Pollution and Global Warming

Knowing Our Environment

Pollution and Global Warming - A Close Look

Some of the most pressing issues today are those that pertain to pollution and global warming. Given how these two issues have extreme consequence to our way of living, it is not surprising to find these as the topic of global conferences, conventions, meetings, scientific research and agreements between and among governments of the world. Pollution, if left unchecked, will destroy Earth’s resources completely making it impossible for continued human existence. Global warming also offers a similar impact: an increase in average surface temperature by just a few degrees can melt the polar ice caps and flood low-lying cities all over the world. Severe weather disturbances can also redraw the world map and impair our way of living. The future looks bleak if pollution and global warming trends continue to happen as projected.

The problem lies in the fact that the relationship between pollution and global warming are as intricate as they are complex. Currently, there is no conclusive theory to prove that global warming is indeed man-made or anthropogenic, so some organizations and governments are hesitant in doing something “extraordinarily big” to limit pollution sources when it’s not definitive that this is indeed causing global warming.

Still, the circumstantial evidence supporting the connection between pollution and global warming is overwhelming. Human civilization is completely dependent on energy for survival; we draw majority of our energy from burning fossil fuels; burning releases pollutants into the air, most notably carbon dioxide; carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas; increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere naturally leads to a greenhouse effect otherwise known as global warming.

Scientists monitoring carbon dioxide levels in the air and surface temperatures on earth find a very strong correlation between these two factors. When man started to burn more fuels to sustain the energy needs for growing cities, carbon dioxide concentrations in the air went up. During this period starting in the mid-1970s, the average surface temperature of the earth also inched upwards. Pollution and global warming are deeply intertwined in this respect: pollution, at least on paper, leads to global warming.

Governments are already drafting legislation and agreements to help stop pollution and global warming. Many countries of the world have some laws that define the quality of air emissions by industries. These laws specifically limit the emission threshold of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur dioxide, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) so that concentrations of these pollutants in the air do not keep on ballooning. Non-compliance to these regulations can be sufficient ground for government agencies to close the erring facilities.

In the same way, complicated agreements have been signed between governments to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions to match those seen in the 1990s. Agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal Accord, and the recent Copenhagen Treaty employs a system that uses “carbon credits’ to reduce emissions. Every signatory country is given an “emission cap” that it subsequently divides among companies and industries operating within its borders. The reduction in pollution and global warming risk is attained by levying penalties to companies that cannot comply with their set limits. These companies can also buy, sell or trade carbon credits to allow them to emit higher levels of carbon dioxide but not before they pay for it. The earned payments, in turn, are funneled back into government-sponsored research for renewable and clean energy sources.

The question remains: are these measures sufficient or timely enough to ultimately prevent runaway pollution and global warming? Eco-advocates believe that governments are doing too little to stem the advance of global warming while politicians, on the other hand, argue that doing too much could stress the economies of most countries beyond the breaking point.

What is certain is that the debate will continue for a few years more as science races to catch up with more eco-friendly solutions to basic engineering problems regarding pollution and global warming. The hope is that science doesn’t give too little or acts too late. It’s certainly a hope that’s worth clinging to because frankly, there are not that many options left on the table.