Global Warming


Global warming occurs when the levels of greenhouse gasses rise and less
infrared light, or heat, escapes the earth's atmosphere. Thus, the
temperature experienced on Earth begins to rise. Climate change is a part
of the Earth's history. There have been dramatic fluctuations in overall
average temperature for the past 150,000 years that suggest a direct
association with carbon dioxide levels. In the past the temperature highs
and lows have been in tandem with carbon dioxide level highs and lows,
this does not seem to be a mere coincidence.

Carbon dioxide currently accounts for 0.03% of the gas content within the
atmosphere. However, it has a disproportionate impact on the earth's
temperature. Thus, minor fluctuations in the percentage of atmospheric
carbon dioxide will likely have a significant effect on the global
temperature. The percentage of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen over
the past century at an alarming rate. Industrial civilization is
essentially driven by fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gasoline all
major contributors to the raise in carbon dioxide emissions.
Deforestation also releases carbon dioxide via burning and exposing the
soil to sunlight. Also, since trees are a major factor in the natural
processing of carbon dioxide, needing it to make up their mass, when they
are cut down they can no longer serve to absorb carbon dioxide. Our
practices are altering the environment and endangering society in return.

Carbon dioxide is put into the atmosphere in many ways; some of
which are naturally occurring and others are from human activity. Over
95% of the carbon dioxide emissions are from natural sources, and would
occur even if humans were not on Earth. However, Carbon dioxide levels in
the atmosphere, due to the cyclic nature of the carbon cycle, would change
little if not for human activities that produce so much every year. The
present addition of 3% annually to emissions is enough to throw off the
balancing effect of the carbon cycle. The result is a build up of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere, which is currently at about a third higher than
pre-industrial levels worldwide.

Throughout the last century our world, reshaped by dams, irrigation,
logging and so forth, has seen drastic human population growth. Resulting
technologies produced an industrial age that transformed the land, sky,
waters, and distribution of the biota of the worlds' nations. The engines
and power plants, which evolved from this historical transformation of
science and technology, threaten our stability. Just imagine for a moment
how the American continent was changed by these revolutions: 

The frontier was conquered during the industrial age when science and
technology were unifying in a grand experiment which, at the time, seemed
like the manifest destiny of civilization: to plow from one coast to the
other. The wheels of transformation were set into motion long ago and
they are far from slowing down. The consumption patterns of the
industrial age will continue to grind for some time and place even greater
demands upon all related resources in the meantime.

Even if we change our practices in time to avoid instantaneous climatic
disturbances, the lessons of ecological history show that society and
environment continually alter each other regardless of the global warming
phenomenon. The environment may initially shape the range of choices
available to a people at a given moment, but then culture reshapes
environment in responding to those choices. 

The reshaped environment presents a new set of possibilities for cultural
reproduction, thus setting up a new cycle of mutual determination. The
root of the problem is the historical separation of man from nature. The
consumption patterns and lifestyles of the U.S. people clearly indicate
our cultural values have shifted far from our perception of our dependence
upon the health of ecosystems. Global warming is a crisis of human
perception in competition with natural cycles, which we have ignored for
far too long. A few examples might make this clear:

There are many possible adverse side effects of global warming on living
and nonliving systems. For example, the displacement of habitat would
affect the natural selection of local flora, which feed the fauna that a
human community ultimately depends upon for food or cash. Similarly, our
dependence on the natural environment will become painfully clear in terms
of coastline property loss. Although one might be able to place a dollar
figure on the latter, both will demand a shift in lifestyle for humans
within both scenarios. Whether or not we have the foresight to change to
more sustainable practices before or after such cataclysms may happen is
yet to be seen.

In addition to raising temperatures scientists discovered that chemicals
called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), long used as refrigerants and as
aerosol spray propellants, damage the ozone layer. Destruction of the
ozone layer is predicted to increase the incidence of skin cancer, damage
crops and the marine food web, and to lead to an increase in carbon
dioxide, possibly stimulating global warming by decreasing the number of
absorbers; trees, plankton, etc.

Ultimately, the complexity of global warming lessens the distinction
between the living and the nonliving systems as distinct entities. In
addition, the interdependence of human communities and inhuman systems is
forced out into the open. Our dependence upon non-human species would
become evident if the food chain were to be disrupted in a local community
via habitat loss.

This environmental crisis we face is the product of a crisis of
perception; we as a species can't see that our actions will have
tremendous effects. Industrial societies typically have a history of
shallow ecological, reactive policy-making as opposed to deep ecological,
pro-active planning. With this tradition, how can we realistically expect
to survive in the years to come? Yes, perhaps we will survive this
threat, seeing as we have so many resources, but what will the quality of
life be like? And what of less advantaged nations who may not survive at
all The prospects of future generations being born into a world affected
by human-induced warming seem probable unless we act pro-actively as an
international community to examine how we contribute to global warming on
an individual basis. 

The future of earth's climate is in the hands of humans. It seems to be
that the human influence on the earth's natural balance will only lead to
our destruction. With simple measures we, as inhabitants of this planet,
can not seal our fate in rising temperatures, but rather we must change
our views completely. We have to stop thinking of the natural world as
something that we can exploit, and start thinking of it as something that
is crucial to our very existence. We must take responsibility for our
home. We have but one Earth, one chance.


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