An inconvenient truth
“What we take for granted might not be here for our children.” As simple but yet shocking is the “Inconvenient Truth” presented by Al Gore in his Oscar-winning movie full of facts and evidence about man-made global warming, climate change and environmental destruction. After having seen that movie and critically trying to distinguish the “truth” from “cineaste speculation” in it, probably everybody will come to the conclusion that there is definite and rapidly growing evidence of something like man-made global warming and destruction of nature. The shocking thing is that this process is not just going on in a movie and therefore ends its threat by leaving the cinema, but it is happening every minute of every single day in our present lives and therefore is all-time reality for everybody. And the signs of global warming are obvious and cannot be neglected any longer. In impressive and powerful scenes Al Gore’s movie demonstrates sometimes already known, but nevertheless often neglected facts about our contribution to climate change by pointing at obviously outbalanced natural phenomena like increasingly abundant catastrophic flooding and storm events, repeated periods of hot and dry weather, or the alarmingly elevated rate of polar ice melting and subsequent rise of sea levels. Those examples – as well as the term “global warming” itself – indicate one big “problem” with the problem.
A feature that makes it different from – and even more serious than – many other problems our society had to face so far. It is the fact that it is global. Hence, global warming and all its consequences is not just a problem of our society, of our nation, or even of our continent. No, it is a problem that affects the whole globe, the entire planet Earth for now and – to make it even worse – for the future as well. No frontiers will stop greenhouse gases like CO2 from travelling into the Earth’s atmosphere and no national law of any country will prevent this gas to exhibit its greenhouse properties and therefore its contribution to heat up our environment worldwide. No boundary and no rigid security check at the frontier will stop hurricanes like Katrina to come their destructive way along coastal regions and kill or harm even more people than the 9/11 attacks cold do in NY. Once the atmospheric heating is under progress, no international agreement or regulations can stop the melting of polar ice masses and the subsequent elevation of the sea level world wide. And no future measures will be able to bring back destroyed and deserted regions or even whole countries that vanished due to global warming. Rising sea levels already threaten seriously the existence of countries like Tuvalu and other countries close to sea level. Who will be able to reverse their diminishing and bring back these countries once they have disappeared from world maps, replaced by the ocean just as it once happened to legendary Atlantis? In addition to its global influence, the problem of global warming has another capability, not making the problem smaller, however.
Due to the diverse direct effects of greenhouse gases on our climate and moreover due to numerous feedback mechanisms of man-made CO2 from industry, agriculture and transportation with natural occurring turnover processes within the global carbon cycle, a sustainable increase of the man-made portion of atmospheric CO2 may have unpredictable and long-term consequences for the worlds climate and weather. As an example, one might think of the rapid deforestation of tropical rain forests that not only increase actual CO2 levels as a consequence to their burning and consequently increased agricultural activities, but also interact with the Earths’ carbon cycle in an indirect way, by a disturbed participation in the biological carbon cycle, not being able to turnover adequate amounts of carbon and produce high amounts of oxygen any more. Nobody can really predict what future consequences we will have to face when we continue disturbing the Earths’ carbon cycles and therefore global climate events…
However, there is a positive aspect in the problem of global warming as well. It is not a catastrophic event that hits us all out of a sudden, like e.g. the impact of a deadly meteorite on our planet or a sudden nuclear event would be. So, even when the problem is serious, we still have time and possibilities to act. And we should act fast, because the longer we keep waiting, the more severe and unpredictable our problem gets. But how can we act? How to react? Fortunately, we already know important facts about the causes of global warming, which give us some possible ways to counteract in both individual and social manners. It is nowadays quite clear, that the main cause of global warming is the tremendous increase in man-made atmospheric CO2 that acts as a greenhouse gas. Many sources of origin of this CO2 are well known and there are diverse possibilities to avoid extensive CO2 production as well. Besides industry a big producer of CO2 is traffic and transportation. So, just to avoid unnecessary usage of cars would help to reduce CO2 emissions significantly.
This could include the avoidance of short trips by car within the city and using public transport, the bicycle or even walking instead. Also, buying food and goods that are produced locally can contribute a lot to CO2 avoidance by reducing long transportation of goods by ships and trucks across the world. It is for instance not really necessary to live in the US and buy French cheese or Australian beer that – before it can be sold in our shops – has to be transported around the whole globe. Another possibility for individual CO2 reduction is simply to save energy wherever it is possible. Some easy measures could e.g. include the usage of energy-saving bulbs and to avoid excessive usage of (sometimes totally unnecessary) electrical devices such as e.g. electrical knives or other fancy but useless stuff. More “global” measures could include the increased usage and construction of energy-saving and efficient machines (freezers, televisions, etc) and homes (e.g. good insulation of windows and walls to avoid excessive loss of heat), as well as the sustainable dealing with all kinds of resources and energy in daily life. Recycling of usable garbage components or usage of the “off” switch on television and computer monitors when not needed should therefore be a true matter of course.
In addition to such individual measures many global actions to reduce CO2 production and therefore help to reduce the negative effects of global warming can be performed as well. A first and to my opinion very important measure is good and appropriate education worldwide. Only if people are aware of the problem and only if they are informed about causes and ways to avoid global warming, they can finally react against it. I truly believe that people worldwide have to understand the problem first and only then they will start acting responsible and sustainable. But there are other, even more short-term actions to be performed, too.
Since industry is one of the main producers of atmospheric CO2, there should be world-wide obligations and rules to avoid and reduce CO2 production. This could e.g. include international laws and threshold levels for emissions that industries have to meet, as well as tax reductions or other benefits for meeting those requirements soon and significantly. In that way, industries that act responsible by e.g. rapidly installing appropriate filters and modern and efficient technique in their factories could be supported and favoured and others could be motivated to do the same today and not just tomorrow. Besides, “clean” sources of energy such as wind, solar or hydro energy should be supported and could finally replace CO2 intense and not renewable fossil energy sources in the near future.
Altogether the described measures are of course just some examples how the world’s nations and societies could contribute to a more sustainable and responsible dealing with our planet’s resources on both an individual and a global level. However, if some of these measures would honestly and seriously be executed worldwide, this could most probably help the human race to efficiently counteract the threat of a catastrophic change of climate due to global warming. In fact, some of the mentioned actions are already under progress at least in big parts of the world, and others are starting to be seriously discussed and considered. If we, that is all humans on our still beautiful planet, are able to learn from mistakes we made in the past and continue to act increasingly responsible for our and future generations, there is hope that we can face one of the most challenging problems we had to face so far and which is called “global warming”. It is just to hope that the illustration of a frog that keeps sitting until his death in a bowl of water that is slowly heating, and only tries to escape from the life-threatening environment when the change of temperature is sudden, told by Al Gore in his movie is not true for us humans, and that we realize early enough that something is changing. So, even if the water is heating up slowly, we should be aware of the danger and react before it is too late!