theonlinecitizen

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Global warming – going beyond stickers for refrigerators

Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 12, 2007

The world has finally woken up to the reality of climate change. It is heartening to know that many now recognize and accept that this is real and has immense consequences not just for our environment but ultimately for the very existence of humankind itself.

Governments of the United States, China, India, Europe, South America, Asia have all spoken about this issue. Recently, China’s premier Wen Jia Bao said this about his country:

“The pattern of economic growth is inefficient. This can be seen most clearly in excessive energy consumption and serious environmental pollution. We must attach greater importance to saving energy and resources, protecting the environment and using land intensively.”

China, together with the United States, is now being seen as the biggest challenge in attempts to arrest global warming.

Besides the encouraging mindsets of governments, the proliferation of environmental NGOs in the past decade also attests to the seriousness of deforestation, pollution, soil erosion, species extinction, and so on. Most notably Conservation International and IUCN – The World Conservation Union.

Human activity at cause of climate change

The latest report by the International Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) (which is made up of about 1,000 scientists from all over the world) unequivocally lays the responsibility of global warming on human activities.

“Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.”

“The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2005 exceeds by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm) as determined from ice cores.”

(You can read the IPCC’s report here.)

In Singapore, I am also happy to note that some members of the government have spoken on this during the budget debate. MPs Hri Kumar, Lim Wee Kiak, Lily Neo and NMP Eunice Olsen have all suggested ways for Singaporeans to become more environmentally-aware and for the government to do more in this area. However, I feel that the MPs’ queries and suggestions do not address the fundamental cause of climate change, at least in our region of the world.

To my mind, the fundamental cause is a country’s (and its people’s) desire to progress economically – even at the expense of damaging its own long term prospects or even survival. You might call this anthropocentrism which, to put simply, is the belief that the human being is the central concern, above everything else.

“Human-centredness”, as it were.

And indeed, the behaviour of some governments and some people display this belief – that it is right to abuse nature as long as it benefits its people, and economy. But this is a short-sighted view because natural resources are not infinite but finite.

What happens when Indonesia has burned all its forests in Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Sumatra – as well it might do within this century? At the rate of burning 2 million hectares annually, Indonesia does indeed face such a scenario.

Singapore and ASEAN must do more

The Singapore government’s stance on climate change, as far as I can see, is that we in Singapore will do whatever we can – locally – to prepare ourselves for any consequences. Indeed, Singapore’s small size is often cited as a limitation to what and how much we can do.

While this is true – physically and locally – there is actually room for us to do more, as a member of ASEAN and even as a member of APEC to help bring global warming to the regional agenda and under control.

But environment ministers from ASEAN must transcend the mindset that preventing the haze (burning forests) is just an economic problem for those affected by the air pollution. Or that the environmental issue only involves solving the haze problem.

They must go beyond this and see that preserving the forests determines what kind of world we leave behind for our children and the generations to come, even for us here in Singapore. Indeed, those of us living right now face the dire consequences and not just our future generations.

They must also see that environmental impoverishment will indeed affect their country’s very survival, or existence – like past societies such as the Easter Islanders and the Mayas.

Global warming is transnational

Global warming, in some ways akin to global terrorism, does not limit itself to boundaries. Countries all over the world, directly or indirectly, are experiencing the results of climate change.

Thus, this is no longer just a localized, national concern but is indeed an international one. More and more, people are awakening to and experiencing the effects of environmental changes. Hopefully, they will also see the earth as a collective home to everyone – and to every life form.

But governments have been slow to move on this issue decisively.

The inter-dependence of species under what is called ‘the biosphereis an accepted fact.

“….the biosphere is the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere (rocks), hydrosphere (water), and atmosphere (air).”

As such, global warming (or climate change) should not be perceived as just ‘the problems of that country’. This view especially must not be the views of small countries like Singapore which are most susceptible to environmental change. The truth is that we are all in this together.

When nature is being decimated so completely and mercilessly, from Indonesia to Malaysia, from the Philippines to Thailand to even China, we in Singapore will be affected in one way or another.

This is why it is important that we go beyond just tackling the haze problem and address the real issue: That abusing nature in such a way will result in that country’s own decline and contribute to humankind’s demise.

“The Southeast Asian rainforests are the oldest, consistent rainforests on Earth, dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch 70 million years ago. It has a biological richness and diversity unequaled by that of the Amazon or African rainforests. Yet Southeast Asia is losing its rainforests faster than any equatorial region, and has the fewest remaining primary rainforests. It is projected that most of the primary rainforests of Southeast Asia will be destroyed in the next 10 years.”

– Southeast Asian Rainforest

Consequences of deforestation

And what happens after all the rainforests are destroyed? How do you do farming for the food that you need? How do you “repair” nature which developed its own ecological systems through millions of years? How do you deal with the consequences, which includes weather change, floods, species extinction, soil erosion, pollution of the seas, spread of diseases?

“There will be loss of biodiversity, the destruction of forest-based-societies (tribal people), and climatic disruption. Many of the species now facing the possibility of extinction are of enormous potential to humans in many areas; especially medicine. As of 1991, over 25% of the worlds pharmaceutical products were derived from tropical plants (Myers). By contributing to the extinction of multiple species of plants and animals, we might be destroying the cures for many of the diseases that plague the human race today.”

The Choice: Doomsday or Arbor Day

How do you deal with a disaster on so huge a scale?

In the March 12 issue of the Straits Times, it reported : “Asians among hardest hit by global warming: Panel”.

There is no doubt that there is an urgent need for the countries of the region to get together and go beyond introducing piecemeal solutions. A more holistic and comprehensive solution must be found – and this, I am quite sure, requires transnational efforts.

Surinam and international NGOs

Perhaps countries like Indonesia and the Philippines can learn something from the Surinam example where Conservation International managed to secure 1.6m hectares of forest for protection and introduce a structured and comprehensive programme which includes eco-tourism for the locals to make a living. This will hopefully allow them to spare the forests.

 

ASEAN nations can also seek the expertise of international NGOs such as CI and IUCN to help them find alternative solutions to forest burning or deforestation.

ASEAN leaders must realize that climate change will be – if it is not already – the biggest issue they will have to confront sooner or later.

And Singapore must push harder for ASEAN to do more as a regional grouping and for the Singapore government itself to seriously start educating Singaporeans about climate change – and go beyond introducing stickers for “refrigerators and air conditioners” to get consumers to buy “environmentally-friendly” products.

To hear a government minister say that since reclaimed land in Singapore is “125cm” above sea level and thus is well above the IPCC’s worst-case projection of “59cm” – implying that Singapore has nothing to worry about, is ignorant.

This is because the real impact of climate change is many-fold, and not just a rising of sea water level.

To end, I would like to quote this report by the International Herald Tribune about Indonesia’s tropical rainforest:

Indonesia: The world’s fourth most populous nation has the third largest tropical forest, after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The report says that 40 percent of the forests existing in 1950 were cleared by 2000. In that period, forest cover fell to 98 million hectares (240 acres), from 162 million hectares. The rate of deforestation is continuing to rise. It reportedly averages around 2 million hectares a year, double the rate in 1980s.

More than 20 million hectares of forest have been cleared since 1985, mainly for industrial timber and crop plantations, but the majority of this land has not been put to productive use and lies idle.

Indonesia’s lowland tropical forests — the richest in timber resources and biodiversity, but also the most easily accessible for commercial logging — are particularly vulnerable. The World Bank says that such forests have been almost entirely cleared on Sulawesi, in eastern Indonesia, and will disappear on Sumatra by 2005 and Kalimantan by 2005 at current rates of extraction.

Indonesia struggles to curb rapid deforestation

 

Read also:
Asia’s Pollution Changing World’s Weather, Scientists Say
China’s pollution cuts local rain
Biodiversity ‘fundamental’ to economics
Peru’s alarming water truth

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8 Responses to “Global warming – going beyond stickers for refrigerators”

  1. Bernard Chen said

    The haze is back in Indonesia !!

  2. Bernard Chen said

    oops. wrong. Is Northeastern Thailand

  3. Gerry Beauregard said

    The 125cm height above sea level for reclaimed land in Singapore may be insufficient. Note that 59cm is not the “worst case” sea level rise predicted by the latest IPCC report, as explained here:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/the-ipcc-sea-level-numbers/

    For one thing, that 59cm does not include the contribution of “future rapid dynamical changes in ice flow”, which could be substantial. It also, of course, doesn’t make any predictions beyond the end of this century… and presumably if people are buying anything other than 99yr leasehold property, they should be interested in whether their property will be flooded after that 🙂

  4. Liew said

    I would like to ask a hypothetical question: If the worst case scenario depicted in Al Gore’s film ,An Inconvenient Truth , happened. ( That is , Western Antartica’s ice sheet and Greenland’s ice sheet melted, causing a world wide rise in sea level of approx. 6m )

    Then, what will become of Singapore?

    Is most of Singapore going to be submerged under water permanently ?

    Are we going to become refugees in neighbouring , higher land elevation countries ?

    Will they accept us ? How will their locals treat us?

    How are we going to make a living then?

    Will our huge national reserves be used to help our people? Or , where might they be used?

    If the hypothetical question is a real possibility, what preparations are in progress now ?

    Do we still go on with our typical Singaporean’s “proud ” attitude towards others today ?

    I think we have to think about such things , because global climate crisis is already happening . And if the worst case scenario really happens , then the survival of all Singaporeans is at stake , no matter which party you supported in the last election. Because , there won’t be another Singapore there for you to hold elections.

  5. Liew said

    Further more on my hypothetical question ealier : In Al Gore’s film, he showed what will happen to Shanghai , Beijing, New York, San Francisco bay area, etc , if world wide sea level were to rise 6 metres more . He showed that all those areas would be under water when that happened .

    Now, I noticed that all those areas that he showed on the film are all either connected to a continent or are the coastal parts of a large land mass.

    Contrast it to tiny Sinagpore, which is an island surrounded by water : If the worst case scenario he painted really happened, then we would have water flooding in from all directions ; from the South ,the West and the East,where water from the sea will come in and from the north, where water flowed from the sea into straits of Johor will then flood in from the North.

    At this point , I maybe accused of being alarmist in my views . But ,due to the perculiar situation our island state is in ,I think I would rather err on the danger side.

    My point is this: Shanghai , Beijing, New York, San Francisco bay area, etc , with big land mass connected , would be a lesser disaster,because , they can simply moved inland to higher ground and rebuild their cities .
    Although the initial losses maybe great, but , they can recover from it. They have a fall back position, owing to their big land mass.

    If such event were to happen to Singapore , where do we go to ?

    I would imagine that large areas of our island would be flooded.
    Our industrial areas would be gone, so does our airport, our port , our shipyards and our residential areas.

    How do we begin to recover from it, when there is no more land underneath us?

    I do hoped that what I have written here will not happened .

  6. disinter said

    “Disconcerting as it may be to true believers in global warming, the average temperature on Earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and now the global temperature is falling precipitously.” Dr. Phil Chapman wrote in The Australian on April 23. “All those urging action to curb global warming need to take off the blinkers and give some thought to what we should do if we are facing global cooling instead.”

    Chapman neither can be caricatured as a greedy oil-company lobbyist nor dismissed as a flat-Earther. He was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology staff physicist, NASA’s first Australian-born astronaut, and Apollo 14’s Mission Scientist.

    http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/32821

  7. disinter said

    These researchers are not alone. They are among a rising tide of scientists who question the so-called “global warming” theory. Some further argue that global cooling merits urgent concern.

    http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/32821

  8. Winston said

    @6&7:

    I would be very hesitant to accept anecdotal evidence (as most of the article claims) to use as proof positive that climate is “cooling”. Any climatologist worth his or her salt generally uses 30-year averages of data to determine significant variations in “climate”; anything else would run the risk of missing various long-term oscillations, tele-connections and feedbacks that will screw up any analysis.

    Furthermore, D’Aleo’s claim that “Temperature trend since 1998 is flat” is just plain wrong. Fawcett and Jones have some peer-reviewed research with actual data showing that there is still significant warming occurring from 1998-2007. (see http://www.skepticalscience.com/Did-global-warming-stop-in-1998.html for more details).

    I also find it facetious that the last part of the article claims that there is a “rising tide” of scientists questioning the theory that Global Warming. AFAIK, most of these “scientists” are in the vast, vast minority, especially given the inclusive nature of the IPCC.

    Case in point about the true lack of a “rising tide” – A few friends of mine received invitations to take part in the “The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change” in NYC organized by the Heartland Institute (google that name and see their agenda), where they would be paid an honorarium and travel expenses to basically present global warming contrarian research. About 400 odd folks – engineers, reporters etc. showed up; but when the organizers asked for the climatologists to take a group photo…and only 19 had their pictures taken.

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