ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Planet Earth: An Ecological Turning Point

In places, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis – Summary for Policymakers, released by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last month in Paris, speaks quite plainly. So for those who would still be expected to react in the manner of “can this really be true?” the IPCC puts it thus: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level”. Global warming is squarely attributed to human activities thus: “Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations…Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns” (emphasis in original). But what of future trends? Again, according to the IPCC summary: “For the next two decades a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of…emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected…Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century” (emphasis in original). According to leading climatologists, with respect to global warming, the critical threshold has already been crossed. The question then of what needs to be done arises, the urgency of which cannot be overemphasised.

Plainly, a global ecological disaster seems to be staring humanity in the face and it is even now not too late to take action to limit its nature and severity. But how to fundamentally alter the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions? The problem of global warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere was first strongly articulated in 1988 and the IPCC was set up in the same year. Mitigation efforts, feeble though, have been on, but Washington put a big spoke in the wheels by refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The usual technical fixes are on offer – replacing carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuel generation of electricity by nuclear power plants (a medicine worse than the disease?), further improving the mileage and emission standards of automobiles, universalising the practice of tradable pollution permits and other such market-based solutions to environmental problems, indeed, talk of a “dematerialised” economy, besides the usual “greening” measures, whether of technology or of marketing.

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