The danger of losing focus on climate changeFriday, March 05, 2021
Concerns about the deadly impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic have so consumed the world it is entirely understandable that some of us have shifted focus from another major issue posing a great threat to mankind — climate change.
But, just like the pandemic, the dangers we face from climate change are still with us and will remain so if the global family continues to ignore the importance of reducing carbon emissions.
Last week, acclaimed environmentalist and campaigner Sir David Attenborough reminded world leaders at a United Nations Security Council session that, “Climate change is the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired that meeting, agreed, and argued that it is driving insecurity “from the communities uprooted by extreme weather and hunger, to warlords capitalising on the scramble for resources”.
The scale of the problem was again highlighted in recent days by scientists reporting that the Gulf Stream — one of the planet's major climate-regulating ocean currents — is moving slower than it has in thousands of years, largely due to human-induced climate change.
A report on the Live Science website tells us the researchers found that this “unprecedented slowdown could impact weather patterns and sea levels on both sides of the Atlantic, and looks poised to worsen over the coming decades if climate change continues unabated.
Lead author of the study, Mr Levke Caesar, a climatologist at Maynooth University in Ireland, contended that if global warming persists at its current pace the Gulf Stream could pass a critical tipping point by the year 2100.
The upshot is the current grinding to a halt — a disruption that has the potential to unleash rising sea levels along the coasts of North America and north-western Europe, and trigger more extreme weather such as heat waves and cyclones.
Mr Caesar warned: “If the Gulf Stream crosses its tipping point, it will continue to weaken even if we have managed to stop global warming. Afterwards, it will slow down by a lot, coming close to a complete shutdown of the circulation.”
Co-author of the study Mr Stefan Rahmstorf explained the significance of this slowdown thus: “The Gulf Stream (also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) is essentially a 'giant conveyor belt' along the east coast of the United States.
“The current begins near the Florida Peninsula, carrying warm surface water north toward Newfoundland, before meandering east across the Atlantic. By the time it reaches the North Atlantic, that warm surface water becomes cooler, saltier, and denser, sinking into the deep sea before being driven south again, where the cycle repeats.
According to Mr Rahmstorf, the current moves more than 5,200 gallons of water per second, or almost 100 times the Amazon River flow.
This wet conveyor belt has myriad climate impacts on both sides of the Atlantic, keeping temperatures mild, influencing the path and strength of cyclones, and helping to regulate sea levels.
Any disruption to that process will undoubtedly affect the Caribbean. Therefore, we have an interest in insisting that all countries work to reduce emissions.
The UN Climate Change Conference scheduled for November in Glasgow will give us another opportunity to correct our missteps.