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Unravelling the climate change story

Most people have heard about climate change, they might even express a real concern about it, but how many would actually consider it a threat? Because the changes can be slow and sometimes diffi cult to identify within the normal variation of climatic conditions, many of us think they will not affect our lives. However, some parts of the world are already being severely affected by climatic change – both the people and the environment. And unfortunately, it appears that many developing countries bear the brunt of global warming, when the problem is mostly due to the actions of developed countries.

What do most scientists agree upon?
As in any scientific debate, there are uncertainties, but most scientists agree on the following:

The average temperature of the Earth has been increasing more than natural climatic cycles would explain. This episode of  “global warming” is due to human activity. It began with the industrial revolution, two centuries ago, and accelerated over the last 50 years. Fossil fuel burning is mostly responsible, because it releases gases (particularly carbon dioxide) that trap infrared radiation. This “greenhouse effect” creates a whole system disturbance, that we call climate change.

Wait and see?
Most effective greenhouse gas emission reduction policies are potentially very expensive in the short term, while the benefi ts may not be evident until some time in the future. Why take costly action today to fix something that may not really be broken, or that we can address when the negative affects are more apparent? But if we follow the wait and see approach it may be more difficult to control the damage in the future and more costly to find solutions. This is because it is expected to take some time for the climate to adjust to any reduction in greenhouse gas concentrations.

What does the hole in the ozone layer have to do with it? Many people relate the hole in the ozone layer to climate change when they are two different problems, although they both occur as a result of human activities. The main concern with ozone depletion is that it leads to increased exposure to harmful, ultraviolet solar radiation at the Earth’s surface. Decreasing ozone in the atmosphere does have an effect on the climate, but is not as influential as other factors (like increasing CO2 concentrations).

What does the hole in the ozone layer have to do with it?
Many people relate the hole in the ozone layer to climate change when they are two different problems, although they both occur as a result of human activities. The main concern with ozone depletion is that it leads to increased exposure to harmful, ultraviolet solar radiation at the Earth’s surface. Decreasing ozone in the atmosphere does have an effect on the climate, but is not as infl uential as other factors (like increasing CO2 concentrations).

Where can find information on climate change?
Like arguments about cloning or genetically modified organisms, the climate change debate is complex and people wanting to participate in it need to dedicate time and effort. Sifting through the mountain of scientific information available and becoming familiar with all the disciplines involved is almost impossible for individuals. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) compiles and compares information from a multitude of sources, with the aim of producing a balanced and comprehensive account.

Information about climate change is accessible on the following websites:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change www.ipcc.ch
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: www.unfccc.int
United Nations Environment Programme: www.unep.org
GRID-Arendal: www.grida.no/climate
Climatewire (a climate news portal): www.climatewire.org