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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

Global warming

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

The British entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, may be famous for his flamboyant style of doing business and living. But some serious issues of the day, particularly environment, also seem to interest him. He is not alone when he urges a more focused approach to solving the global warming problem because neglecting it would only lead the world towards catastrophe. While pledging a sum of $3 million for renewable energy initiatives in Britain, he has dwelt on the need for the aviation industry, his main business, to cut down carbon dioxide emissions. A country like India where the ill effects of global warming are already visible could perhaps profit from his approach.

Though the aviation industry accounts for only two per cent of global CO2 emissions his ideas on ways to reduce the release of this greenhouse gas into the atmosphere deserve serious consideration. By his reckoning CO2 emissions can be brought down by as much as 150 million tonnes a year through some simple measures to be taken up by airlines, airports and governments.

First tow aircraft by a small tug to their starting point and switch on the engines about 10 minutes before take-off. Similarly, descend should also be made slower and smoother to cut down fuel consumption while landing. Generally, the aircraft engines are switched on an hour or more before take-off, both for reaching the takeoff point and then waiting for clearance for takeoff. Branson’s suggestions will get an additional welcome in many Indian cities like Mumbai and Hyderabad where the airports appear to be almost in the middle of the metropolis and the noise from planes only adds to the already high noise pollution levels.

Branson wants a single air traffic control system for Europe to optimise the use of airspace. A study by the International Air Transport Association suggests that a more efficient air traffic control system can effect a saving of 12 per cent in global aviation CO2 emissions.

Greenhouse emission is a big problem because the world’s dependence on fossil fuels has not been decreasing despite all the talk about renewable and alternative sources of energy, which are also cleaner. Many environmentalists worry that despite the availability of technology for producing carbon-free fuel global warming remains unchecked. It has to be added here that the environmentally friendly technology is still to be introduced on a mass scale.

There is a view that global warming is one of the natural phenomena that had visited the world in the past also—10000 years or so ago. Glaciers were melting then too. The earth had gone through the cycle of warming and cooling. So, their contention is if the world survived the effects of global warming in the past so why cannot it do so now? Some also point to ‘benefits’ from global warming—longer growing season and hardier crops.

It might be erroneous to become complacent about the effect of global warming in today’s world, which is after all very different from the world that existed 10,000 years ago or before that. A major difference about the current global warming is that it has not happened due to natural causes but is a contribution of the inhabitants of the planet earth. The deterioration in climate has been more pronounced since the last decades of the previous century. According to the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change today’s atmosphere has 30 per cent more CO2 than 100 years ago.

A native Canadian proverb says we did not inherit our planet from our parents but borrowed it from our children. It is a telling reminder of the harm that will come mankind’s way if the phenomenon of global warming continues to grow, largely because of apathy of governments in countries responsible for large-scale greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the earth today is believed to be warmer than it has ever been in at least in the last million years. Many environmentalists are writing doomsday scenarios about global warming—droughts and floods and rising sea levels that will inundate many coastal areas in the world.

By the end of this century sea levels can rise up to a meter, thanks to global warming. It is also being said often enough that in future nations may be going to war over water and not territory. In fact in many Indian cities a sort of war over water is witnessed every summer. All across the northern hemisphere, summer temperatures have been rising. It has been reported that in some European countries nuclear plants have been forced to cut down output because the river water that is used to cool the reactors is becoming too warm. Forest fires are being reported from many European countries too. The situation will not improve as long as greenhouse gases emissions are not brought down.

The 1997 Kyoto protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions (to 1990 levels) does not seem to have done enough to reduce the danger of global warming. The US, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, refused to sign the protocol (otherwise signed by 120 countries) because it says that it will amount to enforcing ‘an energy diet’ that will slow down the economy.

This line of argument obviously overlooks certain crucial facts. In the first place what makes the task of cutting down greenhouse gas emissions difficult is that CO2 has a life of 50 to 100 years in the atmosphere. Ocean warming further compounds the problem. Heat will continue to enter the ocean and make the climate warmer for a long time even if CO2 levels are brought down today. Carbon dioxide emissions cannot be brought down overnight by capturing the gas and then sequestering it.

What becomes clear is that there is no shortcut to reversing the trend of high gas emissions, especially when dependence on fossil fuels does not show signs of lessening at the moment. However, all may not be lost still if efforts to contain greenhouse gas emissions are made more earnestly—and urgently.

- Syndicate Features -

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