Fossil-fuel based energy system is creating such damages in the environment that will take a century to recover
Global Warming & A Greener Tomorrow
A home-grown wind turbine manufacturing company in India use a tag line “powering a greener tomorrow” below its company logo. I feel the meaning of this sentence is deep-rooted.
We all are aware of Global Warming and its adversities. Concerning that, the ‘tomorrow’ is not actually tomorrow or next week, next month. ‘Tomorrow’ is not even the next year or next decade. This ‘tomorrow’ is spanning over the century.
Today’s action to control global warming for a ‘greener tomorrow’ will only bear the fruit after a century. That is the importance of the journey of transition towards green energy. Let me explain why.
Silent Entry of Global Warming in Our Life
From the ancient period of history, the human race started using various energy sources available around them. Industrial Revolution had further intensified the discovery and use of energy. That silently triggered global warming ‘ON’.
People started utilising various forms of energy to carry out work more efficiently, with lesser manual intervention. Thus, creating more comfort and more capability to deliver.
Industrialized societies started creating energy from fossil fuel to run practically everything: production of electricity, transportation of goods and people, running factories, cocking at homes, and so on.
Emission levels of CO2 and other GHGs started increasing continuously, paving the way for global warming.
Now, without energy, we can’t move even for a single day and tend to get collapsed.
84.3 % of this energy is -being produced -by burning fossil fuel. So, it is ultimately fueling global warming as a side effect.
The Heavy Price We Pay for Our Growth
Clearly, we are dependent on the comfort that comes out of burning hydrocarbon fuel. Coal, gas and petroleum products have created an undoubtedly positive impact on our socio-economic growth for the last two centuries. But now we understand, it has come at a cost.
Our growth came at the cost of global warming, climate change and pollution. Nowadays, all of us know, that the principal cause of global warming is the emission of CO2 and other GHGs into the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels.
About 97% of climate scientist (I surprise, why not 100%) are now confident about the human culpability in global warming. Therefore, the search is now vigorous to find ways to do away with these evils without compromising our social growth.
Melting, Burning & Drowning Our Existence
In 2014, the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the ‘Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’ lauded, that the change in the climate system is the direct effect of our unending craving for energy and mentioned that recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. So, global warming is on the rise, and it has a deep-rooted impact on the human and natural system.
Further, a special report of IPCC in 2018 made out of the dedicated effort of more than a thousand experts across the world gives us the message that limiting global warming to 1.5 deg. C above the pre-industrial level is of utmost necessity for the wellbeing of the human and natural ecosystem.
We are already experiencing the adverse effects of global warming due to an increase in 1deg. C. It has made many changes in the natural ecosystem, including extreme weather, melting Arctic ice, rising sea level and many more.
Earth’s Surface Temperature & Global Warming
According to IPCC since 1750 an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere has contributed to the positive flux of energy to the earth making it warmer.
A particular quantity of energy from the sun strikes the earth every year. Nowadays the earth absorbs approximately 2watt/m2 of radiation from the sun per year. In 1750 this amount was much less (Sinha.S,2020).
The distance of the sun from the moon and the earth is almost equal, but the average temperature of the earth is 15 deg. C and the temperature of the moon is -18 deg. C, why?
Because the blanket of heat-trapping gas surrounding the earth makes it warm and livable for us. Unlike the earth, the moon has no atmosphere to trap the heat, therefore it is cold.
On one hand, in absence of the surrounding atmosphere, the earth surface would also have become colder like the moon. On the other hand, an ‘over presence’ of this heat-trapping atmosphere is also not good as it retains back heat more than necessary.
Due to continuously increasing emissions of CO2 and other GHGs, the heat-trapping gas blanket is getting thicker every year, holding back more heat inside to raise the earth surface temperature (global warming) causing unprecedented changes in the climate system.
Fossil Fuel’s Effect Beyond Climate Change
An associated problem with this global warming is air pollution. It is the most prominent adverse effect that our fossil fuel-based energy system is imposing on human health.
Approximately seven million deaths per year are occurring worldwide due to air pollution. Air pollution is the third serious most risk factor across the world, contributing to premature demises.
Half of this mortality is due to indoor air pollution in under-developed countries in Asia and Africa. The other half is due to ambient air pollution from vehicular emission and electricity generation (Sinha.S,2020).
Asia is the most affected region by ambient air pollution, but even the US and EU are also significantly affected till now despite strict regulations. Several hundred thousand lives are facing premature death every year because of this.
However, though air pollution is a severe problem, it is killing or shortening the life span of people to large numbers worldwide, still, it is not difficult to reverse this effect within a short period. Removing the cause can remove pollution from the air within seven days or so. It is reversible.
We have seen this process during the lockdown period due to Covid-19 recently. Magically the air and water of polluted regions got clean within no time. Nature could do this on its own.
On the other hand, this is not possible in the case of a change in the climate system. Some of the effects may take a century to get neutralized after taming global warming, but some are irreversible.
For example, in case, right at this moment, we seal all sources of carbon emission, the rising of the temperature of the earth surface won’t get arrested immediately. It will keep on rising for the next hundred years before getting arrested. Sea level will also keep on rising for centuries before it stops at a level.
Therefore, the damage that has already occurred won’t get repaired immediately, and we will have to depend on the natural slow process cure, which may take even more than a century in cases.
Emission & the Poor World
The CO2 that we are emitting into the atmosphere is not getting restricted into its emitting region only. It is getting spread across the atmosphere of the entire world. Therefore, whether the emission is from India or the US, the adverse effect will make every country suffer equally.
Ironically, the majority of people lives in the non-industrialized world. They don’t have much access to the modern energy system such as electricity or fuel and don’t follow a developed lifestyle. They don’t have notable contributions to the emissions except for burning biomass for cocking purpose. However, they would be the most sufferer due to these adverse climatic changes.
The rise of sea level will engulf many land portions. People living in the coastal line and on the small island will lose their land due to the sea level rise and have to move for relocation. Moreover, along with the temperature rise (global warming), heat-related death will also increase.
Many diseases will aggravate and spread to newer areas. Heat and drought-related issues will create a potable water shortage and will hamper crop production. It will be a real crisis devastating the poorer world.
The Closing Window
Global warming is steadily pushing us towards a disaster. Excessive rise in temperature, abrupt change in the weather system, food and water shortage, climate refugees and the related economic crisis are approaching nearer every day.
What are we doing to address these life and death question of the human race? We have initiated many corrective measures to tackle the issue, but are these sufficient enough? What more we need to do? This is the high time to think aggressively.
The alarm bell is ringing, the window for the solution is closing. It is getting smaller every day. The fastest transition to an energy system that won’t use carbon can only save the world from extinction.
The tag line ‘powering a greener tomorrow’ is crying for a more consolidated all-out effort to get into reality.
Reference: 1. Sinha, S.(2020). Fossil Free. Harper Business.
This article was originally published in the ‘Technology Hits’ at medium.com.