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Reports & Essays: Science - Earth

"AND""OR"


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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