For as long as I can remember I’ve been hearing about Climate Change and there has always been two contrasting views on the subject. The first is that Climate Change is a natural cycle that occurs periodically either through certain natural shifts within the earth’s atmosphere like the ever-changing shifts in the oceans currents or the build-up of greenhouse gases due to volcanic eruptions and these natural cycles are hard to argue against considering the solid scientific proof we have of the ice age. To this day the argument for the cause of Climate Change maintains a very large camp of scientists and others who will argue that Climate Change is completely due to natural cyclical changes that will slowly bring about changes in climate over varying degrees of time.
The second view will have us believe that Climate Change is due solely to man-made causes like CO2 emissions from vehicles and coal-burning generators. Man-made landfills release large volumes of methane gas as a by-product of decomposition and many other pollutants are generated by humans and released into the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect from an over abundance of these gases being trapped in the atmosphere. These gases allow the sun’s rays to pass through and warm the earth, but prevent this warmth from escaping our atmosphere into space which is slowly increasing earth’s temperature. This will have the exact opposite effect of an ice age causing our polar ice caps and mountain glaciers to melt resulting in water levels rising. The warmer it gets the more water levels will rise. A large percentage of the earth’s population lives within a very short distance of water as we use it for everything from transportation to sustenance. What will happen when water levels rise to the point of encroaching on our habitat? Will we try to stave off its encroachment with break-walls and dikes or allow waterfront assets to be abandoned and swallowed up by the seas? Either option will be expensive beyond measure.
In an earlier post we determined that the transport sector emitted 38.85 tons of CO2 per second in the U.S. alone. If you take the view that Climate Change is due solely to man-made causes then we need to look at the bigger picture and with a longer-term perspective.
Global and growing, today’s supply chains form the backbones of world economies. But as international trade increases, these all-important resource networks are becoming longer, more complex and more vulnerable. Be it the flow of goods, electricity, communications or oil and gas, today’s governments, global manufacturers, aid relief organisations and insurance firms are worried sick over supply chain disruptions. And it’s easy to see why.
Take Thailand’s devastating 2011 floods. Within months of the onset of the monsoon season, the nation’s automobile industry had been wiped out leading to components shortages in the East, while disruption to many Japanese technology manufacturers led to a world shortage of hard disk drives.
Newspapers and business magazines have since run riot with articles on supply chain fragility in the face of disruption and we can expect more of the same. Extreme weather, including Hurricane Sandy-scale storms, severe floods and droughts, is likely to become more frequent and intense as global warming accelerates. And as indicated by the Thai floods, long-distance links in global supply chains mean natural disasters in one place will have repercussions far and wide. Overall trade infrastructure doesn’t really care what source the impact is from, it is still an impact, and this is going to be very interesting and potentially difficult to deal with.
So, where does this leave us? We seem to have created both, the chicken and the egg and now find ourselves in a catch-22 because of it. The more greenhouse gases (GHG) we emit, the more extreme the weather fluctuations can be expected and the more disruptive our supply chains become. Will we ever reach a tipping point one way or the other to curb our GHG emissions or take us beyond a point of no return? We may not be as secure as we like to think and we are not aware of any timeline to force our collective hands. We have set a limit of 2 degrees but, no one truly knows how long we have to achieve it.
I don’t have a definitive answer as to which view on the cause of Climate Change is accurate, nobody does but, if Climate Change is due to the earth’s natural cycles, then it may take far longer than we thought before we reach that 2 degrees or that it permanently affects our everyday lives. Truth be known, we’ve been in an ice age for the past 2.6 million years! If Climate Change actually is due to natural cycles then we probably don’t have much to worry about and there may not be much we could do about it anyway. On the other hand, if Climate Change is due to man-made causes, then we certainly have reason to be concerned and we should act to change our ways.
The real question becomes, “Can we afford to be wrong in the decision we make”? The risk of making the wrong decision can have devastating effects so, to eliminate that risk we have no choice but to decide on the cause of Climate Change as being man-made. If we’re wrong then we can only benefit from having cleaner air to breathe and the fear of Climate Change will be a joke on us all but, we have to err on the side of caution because the alternative would be unthinkable. If we choose to think that Climate Change is due to natural cycles and we go about our merry lives only to find out that we were wrong it may be too late to act and we will all deserve the consequences of our non-actions.
We really have no choice but to blame Climate Change on man-made causes and it won’t hurt to change our ways to stave off Climate Change at most and to breathe cleaner air at least. What will it take to turn it around? Will COP21 have a lasting impact? Unfortunately, we don’t have answers to these questions either and, until we do, it might be smarter to act now rather than wait to experience the effects of those consequences.
The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it ~ Robert Shaw