If you follow the news at all, you know that the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21, is presently being held in Paris, France. The talks started November 30 and will continue until December 11. The objective of the conference is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement from all the nations of the world. The goal of the agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to limit the global temperature increase to 2 °C. If you are not familiar with greenhouse gasses and what is known as the greenhouse effect, here is a little science lesson.
It is referred to as the greenhouse effect because the earth acts just like a greenhouse does. The sun gives off electromagnetic radiation, in particular infrared radiation, visible light, and ultraviolet light. Visible light consists of short wavelengths of energy, which are able to pass through the glass or plastic of a greenhouse, and are absorbed. It is then released back as heat (thermal energy) or infrared radiation. This is what heats up the greenhouse as infrared radiation consists of long wavelengths of energy which are unable to pass through the greenhouse’s glass or plastic, thus are trapped in the greenhouse.
The earth, in essence is like a big greenhouse. The sun sends energy to the earth’s surface in the form of visible light (and other radiation), which is absorbed and then released back as heat. Our atmosphere, which contains naturally occurring greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapour, and methane gas, absorbs the heat radiation and then slowly releases some of it into space. The earth’s atmosphere is like the glass or plastic of a greenhouse; it traps heat in. Since there is an excess amount of greenhouse gases caused by human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels, being released into our atmosphere (See the graph on NASA’s Global Climate change website. ), plus the fact that humans are destroying forests at an alarming rate which remove CO2 , more heat radiation than normal is trapped in our atmosphere. The result is the earth is getting warmer
We refer to global warming as when excess greenhouse gases cause the Earth’s temperature to rise. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory website, “As the Earth moved out of ice ages over the past million years, the global temperature rose a total of 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over about 5,000 years. In the past century alone, the temperature has climbed 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming”.
Climate change is caused by the rising temperature of the earth, which causes regional climate characteristics (temperature, humidity, rainfall, etc.) to be altered, leading to catastrophic events like melting glaciers, rising oceans, evaporating lakes, devastating hurricanes, and heavy snowfalls.
United Nations Climate Change Conferences have been tried on numerous occasions before with UN conferences on climate change occurring every year since 1995. Will this conference be different? Will the world leaders unify this time and actually produce a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gasses and commit to it? Let’s hope so.
It doesn’t take much research to determine that our planet is in trouble. Climate change is happening whether we believe it or not. On NASA’s Global Climate change website it states, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” On this website, and there are many other websites agreeing, it sites evidence such as rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperatures, the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers in Greenland. Then there are the extreme weather events that all of us have witnessed in recent years. NASA’s website also sites extreme weather events as evidence. If we are to save this planet, and ultimately ourselves as humans, we must start doing something constructive now!
Many of the world’s leaders are saying the right things. Addressing the 2015 conference in Paris, U. S president Barack Obama said on November 30 that the U.S. accepted its responsibility to help fix climate change, and that global action need not damage economic growth. “What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet.” He urged the leaders to take action even if the benefits were not evident for generations. Mr. Obama also has stated the importance for getting India and China on board to make the U.N climate summit a success, as both those countries are huge CO2 emitters. (see Citing Urgency)
Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau in his address to the conference stated that, “Canada will take on a new leadership role internationally,” Mr. Trudeau was interrupted by applause when he said: “We’re here to help.”
Mr. Trudeau also goes on to say, “Indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years how to care for our planet…The rest of us have a lot to learn and no time to waste”.
Justin Trudeau also said climate change is more than a challenge, but an historic opportunity. He said climate change is “An opportunity to build a sustainable economy based on clean technology, on green infrastructure and on green jobs. We will not sacrifice growth, we will create growth,” he said. (see APTN National News)
It is true that the indigenous people have historically had a great deal of respect for “Mother Earth”, and when the Europeans came over to North America, that changed. This is something I have taught about for years. Mr. Trudeau is right! Climate change does not have to be just a challenge. It is an opportunity to develop new, clean energy technologies that will create new jobs and potentially provide huge economic growth. This is what the world needs to be focused on. It is time to discharge our addiction to fossil fuels.
There seems to be some indications that world leaders are serious about reducing greenhouse emissions. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi has stated: “The sun is the source of all energy.” He apparently is enthusiastic about solar energy and in January set an investment target of $100 billion in India’s solar sector by 2022. The United Kingdom has committed to phasing out coal plants entirely by 2025. In Canada the province of Alberta announced a climate change strategy that includes a carbon tax, a cap on tar sands emissions, a phasing out of coal-fired electricity, and an emphasis on wind power. These are all steps in the right direction.
On Monday, Pope Francis said it’s “now or never” for the international community to start effectively curbing climate change. He said, “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.” (see World leaders must listen to Pope Francis). I believe Pope Francis is correct. I sincerely hope that the leaders of our world are serious about curbing climate change. The planet that we leave behind for our children must be a planet that is habitable. World leaders must get it right this time or our planet will become a vastly different planet; a planet with less habitable landmass, a planet with more deserts than we can ever imagine. A planet where there is little fresh water left to be found since much of our fresh water supply is in the glaciers that are disappearing. That’s not mentioning the numerous plant and animal species that will likely disappear because of global warming. (see Consequences of Global Warming). The list goes on. It is time to get serious about curbing climate change. That doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I applaud those leaders who have already committed to change.
Here is an interesting website to check out: Time to Choose