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November 30, 2015

Is there a solution to global warming?

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Historic levels of greenhouse gas concentration in Earth’s atmosphere have led to rising land and sea temperatures across the planet.

The year 2014 ranked as Earth’s hottest in 135 years of record-keeping and 2015 looks even hotter, prompting experts from both scientific and economic backgrounds to search for potential ways to address rising temperatures and ocean levels.

Studying geologic samples going back thousands of years shows a strong correlation between high carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and rising temperatures, according to Martin Weitzman, an economist at Harvard University.

The steady increase in temperature today could mean as much as a 10 percent chance that temperatures could rise up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit, Weitzman said. Such an increase would make conditions unlivable in many parts of the world.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but think of the human body, right? If you have a fever of 4.5 degrees Centigrade, nine degrees Fahrenheit, you are dead,” said Gernot Wagner, Weitzman’s former student who now works at the Environmental Defense Fund.

One solution to rising temperatures proposed by the economists involves taxing individuals for the amount of CO2 emissions they produce through the use of fossil fuels. Finding support for this proposal from the wider public would likely prove difficult, however.

Another controversial but cheap solution involves a geoengineering technique referred to as solar radiation management. This method would use airplanes to shoot particles known as sulfates into the sky to reflect sunlight back into space, thus cooling the planet.

Harvard environmental scientist David Keith said the importance of leaving future generations with a chance to enjoy the natural world outweighs the political challenges of getting various nations to support such a plan.

“(T)hat is fundamentally an ethical or moral or naturalistic view about the world that isn’t easily captured in the equations of economists,” Keith said.


Vocab

greenhouse gas — a gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation, e.g., carbon dioxide (CO2) and chlorofluorocarbons

climate change — a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels

geoengineering — the deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming

Warm up questions
  1. What is climate change?
  2. What would happen if Earth’s temperature rose five degrees?
  3. How are people where you live addressing climate change?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What are some of the current effects of climate change?
  2. What are the different responsibilities for governments, states, schools and individuals to address climate change?
  3. What do you think about the economists’ plan for the government to tax CO2 emissions?
  4. Would creating economic incentives encourage people to cut back on CO2?
  5. Do you think the scientist’s plan to spray sulfates into the atmosphere to help cool down the planet sounds like a viable way to address global warming?
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