º C or even 1.5º C, the risk of a cascade of feedbacks that pushes the earth into the hothouse path may be unavoidable.

Technological solutions alone are insufficient. Fundamental shifts in social values and economic mores are essential. Incremental changes along with increasing contributions from renewables and improvements in energy efficiencies would not be sufficient. There should instead be major changes in technological innovation, behaviour, values and governance.This is an unprecedented challenge for humanity.

This was a revision article. Read the full article at https://pointias443387146.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/summary-the-hindu-pulling-back-from-the-brink/


2

Rising CO2 and its affect on nutrition:

Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air threaten to sap wheat, rice, and other staple grains of valuable nutrients, raising the spectre of mass malnutrition, researchers have warned.

On current trends, higher CO2 concentrations could reduce iron, zinc and protein levels in the crops that feed the world by up to 17% by mid-century.

Hundreds of millions of people could become newly deficient in these nutrients, primarily in Africa, Southeast Asia, India and the Middle East.

Protein, along with the minerals iron and zinc, are essential nutrients for normal human growth and development.

Zinc deficiency affects the immune system and makes children, particularly, more vulnerable to malaria, lung infections and deadly diarrhoeal diseases.

A lack of iron increases the likelihood of mothers dying during childbirth, can lower IQ, and causes anaemia, or a drop in red blood cells.

Wheat, rice and maize together account for roughly 40% of protein, zinc and iron supply in the diet worldwide.

In general, humans get three-fifths of dietary protein, four-fifths of iron, and 70% of zinc requirements from plants.

The global food system is also vulnerable to rising temperatures, prolonged drought, and other forms of extreme weather driven by climate change, earlier research has shown. Impacts include reduced crop yields, heat-stressed livestock, and shifts in the quantity and location of commercially-fished ocean species.

Source: The Hindu


3

Climate change and calamities

Various parts of the world are witnessing extreme events. For e.g. Kerala floods due to mismanagement of reservoirs, construction at sites that are off-limits, changes in land use patterns, destruction of forests and very heavy rain over weeks. Sweden and Norway had a large number of wildfires that broke out with heat waves this summer. California has been ravaged by fire.

With the climate getting warmer, communities need to be prepared for an increase in the severity and frequency of prolonged heat waves causing dry conditions and fire, cyclones, very heavy downpours in short periods of time leading to flooding, and the failure of seasonal rains leading to droughts.

In another example, various new kinds of vector-borne diseases are rearing their heads and some of the older ones are reappearing due to changes linked with higher temperatures.

Long term vs. Short term solutions – Residents and decision makers look for immediate measures to contain or prevent similar events in future. Unfortunately, these efforts quite often turn out to be short-term actions that could worsen challenges in the long term.  Short-term solutions demonstrate that some action is being taken, and they also match the political cycle of four to five years, but they do not generally take local ecology and the landscape into consideration and do not address long-term changes taking place as a result of climate change.

For instance, increased spraying with insecticides, a short-term measure, results in boosting resistance of the pest to the chemical spray. Scientists give the example of Boa Vista, in Brazil, where aggressive efforts launched after one patient was found to be infected with the dengue virus led to rapid and widespread increase in insecticide resistance in the region.

When the risk of extreme events increases, people and governments are more likely to pay attention and respond to that risk through action. But making sure that the action is suitable for the short and also the long term is crucial.

Source: The Hindu