VARIOUS TEXTS: CLIMATE CHANGE - A topic for discussion

In what follows you will be given the appropriate vocabulary and suitable questions about how to start a discussion on climate change.

"Climate change" is the term used to refer to changes in the average weather over time; as short a period as a few decades or as long as thousands of years. The changes may come from Earth processes (volcano eruptions, orbital variations), can be driven by external forces (level of solar activity) and more recently, can result from human activities (deforestation, use of fossil fuels for energy).

Currently, "climate change" usually refers to observed ongoing changes in modern climate, including the increase in average surface temperature, "global warming". Recent studies indicate that the increase in greenhouse gases over the last two hundred years is the primary cause of global warming.

According to scientific research, the warming produced as greenhouse gases trap heat, plays a key role in regulating Earth's temperature. However, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution (1800) and increased consumption of carbon based fossil fuels, the percent of greenhouse gases and especially carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, have risen to their highest level in hundreds of thousands of years.

What is the relationship of fossil fuels to carbon dioxide?

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is directly influenced by human activity. When we use fossil fuels (coal, oil, gasoline, and diesel fuels) we increase the level of carbon dioxide in the air.
Approximately 87% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels.

What does polar ice reveal about carbon dioxide levels?

Ice from below the surface of Antarctica showed fluctuating but stable amounts of carbon dioxide until the start of the Industrial Revolution (1800).
Then the amount of carbon dioxide began to rise sharply.

How does deforestation affect carbon dioxide levels?

Deforestation releases the carbon stored in trees and results in less carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere.
Worldwide, an average area of more than 45,000 football fields of forest is lost each day.

Record setting temperatures

In 146 years of measures of global temperature (land, air and sea) 20 of the 21 highest temperatures have been recorded in the last 25 years.
The average global temperature is now rising at the rate of 2.5 to 10 degrees F over the next 100 years.

Alaska is already experiencing effects of higher temperatures.

Temperatures in Alaska are rising ten times faster than in the rest of the world.
The permafrost (permanently frozen ground) is thawing for the first time in thousands of years. Roads are buckling and houses have sunk into the ground as a result of thawing permafrost.

What do the experts say?

Top NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen has been studying climate change for more than 15 years.
He has stated that there are clear dangers if we continue to delay measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

How might global warming create a shortage of fresh water?

Lima, the capital of Peru, depends on melting glaciers for its water supply. When the glacier melts away there will be no more water for this city of more than 8 million people.
The Himalayan Glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau provide more than half of the drinking water for 40% ofthe world’s population.

Could global warming be causing increased flooding?

With warmer weather, storms can hold more moisture and greater rainfall or snowfalls can result. The number of large flood events has increased each decade worldwide since 1950.
In July 2005 in Mumbai, India there was a downpour of 37 inches of rain in 24 hours. At least 1000 people died as a result of the floods and mudslides.

Deadly heat waves and mild winters.

The 2003 European heat wave caused approximately 35,000 extra deaths, mainly among the elderly, the very young and the chronically ill.
However, warmer winters also mean fewer deaths from cold weather.

Could global warming affect food supplies?

Increased nighttime temperatures caused by global warming could cause significant reductions in yields of rice – the staple food for over half of the world’s population.

What is the impact of global warming on coral reefs?

Coral reefs have the highest biodiversity of any marine ecosystem.
Global warming is expected tocontribute to coral reef degradation in the decades ahead and the pace of warming exceeds the ability of the reefs and marine organisms to adapt.

Climate change is already affecting many species.

Dr. Terry Root analyzed numerous research papers on effects of global warming on plants and animals. She found that of 1500 species, 1200 already exhibited changes consistent with a global warming effect.
Two species, the red squirrel and the fruit fly, have shown genetic changes from global warming.

Polar Bears headed for extinction?

Polar Bears hunt for seals near the edge of the ice shelf in the Arctic. As the ice shelf has diminished and portions have broken off, polar bears have become stranded hundreds of miles from the main ice shelf.
The average weight of polar bears has declined by 25% in the last two decades and many have died from starvation.

Fish on the move

Alaska's Bering Sea pollock fishery is the world's largest. But fishermen there are struggling as climate change moves Alaska’s -valuable fishing resource into cooler waters in Russian fishing grounds.
As the Southern Bering sea warms by as much as 4 degrees F., fishermen have seen the effect of the Northward migration of marine life.

Africa will be severely impacted by warming

Although Africa has the lowest per person use of fossil fuels it may be the most affected by greenhouse gas warming.
Reduced rainfall, dwindling water supplies and loss of agricultural land will contribute to famine, disease and an economic downward spiral.

Carbon cost of a plane

Aviation is responsible for an estimated 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Some airlines offset carbon emissions by investing in projects that save energy, such as investing in technology which allows industry to be more efficient and increasing the generation of renewable energy.

Lifestyle choices can have a big impact.

Individuals can substantially reduce their carbon output by their own choices. Adjusting their home thermostat to reduce energy used for heating and air conditioning as well as passive solar heating and cooling can have a large effect on your household’s carbon output.

Changing light bulbs

Each time you replace an incandescent standard light bulb with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb, you start saving energy and reducing carbon output.
Fluorescent bulbs cut greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs by 75% while producing the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb.

Coal burning provides more than half of electricity in the US.

Power plants that use coal to generate electricity are the single largest source of CO2, contributing 1/3 of the total US output of CO2.

What is "carbon offsetting"?

After taking action to reduce a business or household’s carbon output, the remaining carbon output can be mitigated by investments or actions that absorb or reduce carbon.
Some examples of these “carbon offsets” are planting trees, paying for wind energy, and contributing to organizations providing alternative or renewable energy sources.

Any change in climate will have wide ranging impact

Some of the human activities and resources affected by climate include: agriculture, water supplies, energy resources, timber management, fisheries, transportation, insurance, tourism, disaster relief and public health (for vector borne diseases).

Changing the chemistry of the atmosphere

If the Earth were shrunk to the size of an apple, its atmosphere would be the thickness of the apple skin.
The Earth's atmosphere is so thin that we can change its chemical composition by human activity that has increased the output of carbon dioxide.

Climate destabilization as a result of warming.

"Global warming is a destabilizing factor that will make abrupt climate change more probable." Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
The ocean circulation system that carries heat throughout the planet could be disrupted causing some regions to become more frigid as other regions experience warmer temperatures.

Lessons from the "Little Ice Age"

In the "Little Ice Age" of 1550 to 1850, residents of London skated on the Thames and snow fell in Sydney, Australia.
The era of the Little Ice Age was marked by crop failures, famine, disease, and mass migration of populations. With the world's present population, any similar abrupt change in temperature would have disastrous effects.


The US’s 2004 CO2 emissions were greater than the CO2 of South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East combined. Developing countries are the first to experience rising sea levels and violent weather patterns.

Is this eco-aggression?

The possibility of catastrophe.

Even if scientists do not completely understand how the atmosphere affects temperature, does the scale of possible damage force us to take action?

Or should we wait and see?

The cost of food habits.

The CO2 emissions created by a meal of beef and imported vegetables is 8 times greater than a vegetarian meal made from locally produced ingredients.

How can you change your food habits to reduce emissions?

Scared into apathy.

‘I ignore what I see in the media about climate change. I become scared and overwhelmed with the contrasting opinions, and believe the effects of climate change will not be felt for decades so it is not my problem.’

Do you think this is a common feeling?

Think of the children.

‘It’s for the children. I want my grandchildren’s children to enjoy the beauty of the planet and to feel secure and safe in its familiar weather patterns, crops and water supply—just as I have done.’

Should my children’s needs mean more than my own?

Maybe we’re better off.

Warming can lead to savings on the costs of heating fuel in Northern regions, bigger crop yields in Canada, and better cod fishing in Greenland.

Could the gains of warming outweigh the losses?

Require more energy from renewable technologies

Governments could require that more of their countries energy comes from renewable sources. India has a target of 10% renewable energy by 2010 and Germany’s target is 12% by 2010.

Require more energy efficient vehicles

Governments around the world should require better fuel efficiency in new cars because transportation accounts for almost 1/3 of CO2 emissions.

We have bigger issues.

Poverty, terrorism, rising crime and other issues are more important than climate change.


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