8 December 2015

#WriteSDGs: A Letter to COP21 Delegates -- Kingsley Ireh

Dear Delegate,

Understanding evidence from the past is important. So is making sense of recent trends. The real challenge, however, lies in understanding the complexities well enough to predict climate change.

Is global warming a scientific certainty or just a political liability? Why is the continued destruction of the Amazon rainforest relevant to the chemistry of global warming? The answer has to do with how Earth’s climate system is regulated and responds to change. There are many parts to the climate puzzle including incoming solar radiation, outgoing radiation from the earth, wind, and water currents, atmospheric gases, clouds, snow, and ice, volcanic gases and human activities. To fully understand global warming, we need to consider the rate at which changes is taking place and whether the climate system can respond at a similar rate. For example, we know that the Amazon rainforest is vanishing at these three times the rate it was less than 10years ago. By some evidence, 80% of Brazil ancient forest is already gone. How will these rapid changes affect the “steady-state” balance of climate regulation?

Observed warming of surface air temperatures between the 1890s and 1940 led some scientists to suggest that the American Dust Bowl was an early sign of the Greenhouse effect at work, following a 30-year period of slight cooling that started in 1940. During the year 1957 the U.S Oceanographer Roger Revelle alerted the world to the problems that could be caused by ever-increasing amount of Greenhouse gases; those gases are capable of absorbing and reemitting infrared radiation, to the atmosphere. Since that time, there has been a steady increase in the amount and reliability of data gathered about the role CO2 and other gases play in global warming. The balancing act of energy exchange between our earth and its atmosphere is a natural and beneficial process that helps to maintain the existence of life on our planet. Without the protective layer of our atmosphere, earth could become very hot from incoming radiation. Without the atmosphere’s ability to reflect earth’s radiated heat back towards the surface, our lovely orb could become an ice planet of direct loss of heat into space. The current average temperature of our planet, about 15 C (59 F) is about 33 C warmer than that what could be expected from its distance from the sun.

Concern about an enhanced greenhouse effect is based primarily but not solely on increase in atmospheric CO2. Several other gases are concern all of which have been increasing because of human activities. For example, we know that methane, CH4 has much lower concentration in the atmosphere than CO2 and also a major component of natural gas. But is at least 20times more effective than CO2 in its ability to trap infrared energy. It is observed that the ruminant of the earth releases a staggering 73 million metric tons of methane each year. A similar chemistry is carried on in the guts of termites, making them a major source of the Methane. And there is more than half a ton of termite for every man, woman, and child on the planet. 

There is a possibility that global warming may exacerbate the release of methane from ocean mud, bogs, peat lands, and even the permafrost of Northern latitudes. In this area, a substantial amount of methane appears to be trapped in “cages” made of water molecules. The methane trapped in this way is referred to as methane hydrate. The CSIRO has been taking series of ocean core drilling to gather evidence about methane hydrate and its role in global warming. If carbon dioxide is properly sequestered, it cannot reach the troposphere and contribute to global warming.


The debate over climate change has subtly in the last 10 years. The focus is no longer on whether there is an observable increase in global temperature. Climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that very likely there is an anthropogenic link. The focus now is on understanding the causes of such increases and means to preventing projecting changes. There are two related question. What can we do and what should we do about the possibility of significant climate change caused by global warming? One thing is clear; given the recent results from improved climate modeling, we will start seeing even more definitive climate change within a decade or so. But can we prudently wait that long, or is prompt action essential? Whether to act and how to act are not just scientific issues. What determines our response is a complicated mix of science, perception of risk, societal values, politics, and economics? Many believe that a case has been made for action now and are already implanting changes to reduce greenhouse gases. Others prefer to study the situations in more details before deciding on a course of action. Perhaps there are even those who would not act at all, believing that climate change is inevitable and just part of a long term natural cycle. Taking a comparable per capita value for China and India are about 0.6 and 0.3 tons respectively. Even so, the People’s Republic of China ranks second behind the United States in total carbon dioxide emission from fossil fuels. If China were to succeed in raising its per capita gross national product to only 15% of the U.S figure, the increase in CO2 production would approximately equal the current American Annual emission from burning coal. The IPCC has estimated that by 2010, the developing countries plus the nations of the former Soviet Union will produce about half the world’s CO2.

In my opinion, is our world warming to unintended climate effects? To access and reverse such effects, much will depend on the quality of information gathered and how it is used to make sound economic and environmental decision. To reverse the change already done and to prevent more, all these communities must respond with intelligence, compassion, commitment and wisdom. It is instructive that even in the absence of threat such as global warming, many suggestions for change would contribute to sound, prudent and responsible stewardship of our planet.

I hope these thoughts will help guide your deliberations.

Yours Sincerely,
Kingsley Ireh 

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