Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing

- Protecting Animals and Conserving the Environment

Global Warming 101

Everyone knows that “Global warming” is not good for the planet. The burning of fossil fuels by factories, power stations, cars and other forms of transport creates huge amounts of Carbon dioxide that acts like a “green house” surrounding our planet. It traps the Sun’s heat thus warming our planet and atmosphere but few people know of the immediate effect that this is having on our Earth right now as you read this article.

Did you know that from September 3rd to September 9th 2007 (in just 6 day) 69,000 square miles of Arctic ice melted and disappeared, that’s a piece of ice the size of Florida. The American Space Agency NASA recently revealed satellite images which showed that in this summer alone, 552 billion tons of ice melted away from the Greenland ice sheet. A NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice-President Al Gore, wants to bring attention to the situation. IPCC chairman Mr. Pachauria and the Norwegian Prime Minster Jens Stoltenberg plan to visit Antarctica where the effects of global warming are more apparent. Mr. Pachauria said  “Both Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheet are huge bodies of ice and snow which are sitting on land. If through a process of melting they collapse and are submerged in the sea, then we really are talking about sea level rises of several meters (yards)".

Rising seal level and loss of habitats

What happens to these melting poles has implications for the whole planet. Faster melting ice means sea levels will rise, this will cause coastal communities and low-lying cities to become flooded, entire countries like Bangladesh and the Maldives could be affected, causing million to be displaced from there homes. It also means that many animals including polar bears, penguins and walruses will lose their natural habitats. Polar bears, who are totally dependant on sea ice, may even face extinction with in a few decades.


Scientists are extremely worried because the melting ice is causing a faster rate of global warming and immediate changes in climate and weather systems. The reason is because the sea ice acts like a mirror, reflecting about 80% of the sun’s heat energy back in to space. If you take away this mirror, the sun’s heat will get absorbed in to the oceans, raising the water temperature more, which in turn melts more ice and causes more warming of the Earth and the seas.


Robert Correll a scientist that chairs the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, said "If there is no ice, the ocean is going to continue to heat, and that is going to accelerate the global warming process". In fact, according to research from The University of Washington's Michael Steele, the summer Surface temperatures of the Arctic Ocean are the highest that they’ve ever been in recorder history, with some places 8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.



Oceanic poisonous gases

 The effects of global warming and hence the sea’s warming have lead to the occurrence of “dead zones” in the ocean, these are massive areas of water that have no life due to oxygen deprivation and the release poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S). One of these dead zones has recently occurred in the Pacific Ocean, on the coast of Oregon in the United States and in the last year has increased four times in size.


Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University said that there is very close to a complete absence of oxygen in this area, a situation rarely known in the world's oceans. When the oxygen disappears a new bacteria takes over, this bacteria produces hydrogen sulfide gas which is lethal to most marine and terrestrial life.


The 2 main reasons for the lower levels of oxygen in the water are: (1) As the water gets warmer (due to global warming) it has less ability to absorb oxygen. (2) the disruption of the water currents and weather (due to global warming) has prevented oxygen being transported to the area.



The fate of the dinosaurs

Some scientists say that this could be a sign of things to come. What if what happened at Oregon happened in all the world’s Oceans, this may not be too far fetched according to research by geoscientist Lee R. Kump of  Pennsylvania State University.

According to his research, massive release of hydrogen sulphide gas from the Earth’s oceans was reponsible for the mass extinction that wiped out 95 percent of marine and 70 percent of land species more than 250 million years ago.

His theory suggest that global warming caused by the enormous release of carbon dioxide from volcanoes during that period led to the heating of the oceans much like the green house effect in our current times.

The warming of the oceans caused  a decrease in their oxygen carrying ability which in turn caused a sudden and gigantic increase in the population of the hydrogen sulphide producing bacteria. Not only was this gas poionous to marine life, terrestial life and plants but it also depleted the ozone layer which proects the earth from the sun’s radiation.

We can reverse this!

The good news is that, it’s not too late to turn things around. One of the top experts on global warming and the head of NASA’s climate research, Dr. James Hansen wrote in a recent letter that “We have not passed a point of no return. We can still roll things back in time but it is going to require a quick turn in direction”.

Governments around the world have been trying to find a solution to this problem. Most recently in Bali Indonesia, diplomats representing nations from all over the world came together to try and save the planet. However as Dr. Hansen often likes to remind people, the answer is for every person to take personal responsibility for their actions.

That means taking public tranport more and walking or using a bicycle, using bio-fuels instead of fossil fuels, using less energy by unplugging appliances and mobile phone chargers when not in use, these are all small steps that every individual can take to save this beautiful planet.

Futhermore, The United Nations (U.N.) said in a 2006 report that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. So apart from reducing our dependence on fossil fuels we could also encourage others to adopt a more “eco-friendly” vegetarian or vegan diet!

 Return to the main page of the Environmental section.

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