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Answers to Student’s Questions

I was recently contacted by students at the Petroleum Institute in the United Arab Emirates ostensibly gathering information for an assignment.

Following are their questions and my answers. I invite those that consider themselves more informed than I to comment:

  1. Do you believe in Global Warming?
    I take this question as meaning do I believe that global warming is happening and that a key component to that warming is through human activity, and to that I answer yes.
  2. How do you define Global Warming?
    Global warming is the steady and consistent rise in the mean global temperature of earth’s atmosphere.
  3. What causes Global Warming?
    Undoubtedly, “global warming” starts as a natural phenomenon. Through naturally occurring “greenhouse gasses” in the atmosphere such as CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone the atmosphere traps heat from the sun and warms the climate to a generally livable temperature. Without this naturally occurring warming of the atmosphere, life would likely not exist on Earth, and certainly not as we know it today.

    The problem arises when anthropomorphic causes of global warming are introduced to alter this natural cycle. Carbon stored in fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) is released into the atmosphere when it is burned and disrupts the natural occurrence of these gasses, creating an unnaturally accelerated rise in atmospheric CO2 and a corresponding trending rise in average global atmospheric temperature. Other gasses contribute to this warming trend as a byproduct of human activity, such as methane and nitrous oxide, but due to the sheer volume of CO2 released into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuel, this is the most significant greenhouse gas.

  4. What are the most important effects of Global Warming?
    “Climate change” is the most significant effect of global warming, and is probably the more accurate term in regard to the problems we face in the coming decades. Specifically, disrupted weather patterns, sea level rise, habitat and/or species disruption or destruction (the polar bear is a prime example), water resource depletion (through drought and altered weather patterns effecting precipitation and snow pack), disruption to agriculture (it may “help” in some areas, but have adverse impact on others) are some of the more important effects of accelerated global warming.
  5. Which areas are the most affected by Global Warming?
    Many areas are already affected by global warming. The polar ice caps are melting at what some scientists have termed an “alarming” rate. Low-lying countries, many of them already impoverished, such as Bangladesh are likely to produce thousands of “climate refugees” as significant portions of the land disappears through sea level rise. The same is true (and is already happening) in Pacific Island nations. The western North American continent may experience long and pronounced drought. In Africa, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, farms are failing due to extended droughts, and people are fighting over dwindling resources. In Tanzania, fishermen have thrived through harvesting the abundant sardine catch. Warming waters in Lake Tanganyika show signs that this harvest is now in decline. Arctic sea ice is melting and the polar bear is in danger of extinction. Glaciers are melting all over the world. These are but some examples.
  6. To what extend do you think Global Warming affect the coastline of the UAE?
    Unfortunately, I am not informed enough to address this particular question with much authority, however, I am aware that due to warming seas, there has been some significant damage to corals in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.
  7. How can we prevent the dangers caused by Global Warming?
    Principally, by transforming our current energy infrastructure and economy. Through the reduction of carbon released into the atmosphere, through the reduction of agricultural practices that release methane into the atmosphere (more to the point, eating less meat – do we really need another McDonalds?), and by creating a sustainable economy that takes into account the effect and pressures human activity places on the sustaining environment. These concepts are at the macro level, to achieve that, changes need to start at the micro level. Such as people in the industrialized nations (and particularly the United States) simply using less energy and using energy more efficiently. This can begin with simple steps such as simply using fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent light bulbs, getting off our butts and walking more instead of driving everywhere, creating better and more efficient mass transit, demanding higher fuel efficiency standards in cars and trucks. My view is obviously American-centric, but these concepts hold true all over the world. Through simple actions momentum begins, and the problem becomes ever more manageable.

    A real wild card in all this are the emerging economies of China and India. As they increasingly industrialize their economies, to the degree that they do so with sensitivity to these issues will determine to a great extent how well we will be able to effectively address and minimize the impact of climate change.

  8. If we can not prevent it completely, what can we do to reduce the danger caused by Global Warming?
    It is unlikely that anthropomorphic global warming can be prevented; in fact, I believe it has already begun. So, indeed, the focus must be on ways to minimize the worst of the potential consequences. I have spoken of most of these in the previous question, but the key in minimizing the impact is quick and decisive action. Here in America, the issue has gained prominence in the past year due to the mainstream media picking up on the story, as well as popular documentaries such as ex-vice president Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Unfortunately, it seems as if this has also created a political divisiveness surrounding the issue, reflecting the general culture we now currently have in America; something I could talk about extensively but is beyond the scope of the questions here. Suffice it to say that the issue must be divorced of politics and reactionary thinking. A serious and reasoned debate is necessary to assess the very complex issues of climate, global warming, energy use, and all the attendant issues related to what will be a global transformation of society.

    It starts with everyone finding a common ground, urging our leaders to lead on this issue (again, in this country as in others, something that is sorely lacking). Short term interests must hold sway to long term survival. And individuals must take responsibility for their own “footprint” on the earth.

    A long-winded way of saying we simply must get started immediately taking the problem seriously and somehow forge a global willingness (especially, of course, among the industrialized and industrializing nations) to do something about it.

  9. How can we raise the awareness of PI students towards Global Warming?
    Talk about. Discuss the issues. Keep an open mind as you debate it. There are some skeptics that raise valid points regarding the science, this if fine – discuss it. All too often people either simply bury their heads in the sand or accuse those with whom they do not agree with wild, emotionally based, illogical motivations for their beliefs. Study the current finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (http://www.ipcc.ch/) and other organization like the Natural Resource Defense Council (http://www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/default.asp) to find out more about these issues. Informing yourself will help in your discussions. This is a global problem and it must be addressed at all levels, from the individual right up to the global community.

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