Friday, April 23, 2010

Climate Change, more than just warming!

Climate Change. Yes, no matter how you look at it, it is happening, it's happening fast, and you know what, we caused it. There is no "great debate", it's not a hoax. Within the sciences, it's a fact that is 99.9% supported by scientists, and only politics and media would like us to think it is something other. This short video by David Attenborough is one of my favorites in explaining why, even though climate does change naturally, what we are seeing today is both man made, and potentially devastating.

So what is the picture above? Well, it's from a paper (Fine & Tchernov, 2007) that did some nifty experiments with ocean acidification and coral. As the earth warms, and CO2 in our atmosphere increases, more of that CO2 is getting into our oceans. More CO2 means the pH of water drops, becomes more acidic, and we can actually see in some places around the globe (like the Antarctic) that our oceans are acidifying - ocean acidification. Don't panic, you won't ever go bathing and have to worry about your skin melting off, we're only talking a few pH units at most over the next thousand years, but to a little coral, the effects are as above - nakedness.

You see, corals build skeletons out of calcium carbonate, and to do that they have to be in a delicate balance - they have to have the right temperature, they have to have a good amount of food, they need a good amount of carbonate in the water around them, and they need to be in a steady, neutral to slightly basic pH water. If the water is too acidic it will start to dissolve the skeleton faster than the wee coral can build a new one, and so the result, if the coral is lucky and it survives, is a "naked" coral. Makes the fact corals and anemones are in the same taxonomic group pretty obvious doesn't it. The main problem with a coral being "naked", is that it doesn't have the self defense mechanisms that anemones do, and thus can get eaten very rapidly. So there were ups and downs to this paper - yay they survive, boo probably not for long! These are the kinds of experiments i've been doing recently, only on baby corals rather than adults.

So where does this CO2 in our atmosphere come from? The main input of CO2 into our atmosphere is from the burning of fossil fuels for either energy production or for transport, and it doesn't matter if it happens in outer mongolia, it's affecting the planet as a whole. Deforestation doesn't help matters much either - the more plants we remove, the less CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere naturally by photosynthesis.

The top 5 CO2 emission offenders - 5) Japan (4.7% global total); 4) India (5.3%); 3) Russia (5.5%); 2) USA (20.2%) and number 1 China (21.5%). The best bit is lowest on that list is Antarctica, with less than 0.1% produced there!

So what can we do? This is a tough one, as this really is a case of mass change needed. The more people on this planet, the more our energy needs and space needs go up, and few countries are really tackling alternative energy en-mass that is needed. In the spirit of "No one can do everything, everyone can do something" though, there are things you can do, that will also save you quite a wad of cash in the end too.

1) Be energy conscious - turn off anything electrical when not needed, unplug adaptors (they use energy even when plugged in), buy energy efficient big ticket items (washers, fridges etc.) - basically if you use electricity, think about how you could use even a little less.

2) Be fuel conscious - do you need to drive today? Even walking/cycling one day a week can have a huge impact. Don't leave that gas stove on too long, use public transport if it's good in your area, don't overheat/overcool and take time to inspect your house insulation (particularly around sockets) - basically, anytime you use fuel, think how to use a little less.

3) Consider carbon credits for the home and for travel. These are best done alongside the points above. Planting a tree or two in your backyard wouldn't hurt so much either.

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