Friday, June 22, 2012

Global Warming and Rising Sea Levels

Aerial view of Kiribati Island
Photo: Richard Vogel/AP
Global warming or climate change, as most scientists are apt to call it, is as real as the beads of sweat cascading down my back. I don’t think there’s anyone who can say, including climate change deniers, that storms aren't more frequent and ferocious; that floods aren't relentless as a result of rising sea levels; or that droughts aren't more severe and widespread than ever before. One might wonder why these events are happening ever so frequently, what the causes are and the impending ramifications if we ignore the writings on the wall.

For starters, WE are the reason for the rapid climate change- rapid being the operative word, since climate change/global warming is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Hence, the issue isn't about the earth becoming warmer, but the speed at which it is.

Between 1906 and 2005, the earth’s average surface temperature rose from 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius as a result of greenhouse gasses generated from factories, cars, over logging, cattle rearing (yes, cows do a number on the environment, because when they fart, defecate or belch, they emit copious amounts of methane), fossil fuels and human activities among others.

Another factor contributing to the earth's increasing surface temperature is the melting of ice shelves and permafrost. Melting ice not only raises sea levels but also releases methane, which then traps the sun's rays, leading to an increase in the earth’s temperature. This increase in temperature causes more ice shelves/sheets and permafrost to melt, which in turn releases more methane into the atmosphere, thereby perpetuating a destructive cycle. The reason this occurrence is troubling is because without these ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, continents will get flooded and the sun's rays wouldn't be reflected. To illustrate, just think about the comfort of a white t-shirt on a hot day. Now, think of wearing a black one on a hot day - unpleasant, isn’t it?
Melting ice caps
Photo: Rudy Blom/Litania Nahr
An abandoned house on the Pacific Island of Kiribati that has succumbed to flood waters
Photo: David Grey/Reuters
One pertinent fact that seems to escape our minds, occasionally, is that our continents are all huge islands at the mercy of one imposing, capricious element - water. And if all ice caps, icebergs and any form of frozen water were to melt, Atlantis wouldn't be the only underwater city. 

Recently, Time magazine reported that the government of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati is considering relocating its citizenry to a Fijian island for fear of the archipelago being swallowed by the ocean. According to the president of Kiribati, the tide has reached villages and evacuating the nation is the only way out of imminent disaster. I can only imagine how traumatic it would be for citizens of that nation to leave a place they've called home for millennia.

Saddening as this reality is, what is happening in Kiribati is a preview of what could and would happen to our continents if nothing is done to curb the excessive emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

There’s a Native American proverb that goes, "We do not own the land, but have merely borrowed it from our children," which essentially compels us to ask ourselves what legacy are we going to leave behind for our children and children’s children? Is it one that would make them question our lackadaisical attitude towards safeguarding our planet, or one that would make them grin with pride because we stopped looking at the bottom line and took the necessary actions required to avert a major catastrophe?

Surprisingly, people say, "God promised to not destroy the planet by flood in the bible, so we shouldn't worry excessively about floods." Granted, He did promise that, but I don’t recall reading that man couldn't. It is our responsibility, as custodians of the planet, to cherish God’s gift to us and treat it with kindness and reverence.