Greenhouse gases slowly kill us

Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Denpasar
The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Despite the horrors caused by global warming, we can still make a difference, according to Climate Crisis Project presenter, Emerald Starr.

During a presentation at the Canggu Club in Bali last week, Starr presented the real facts and cause of global warming: greenhouse gas emissions.

It is a terrifying fact that we humans are wiping themselves out at an ever-increasing pace, much the same as they managed to wipe out almost 60,000 different animal species over the past 100 years.

Starr is one of 1,000 people chosen by former U.S. vice president and environmental activist Al Gore to spread the message of the dangers of global warming. Gore’s Climate Project aims to dispel the myths and controversies surrounding global warming, and to promote the measures to be taken in order to slow down — and even reverse — the rise in deadly greenhouse gas emissions.

“Since the industrial revolution in the 1860s, global temperatures have been rising. Temperatures are now higher than ever before. In 2006 India recorded temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius, and extremes of temperature have been noted around the globe. This is a worldwide phenomenon,” Starr said.

In the short term, an increase in global temperatures will result in the occurrence of more storms and hurricanes, floods, droughts and typhoons. In the long term, global warming will wipe out entire countries, as land will become inundated by ever-increasing sea levels, Star explained.

“The earth is experiencing a record number of hurricanes, heavy storms, droughts and floods,” Starr said. “Japan had a record ten typhoons in one season and the U.S. suffered from 1700 tornadoes strong enough to lift houses. Tornadoes were registered in areas that had never been affected by this kind of weather pattern in the past.”

Starr cites the prestigious Michigan Institute of Technology research into storm strength, which points to an increase in the occurrence and intensity of storms since 1970. He says that scientists have no doubt that global warming is the reason behind these radical shifts in weather patterns, because as the sea warms-up, air currents, such as monsoons, are affected and change pattern.

It is in the near future that the most destructive aspects of global warming will be seen, says Starr, with countries such as the Netherlands losing much of their land base.

“As the ice caps and glaciers around the world melt, sea water is rising. Within a couple of decades we can expect waters to rise by more than five meters. At that level much of California would be under water; almost half of Florida will disappear; cities such as Beijing will become nightmare zones,” said Starr.

Diseases are also on the rise as a direct result of global warming, says Starr, with viruses such as malaria and dengue now prevalent in areas that once were cool climates.

“As colder areas warm there will be more diseases. Malaria and dengue will move from the tropics into newly warm areas. The case in America is one example. The West Nile virus is now prevalent in North America, since the country has warmed to a temperature in which the virus can survive. In the past it could not survive the cold winters.”

The impact of global warming on coral reefs can be seen, says Starr, and that is a major disaster as 25 percent of the earth’s oxygen is created by coral reefs. The destruction of reefs and wholesale slaughter of oxygen-producing forests, such as those in Kalimantan and Sumatra, is evidence of how humans are slowly suffocating themselves.

It does not have to be this way though, says Starr and other environmentalists, such as Naneng Setiasih of Reef Check Indonesia Foundation, working to protect viable reefs across Indonesia.

“We have a major crisis occurring from global warming with reefs bleaching and dying. What we are trying to do at Reef Check is map the most resilient reefs, those that are able to withstand the stress of global warming, and protect them,” said Naneng, citing reefs off Padang in Sumatra, Thousand Islands off Jakarta and reefs along the North Coast of Bali, as those that may be able to survive the effects of global warming.

According to Starr, one of the best ways to help reduce the volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the gas that causes most greenhouse gas emissions, is to plant trees, because trees absorb carbon dioxide.

This is what the East Bali Poverty Action program is doing in the poorest and driest zones of east Bali. Tree-planting is offering an income to local people and protecting the environment. Bali Teak Farms, under Sayu Made Putri, is also mass-planting teak and using the leaves to make recycled paper.

However, unless governments get tough on industry, automobile manufacturers and other heavy polluters, and financially back non-fossil fuel energy alternatives such as wind power, solar, even the use of coconut oil, humans will be running a losing race against the clock.


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