By Asitha Jayawardena
When the search for the vaccine for coronavirus (or Covid19) is underway, how should we address the impact of climate change?
Yes. By reducing greenhouse gas emitted to the atmosphere.
Global warming, which is an effect of climate change, is due to the greenhouse effect. Solar radiation warms the surface of earth. Sun is warmer than the earth so the solar rays are short wave radiation while the radiation emitted from earth is a long wave radiation.
When short wave radiation falls on earth, much is absorbed by the earth’s surface. When earth radiates heat in long wave radiation, heat trapping gases (also called greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere absorb this heat. The atmosphere radiates energy both upwards and downwards. That radiated downwards again absorbed by the surface of earth, keeping it warmer than it would be otherwise. So, that is because of the greenhouse gas effect.
In climate circles the number one in greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, which is only 0.04% of the earth’s atmosphere. The concentration of carbon dioxide is on the rise, now reaching 414ppm (parts per million).
Another greenhouse gas is methane (CH4), which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane is more effective in absorbing heat but it would not linger in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide.
A yet another gas is nitrous oxide (N2O), which is emitted in agricultural and industrial practices, use of fossil fuels, solid waste and the treatment of wastewater.
Now, how would you reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
We the human beings as well as other living beings inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. When living beings die, carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere. Volcanoes is another addition of carbon dioxide.
Divest, or at least reduce, fossil fuels like coal, petroleum (oil) and natural gas. Buy an electric vehicle, work from home and switch home supplier to a renewable energy provider are methods to reduce heat. This is the best way to control the addition of carbon dioxide to the air.
Non-renewable energy providers (e.g. fossil fuels) make carbon dioxide when the fuel burns. Renewable energy providers such as solar, wind, hydroelectric power, biomass, geothermal energy and tidal and wave energy do not do that. Non-renewable sources are finite whereas renewable sources are infinite and are in supply if the natural world prevails.
Cement manufacturing adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. So, cement with reduced carbon dioxide or alternatives to cement is an ideal solution to this problem. With deforestation, trees that are dead will release carbon dioxide.
Secondly, care should be taken when domestic livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats are reared for agriculture purposes because their normal digestive system emit methane. Moreover, upgrading equipment that is used to produce, store and transport oil and natural gas can lower methane leaks.
Thirdly, to control nitrous oxide, nitrogen fertilizers should be used efficiently and, where possible, it should be reduced. Moreover, reducing fuel consumption in motor vehicles can also lower the emissions added to the atmosphere because nitrous oxide is a biproduct of fuel combustion.
There are many other ways that add greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, directly and indirectly, but these methods are not considered here.
To some effect at least, the greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, that is reducing heat, will have environmental effects related to climate change:
Sea level rise: Currently, the sea level is rising 3.3mm per year. In other words, the global average sea level rise is 200mm since the records began in 1880.
Extreme events: Extreme evets such as droughts, heat waves and floods happen more often and the intensity of the event is increased. For example, flooding occurs more frequently and the devastation it ensues is larger each time. In the next decade, we must prepare for the extreme events.
Warm oceans: Oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface. Its main task is absorbing heat and distributing it more evenly. It soaks carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The rising of average global temperature will increase the sea level rise. Moreover, it will cause coral bleaching and the loss of breeding grounds for some species.
Shrinkage of ice sheets: Ice sheets in polar regions, namely Greenland and Iceland, Arctic and Antarctica, are in the decline as the global temperatures on the rise. For example, between 1993 to 2016, Greenland lost an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year while Antarctica lost 127 billion of ice per year.
Arctic sea ice: Arctic sea ice would be on the decline, again the rising of the global temperatures would be the cause. If this continues, Arctic would be free of ice in summer before 2050.
Glacial retreat: The same is true for the glacial retreats in the top of the mountains of the world. The retreating glaciers can be found in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes and Rockies.
Ocean acidification: When carbon dioxide dissolves in oceans, it decreases the pH of the water and this is called ocean acidification. It reduces the amount of carbonate, which is essential for growth of marine organisms, such as coral and some plankton.
Reducing heat is the only way
The environmental effects of climate change will in fact dependant on the reducing heat added to the atmosphere. In other words, battling climate change will be in a way reducing heat.
The ongoing rise in the concentration of carbon dioxide along with the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide will bring down other seven environmental effects, loosely speaking.
Divest fossil fuels like coal, petroleum (oil) and natural gas and invest in renewable energy providers such as solar, wind, hydroelectric power, biomass, geothermal energy and tidal and wave energy will do the trick. For industries like cement manufacturing, alternatives should be found. Moreover, deforestation should be avoided where possible.
To reduce methane emission to the atmosphere, domestic livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats for agriculture purposes needs attention while upgrading equipment that is to produce, store and transport of oil and natural gas is necessary.
To control the addition of nitrous oxide, nitrogen fertilizer can be used efficiently and avoided if possible. What’s more, fuel consumption of motor vehicles should be lowered.
In the pandemic of Covid19, which is not over yet, we have to prepare to face a much bigger ‘pandemic’ of climate change in the years to come! At least before November 2021 when the COP26 is scheduled.
Global Climate Change https://climate.nasa.gov/
Overview of Greenhouse Gases https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases
CO2 Makes Up Just 0.04% of Earth’s Atmosphere. Here’s Why Its Impact Is So Massive https://www.sciencealert.com/co2-is-only-a-tiny-part-of-our-atmosphere-but-it-has-a-huge-influence-here-s-why#:~:text=CO2%20Makes%20Up%20Just%200.04%25%20of%20Earth’s%20Atmosphere.
Renewable Energy: The Clean Facts https://www.nrdc.org/stories/renewable-energy-clean-facts#sec-types