Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change

The issue can be overwhelming. The science is complicated. Predictions about the fate of the planet carry endless caveats and asterisks.We get it.And so, as the Paris climate talks get underway, we’ve provided quick answers to often-asked questions about climate change.

Note: 

This article is written by  JUSTIN GILLIS for NYT,  sharing the knowledge for planet’s sake :P, also Big world small planet is a wonderful video/book , useful in essay and Interview.Above all I believe that it is our responsibility as human beings to know abut these things, for a safer world and a better future.

1. How much is the planet heating up?

1.7 degrees is actually a significant amount.

As of this October, the Earth had warmed by about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, when tracking began at a global scale. That figure includes the surface of the ocean. The warming is greater over land, and greater still in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica.

The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the land ice on the planet is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. The heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day.

Scientists believe most and probably all of the warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. If emissions continue unchecked, they say the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population.

2. How much trouble are we in?

For future generations, big trouble.

The risks are much greater over the long run than over the next few decades, but the emissions that create those risks are happening now. Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say, the climate is likely to resemble that of today, although gradually getting warmer. Rainfall will be heavier in many parts of the world, but the periods between rains will most likely grow hotter and therefore drier. The number of hurricanes and typhoons may actually fall, but the ones that do occur will draw energy from a hotter ocean surface, and therefore may be more intense, on average, than those of the past. Coastal flooding will grow more frequent and damaging.

Longer term, if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the risks are profound. Scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities.

All of this could take hundreds or even thousands of years to play out, conceivably providing a cushion of time for civilization to adjust, but experts cannot rule out abrupt changes, such as a collapse of agriculture, that would throw society into chaos much sooner. Bolder efforts to limit emissions would reduce these risks, or at least slow the effects, but it is already too late to eliminate the risks entirely.

3. Is there anything I can do?

Fly less, drive less, waste less.

There are lots of simple ways to reduce your own carbon footprint, and most of them will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.

Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both.

If you want to offset your emissions, you can buy certificates, with the money going to projects that protect forests, capture greenhouse gases and so forth.

In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do.

4. What’s the optimistic scenario?

Several things have to break our way.

In the best case that scientists can imagine, several things happen: Earth turns out to be less sensitive to greenhouse gases than currently believed; plants and animals manage to adapt to the changes that have already become inevitable; human society develops much greater political will to bring emissions under control; and major technological breakthroughs occur that help society both to limit emissions and to adjust to climate change.

The two human-influenced variables are not entirely independent, of course: Technological breakthroughs that make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels would also make it easier to develop the political will for rapid action.

Scientists say the odds of all these things breaking our way are not very high, unfortunately. The Earth could just as easily turn out to be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than less. Global warming seems to be causing chaos in parts of the natural world already, and that seems likely to get worse, not better. So in the view of the experts, simply banking on a rosy scenario without any real plan would be dangerous. They believe the only way to limit the risks is to limit emissions.

5. What’s the worst-case scenario?

There are many.

That is actually hard to say, which is one reason scientists are urging that emissions be cut; they want to limit the possibility of any worst-case scenario coming to pass. Perhaps the single greatest fear is a collapse of food production, accompanied by spiraling prices and mass starvation. Even with runaway emissions growth, it is unclear how likely this would be, as farmers are able to adjust their crops and farming techniques, to a degree, to adapt to climatic changes. Another possibility would be a disintegration of the polar ice sheets, leading to fast-rising seas that would force people to abandon many of the world’s great cities and the loss of trillions of dollars worth of property and other assets. Scientists also worry about other wild-card scenarios like the predictable cycles of Asian monsoons becoming less reliable. Billions of people depend on the monsoons to supply them with water for crops. So any disruptions to monsoons would have catastrophic consequences to those populations.

6. ​Will a tech breakthrough help us?

Even Bill Gates says don’t count on it, unless we commit the cash.

As more companies, governments and researchers devote themselves to the problem, the chances of big technological advances are improving. But even many experts who are optimistic about technological solutions warn that current efforts are not enough. For instance, spending on basic energy research is only a quarter to a third of the level that several in-depth reports have recommended. And public spending on agricultural research has stagnated even though climate change poses growing risks to the food supply. People like Bill Gates have argued that crossing our fingers and hoping for technological miracles is not a strategy — we have to spend the money that would make these things more likely to happen.

7. How much will the seas rise?

The real question is not how high, but how fast.

The ocean is rising at a rate of about a foot per century. That causes severe effects on coastlines, forcing governments and property owners to spend tens of billions of dollars fighting erosion. But if that rate continued, it would probably be manageable, experts say.

The risk is that the rate will accelerate markedly. If emissions continue unchecked, then the temperature at the earth’s surface could soon resemble a past epoch called the Pliocene, when a great deal of ice melted and the ocean rose something like 80 feet compared to today. A recent study found that burning all the fossil fuels in the ground would fully melt the polar ice sheets, raising the sea level by more than 160 feet over an unknown period.

With all of that said, the crucial issue is probably not how much the oceans are going to rise, but how fast. And on that point, scientists are pretty much flying blind. Their best information comes from studying Earth’s history, and it suggests that the rate can on occasion hit a foot per decade, which can probably be thought of as the worst-case scenario. A rate even half that would force rapid retreat from the coasts and, some experts think, throw human society into crisis. Even if the rise is much slower, many of the world’s great cities will flood eventually. Studies suggest that big cuts in emissions could slow the rise, buying crucial time for society to adapt to an altered coastline.

8. Are the predictions reliable?

They’re not perfect, but they’re grounded in solid science.

The idea that Earth is sensitive to greenhouse gases is confirmed by many lines of scientific evidence. For instance, the basic physics suggesting that an increase of carbon dioxide traps more heat was discovered in the 19th century, and has been verified in thousands of laboratory experiments.

Climate science does contain uncertainties, of course. The biggest is the degree to which global warming sets off feedback loops, such as a melting of sea ice that will darken the surface and cause more heat to be absorbed, melting more ice, and so forth. It is not clear exactly how much the feedbacks will intensify the warming; some of them could even partially offset it. This uncertainty means that computer forecasts can give only a range of future climate possibilities, not absolute predictions.

But even if those computer forecasts did not exist, a huge amount of evidence suggests that scientists have the basic story right. The most important evidence comes from the study of past climate conditions, a field known as paleoclimate research. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has fluctuated naturally in the past, and every time it rises, the Earth warms up, ice melts, and the ocean rises. A hundred miles inland from today’s East Coast, seashells can be dug from ancient beaches that are three million years old. These past conditions are not a perfect guide to the future, either, because humans are pumping carbon dioxide into the air far faster than nature has ever done.

9. Why do people question climate change?

Hint: ideology.

Most of the attacks on climate science are coming from libertarians and other political conservatives who do not like the policies that have been proposed to fight global warming. Instead of negotiating over those policies and trying to make them more subject to free-market principles, they have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.

This ideological position has been propped up by money from fossil-fuel interests, which have paid to create organizations, fund conferences and the like. The scientific arguments made by these groups usually involve cherry-picking data, such as focusing on short-term blips in the temperature record or in sea ice, while ignoring the long-term trends.

The most extreme version of climate denialism is to claim that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public so that the government can gain greater control over people’s lives. As the arguments have become more strained, many oil and coal companies have begun to distance themselves publicly from climate denialism, but some are still helping to finance the campaigns of politicians who espouse such views.

10. Is crazy weather tied to climate change?

In some cases, yes.

Scientists have published strong evidence that the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. It is also causing heavier rainstorms, and coastal flooding is getting worse as the oceans rise because of human emissions. Global warming has intensified droughts in regions like the Middle East, and it may have strengthened the drought in California.

In many other cases, though, the linkage to global warming for particular trends is uncertain or disputed. That is partly from a lack of good historical weather data, but it is also scientifically unclear how certain types of events may be influenced by the changing climate.

Another factor: While the climate is changing, people’s perceptions may be changing faster. The Internet has made us all more aware of weather disasters in distant places. On social media, people have a tendency to attribute virtually any disaster to climate change, but in many cases there is no scientific support for doing so.

11. Will anyone benefit from global warming?

In certain ways, yes.

Countries with huge, frozen hinterlands, including Canada and Russia, could see some economic benefits as global warming makes agriculture, mining and the like more possible in those places. It is perhaps no accident that the Russians have always been reluctant to make ambitious climate commitments, and President Vladimir V. Putin has publicly questioned the science of climate change.

However, both of those countries could suffer enormous damage to their natural resources; escalating fires in Russia are already killing millions of acres of forests per year. Moreover, some experts believe countries that view themselves as likely winners from global warming will come to see the matter differently once they are swamped by millions of refugees from less fortunate lands.

12. Is there any reason for hope?

If you share this with 50 friends, maybe.

Scientists have been warning since the 1980s that strong policies were needed to limit emissions. Those warnings were ignored, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have since built up to potentially dangerous levels. So the hour is late.

But after 20 years of largely fruitless diplomacy, the governments of the world are finally starting to take the problem seriously. A deal that is likely to be reached in Paris in December will commit nearly every country to some kind of action. Religious leaders like Pope Francis are speaking out. Low-emission technologies, such as electric cars, are improving. Leading corporations are making bold promises to switch to renewable power and stop forest destruction. Around the world, many states and cities are pledging to go far beyond the goals set by their national governments.

What is still largely missing in all this are the voices of ordinary citizens. Because politicians have a hard time thinking beyond the next election, they tend to tackle hard problems only when the public rises up and demands it.

Big World, Small Planet

Stuff Happens to the Environment, Like Climate Change, is an eye opener , it should be read by every one and specially by our politicians at all levels.

his main pitch is about Environment and how we need to more to make better decisions. He says,

If you have time to read one book on this subject, I highly recommend the new “Big World, Small Planet*,” by Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, and Mattias Klum, whose stunning photographs of ecosystem disruptions reinforce the urgency of the moment.

* Amazon Affiliate Link.

I know you are UPSC aspirant and very busy, So I suggest you watch this video,instead of reading book , by Johan Rockstrom, as as human being you have the responsibility to watch this and understand what he is saying, UPSC or not this is life changing.I am sure you will find yourself better than before after watching this video. Its 1 hour 10 min long.

Rockstrom begins his argument with a reminder that for most of the earth’s 4.5-billion-year history its climate was not very hospitable to human beings, as it oscillated between “punishing ice ages and lush warm periods” that locked humanity into seminomadic lifestyles.

It’s only been in the last 10,000 years that we have enjoyed the stable climate conditions allowing civilizations to develop based on agriculture that could support towns and cities. This period, known as the Holocene, was an “almost miraculously stable and warm interglacial equilibrium, which is the only state of the planet we know for sure can support the modern world as we know it.” It finally gave us “a stable equilibrium of forests, savannahs, coral reefs, grasslands, fish, mammals, bacteria, air quality, ice cover, temperature, fresh water availability and productive soils.”

“The planet has demonstrated an impressive capacity to maintain its balance, using every trick in its bag to stay in the current state,” explains Rockstrom. But there are more and more signs that we may have reached a saturation point. Forests show the first signs of absorbing less carbon. The oceans are rapidly acidifying as they absorb more CO2, harming fish and coral. Global average temperatures keep rising.

The article Inspiration Stuff Happens to the Environment, Like Climate Change.

In climate talks, the terms adaptation and mitigation are used often. What do they mean?

The challenge of dealing with the impacts of climate change is framed in terms of adaptation and mitigation. Mitigation involves cutting down emissions and thus reducing the magnitude of climate change itself. Mitigation of climate change means reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking care of greenhouse gas sinks. Renewable energy, afforestation etc are mitigating agencies.

Adaptation, by contrast, involves efforts to limit our vulnerability to climate change impacts through various measures, while not necessarily dealing with the underlying cause of those impacts. Adaptive measures typically only deal with impacts on humans and not on ecosystems and our environment. Coral reefs, for example, are unlikely to adapt to the twin impacts of global warming and ocean acidification.

Restricting emissions is intended to slow and eventually reverse the growth of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels particularly in the atmosphere. Reducing emissions will affect CO2 levels slowly though because this gas has a long lifetime in the atmosphere. Therefore the effect of reductions in emissions on the average global temperature will not be seen for decades. Thus, mitigation has to coexist with adaptation.

Adaptation means to try to reduce the effects of climate change on vulnerable communities. It is thus preparing for a time when the climate, i.e. the average weather, is markedly different from what we experience today. As a word, “preparedness” describes better the active nature of adaptation; we try to forecast future weather conditions and create structures and operating models which will work in these new conditions.

In agriculture, drought resistant varieties, conservation of water structures etc are adaptation measures. Green Climate Fund
As explained above, Measures to mitigate climate change and to adapt to it complement each other. Without taking measures to mitigate climate change, there is a threat that the average temperature could rise to such levels that people’s lives in many regions of the world would be significantly affected or be made impossible. In such a case even adaptation measures would not be able to guarantee everyone’s well-being. Even if emissions were successfully restricted, the slow elimination of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would affect the climate for decades and centuries. That is why at the local level it is necessary to prepare for the future in any case and attempt to forecast the nature of the change and its effects. Thus some degree of preparation for the future is essential.

Measures to mitigate climate change and to adapt to it generally complement each other. Unless greenhouse gas emissions are mitigated, people’s living conditions will become significantly more difficult and adaptation may become impossible in many parts of the globe. Take organic farming , for example, it adapts to climate change by keeping soil moist. At the same time, by avoiding agro chemicals, it also mitigates.

Green Climate Fund (GCF) that is set up internationally is an example for both.

With examples from National Action Plan on Climate Change(NAPCC), differentiate between adaptation and mitigation.

In 2008, GOI released India’s first National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) policies and programs addressing climate mitigation and adaptation. The plan identifies eight core “national missions” running through 2017. Most of them address mitigation needs while adaptation issues are also covered.

1. National Solar Mission
2. National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency
3. National Mission on Sustainable Habitat( To promote energy efficiency as a core component of urban planning, the plan calls for:
• Extending the existing Energy Conservation Building Code;
• A greater emphasis on urban waste management and recycling, including power production from waste;
• Strengthening the enforcement of automotive fuel economy standards and using pricing measures to encourage the purchase of efficient vehicles; and
• Incentives for the use of public transportation)
4. National Water Mission: With water scarcity projected to worsen as a result of climate change, the plan sets a goal of a 20% improvement in water use efficiency through pricing and other measures.
5. National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem: The plan aims to conserve biodiversity, forest cover, and other ecological values in the Himalayan region, where glaciers that are a major source of India’s water supply are projected to recede as a result of global warming.
6. National Mission for a “Green India”: Goals include the afforestation of 6 million hectares of degraded forest lands and expanding forest cover from 23% to 33% of India’s territory.
7. National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture: The plan aims to support climate adaptation in agriculture through the development of climate-resilient crops, expansion of weather insurance mechanisms, and agricultural practices.
8. National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change: To gain a better understanding of climate science, impacts and challenges, the plan envisions a new Climate Science Research Fund, improved climate modeling, and increased international collaboration. It also encourage private sector initiatives to develop adaptation and mitigation technologies through venture capital funds.

While the last Mission addresses both, the last but one Mission is essentially adaptation-centered. Others are primarily mitigation-focused.

Is organic farming the answer to climate change?

Organic farming, as an adaptation strategy to climate change is a concrete and sustainable option and has additional potential as a mitigation strategy. The careful management of nutrients and carbon sequestration in soils are significant contributors in adaptation and mitigation to climate change.

Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions. This is accomplished by using, where possible, cultural, biological, and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials. An organic production system is designed to a) enhance biological diversity within the whole system; b) increase soil biological activity; c) maintain long-term soil fertility; d) recycle wastes of plant and animal origin in order to return nutrients to the land, thus minimizing the use of nonrenewable resources; e) rely on renewable resources in locally organized agricultural systems; f) promote the healthy use of soil, water, and air, as well as minimize all forms of pollution thereto that may result from agricultural practices;

Organic farming increases resilience to respond to the risk of climate variability. Where a region relies predominantly on rain fed agriculture, organic farming can respond well to droughts. In India, 60% of agriculture depends on rains. They are prone to drought.Climate change may make drought conditions even more common in the future thereby increasing food insecurity and migration rates.

From field trials conducted in arid, semi-arid, sub-humid and humid regions of India, it was found that organic farming techniques can improve soil carbon levels by five per cent to 25 per cent and increase the water holding capacity of soils between two per cent to 17 per cent. Organic agriculture provides environmental benefits through the sequestration of atmospheric carbon in soil organic matter.

Soils with higher concentration of carbon content are better able to absorb and retain water because the organic matter acts like `sponge` absorbing excess water and retaining it in the soil. More moisture in the soil is particularly valuable for farmers in drought prone, dry regions.

Organic farming systems also increase biodiversity by cultivating different genetically diverse crop varieties.

Together with using adaptation strategies such as water efficient irrigation techniques and drought tolerant seed varieties, organic farming can help farmers cope with the impacts of the changing climate.