Climate Change

Global climate change is the result of an imbalance in the global carbon cycle. Greater use of fossil fuels has increased the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Fossil carbon, in the form of petroleum, coal, and other sources, has been the main source of energy and feedstock materials to industrial economies worldwide; however, its use and eventual oxidation has increased radiative forcing in the atmosphere.

Climate change is increasingly recognized as the greatest global threat facing humanity. In addition, it represents a clear example of a development strategy that is not sustainable. A recent report of the United Nations Scientific Experts Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development concluded that "the human race.. .has never faced a greater challenge" (Sigma Xi and the UN Foundation 2007). The report suggests that for the majority of the world's population, especially the poor, persistent problems of food security, poverty and wealth, and the struggle to develop and sustain new sources of economic growth must now be considered against a backdrop of uncertainty and change in historical climatic patterns. The authors also observe that the world's poor will bear the heaviest burden of a changing climate.

Separately and together, governments and international and domestic organizations need not only to continue responding to the immediate concerns of extreme poverty, environmental degradation and social unrest, but must begin to prepare communities and entire regions to adapt to uncertain future climatic regimes. In addition, tangible contributions must be made to slow down and ultimately reestablish a balance in GHG exchanges on a planetary scale.

The IPCC (2001) considered the effect of climate change on agricultural productivity in the developed and developing world in the context of adaptation potentials. Using climate-agriculture impact models, four scenarios were run. The first involved climate change alone. The second included plant physiological effects of CO2 enrichment. The third involved a modest adaptation strategy (e.g., new crop types, irrigation to counteract drought). The fourth included a more strenuous adaptation strategy (e.g., more water, fertilizer). All adaptation strategies require both financial and resource investments; some need advanced technical research and development. From this analysis the IPCC concluded that in the future: (a) overall world total production will decline under all scenarios, but there is a lessening impact when adaptation measures are put into place; (b) developed countries show production declines with climate effects, yet because of their capacity to adapt, they actually experience increases in production; (c) for developing countries, all scenarios result in significant declines in cereal production because of an inability to adapt.

Mitigation is an option, and there are generally three major courses of action that can be taken to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases: (a) reduce emissions at their source, through the deployment of more efficient fuel and power generation technologies, reduced rates of deforestation, and improved land management in agriculture (e.g., nitrous oxide abatement through fertilizer management, methane abatement through manure management); (b) substitute fossil fuels with renewable fuels for the production of fuel, energy, and materials; and (c) create offsets on land through carbon sequestration activities that include agricultural soil management (e.g., conservation tillage), agrofor-estry, and forestry.

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Guide to Alternative Fuels

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