The world we could be living in?

Today is the International Day for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and celebrates the convention signed in 1987 by countries around the world ending the use of ozone depleting substances. The hole in the ozone first appeared in 1977, with the first evidence detected in 1982. 

“The Montreal Protocol has been hailed as perhaps the most successful international treaty to date and provides a message of hope for working cooperatively to solve major environmental problems”. UNEP

It took almost a decade from the start of the problem until something was done about it. How long will it be before something is done about climate change? Dr James Hansen of NASA publicly testified before the U.S. Congress in June of 1988, that global warming was real.

That was 22 years ago.

Like the ozone layer, Green House Gases (GHGs) are also very important in protecting us, without GHGs the earth would be around 30 degrees C colder. However GHGs have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004 . They are now trapping too much heat, causing global warming and triggering extreme weather events like severe storms and droughts.

Today, our atmosphere has 388 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 and this will keep increasing unless we stop our dependence on coal, petrol and oil. Before the industrial revolution CO2 concentrations were at 280ppm. If we carry on with business as usual we could easily double our CO2 levels by 2050 and triple them by 2075 – something that we definitely don’t want to see happen! We need to reduce our emissions to 350ppm – the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide. And we need to get back to this level as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change and global temperature increases.

Just a few degrees in temperature can completely change the world as we know it, and threaten the lives of millions of people around the world. Here are the projections from the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) showing the consequences of temperature increases.

At 1 degree
Water – 0.4 to 1.7 billion additional people with increased water stress
Ecosystems – increasing amphibian extinction, increased coral bleaching, increased wildfire risk
Food – decreased crop productivity
Coast – increased damage from floods and storms and people at risk of coastal flooding
Health – increased burden from malnutrition, infectious diseases, increased morbidity and mortality from heat-waves, floods & droughts, changed distribution of disease vectors e.g. malaria
Singular events – retreating of ice in Greenland and West Antarctic

At 2 degrees
Water – 1-2 billion additional people with increased water stress
Ecosystems – 20-30% species at risk of extinction, most corals bleached
Food – some cereal crops decrease in low latitudes, some cereal crops increase in high latitudes
Coast – up to 3 million people at risk of coastal flooding each year
Health – increased burden from malnutrition, infectious diseases, increased morbidity and mortality from heat-waves, floods & droughts, changed distribution of disease vectors e.g. malaria
Singular events – long term commitment to several metres of sea-level rise due to ice-sheet loss; major ecosystems changes

At 3 degrees
Water – 1.1 – 3.2 billion additional people with increased water stress
Ecosystems – widespread coral mortality
Food – all cereals decrease
Coast – about 30% loss of coastal wetlands, 2-15 million additional people at risk of coastal flooding each year
Health – substantial burden on health services
Singular events – reconfiguration of coastlines worldwide and inundation of low-lying areas.

According to Thomas L Friedman, author of Hot, Flat and Crowded , in order to avoid the doubling of CO2 by 2050 we need to avoid the emissions of 200 billion tons of carbon. Here’s a summary of how he proposes we do it:
• Double fuel efficiency of 2 billion cars (ditch your SUV and buy an efficient car)
• Half the driving distances of 2 billion cars (start walking/cycling/using public transport)
• Increase solar power seven hundred fold to displace all coal-fired power (get a solar water geyser)
• Increase wind power eighty fold to make hydrogen for clean cars
• Halt all cutting and burning of forests
• Cut electricity use in homes, offices and shops by 25% and cut emissions by the same amount. (think about how much electricity you use and stop buying things you don’t need)
• Adopt conservation tillage which emits much less CO2 from the land, in all agricultural soils wordwide
• Replace 1,400 large coal-fired plants with natural gas powered facilities

For more tips and ideas on how to reduce your carbon footprint visit our website: www.90×2030.org.za  or visit www.350.org  for more information about CO2 concentrations.

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4 responses to “The world we could be living in?

  1. I was curious to know what the carbon concentrations were at present (apparently 388.15ppm) I found this nifty site http://co2now.org/ Does that match your findings?

  2. Hi Nita, you are absolutely right – it is 388ppm, not 380, I’ll update the post – thanks for pointing this out. You will see we have the co2now widgit at the bottom of the blog. I also came across this this morning: a google earth map has been launched which will show the predicted global increases in temperatures “It highlighted that Southern Africa could experience a temperature increase of about 7 ºC, which would increase risks of forest fires and could reduce maize yields by up to 40%. Droughts could occur twice as frequently and water resources could be affected by a 70% reduction in run-off water in the region”
    http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/uk-introduces-google-earth-maps-showing-temperature-rises-2010-09-07

  3. Water stress. And replace coal with natural gas.

    I was horrified to read in the Cape Times the other day, that MosGas uses 15 million litres of water every day. Can you explain to me, why that process uses so much water, and why they can’t recycle more??

    We do solar power ;>)

  4. That’s great to hear you use solar power. I’m not exactly sure about the process and how water is used at the Mossgas plant, but yes they are using a phenoninal amount of water. The refinery produces around 30 000 barrels of oil a day. This is used to manufacture around 7 percent of the domestic petrol supply, which the refinery sells to retailers. So yet another reason to wean ourselves off oil!

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