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Climate Change: A Global Threat We Cannot Ignore

April 1, 2014

Rachel Haskins ’17  Inside Politics

Climate change is a term that has carried its fair share of controversy in recent years, and it is not going away. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released its latest report, and the findings are far from positive. The New York Times labeled this report the most sobering to date. According to Michael Jarraud, the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, “Now we are at the point where there is so much information, much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance.” Clearly, with increased scientific evidence, this discussion can no longer be put on the back burner.

The report discusses the threats posed by the changing climate that include, but are not limited to, melting ice caps, collapsing Arctic sea ice, intense heat waves, and species extinction. Also of concern is the rising level and increasing acidification, due to carbon dioxide, of the world’s oceans. These increased levels of carbon dioxide lead to other problems as well. In the frozen soil of the Arctic lies organic material that has been trapped for millions of years. But now that the ice is melting, this material is starting to decay and contribute to the level of greenhouse gases that cause warming in the first place.

These physical threats to the surface of the earth create a chain reaction of security risks, including food and water security. In the past few decades, carbon dioxide levels have led to “global greening” a phenomenon that has contributed to increased crop yields. Those still unwilling to wholeheartedly embrace the concept of climate change argue that with agricultural technology and adaptation, food shortages will not be a threat in coming years. However, while plants do require carbon dioxide to thrive, the conditions created by higher levels of carbon dioxide – such as heat waves, floods, and droughts – are not conducive to successful growing seasons.

Water is another resource that climate change affects. Millions of people around the world rely on glaciers and seasonal snowmelts as a source of fresh water. As these disappear, so does access to a steady source of water for communities around the world. The IPCC report warns that this, along with food shortages, could lead to violent conflicts and civil wars over basic resources.  Imagine the impact on society with the worsening water shortages in California and other western states.

Not only does climate change pose a physical threat to the earth, but also it poses an economic threat. In 2013, Maplecroft, a risk analysis firm based in the UK, released The Climate Change Vulnerability Index. This index looked at the world’s countries and evaluated, “… their risk of exposure to extreme climate events, the sensitivity of their populations to that exposure and the adaptive capacity of governments to respond to the challenge.” The index then ranked countries by their risk level, identifying 67 “high” or “extreme” risk countries. For 2025, Maplecroft predicts that these countries will have a combined GDP of $44 trillion dollars. That means that the countries making up about a third of the global economy face significant risks within their own borders, risks that may threaten the security of the entire economic system.

While the situation seems dire, there are options available that could help mitigate the threat posed by climate change. The strategies are relatively simple in theory, but require total international commitment. Dealing with the threat of climate change involves a two-pronged system. We must not only limit the cause of the problem, but also implement strategies to handle the consequences. The most important, and most obvious, option is reducing emissions. According to the UN, “Without action, emissions of the six main greenhouse gases are projected to rise by 25-90 percent by 2030 compared to 2000.” Beyond that, we have technology available to help find sustainable and renewable energy, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and handle the hazards to human security. Efforts like those of the IPCC to spread information are the first steps in the process, but now we need to take step two to avoid what will become the global crisis of the century.

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