Our Dangerous Affair with CO2

6 min read

As I sat in the living room, taking a break from my new regimen of working from home (WFH) during my 4-week work attachment at the Science Centre, ostentatious images of Russian medieval architecture with a picturesque backdrop of enigmatic cathedrals and graveyards were screened from the penultimate episode of model-turned-actress, Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian adventures on Netflix. 

Being a strong advocate of climate change and sustainability in recent times, Joanna Lumley tugged at the heartstrings in my capacity as a Geography teacher when she spoke about how Lake Baikal is an unpremeditated victim of climate change. As a result, the lake has grown warmer, with thinner layers of seasonal ice being present for a shorter period during the winter seasons. 

How Humanity and Changes in the Natural Cycle are Responsible for Climate Change 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Environmental Programme’s climate branch, announced incontrovertible evidence that our planet is warming, mainly due to large-scale greenhouse gas emissions caused by economic shenanigans.

Uncontrolled mining is one such folly as countries pursue economic gains. With rising affluence and consumerism, our rapacious appetite for luxury items such as diamonds has paved the way for the construction of mining farms in rainforests, made plausible only with the removal of large areas of trees. Such scales of deforestation give little time for our forests to regenerate. Forests play a vital role as Earth’s Green Lungs. Trees soak up carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis while producing oxygen. When large swathes of forest are cleared, their capacity to absorb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide is compromised. More carbon dioxide in our atmosphere traps heat, leading to an enhanced or anthropogenic greenhouse effect.

With the advent of industrialisation, the burning of fossil fuels has also contributed to the bank of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming and climate change. Our increasing need to generate electricity is relentless with expanding cities and commercial activities. Unfortunately, this has been achieved through fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. According to McKinsey’s Global Energy Perspective 2019, fossil fuels are responsible for 83% of total carbon dioxide emissions, with the production of electricity from coal-funded power stations contributing 36% of this alone. Interestingly, emissions from the burning of fossil fuels fell dramatically in 2020, according to the World Energy Outlook 2020, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, developing countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines still have perpetual needs to implement crop cultivation and construction of agricultural farms for export and profit. These also release carbon stored in trees due to the large-scale removal of tropical vegetation in ASEAN, many through slash and burn.

Moreover, human activities such as cattle ranching have further exacerbated the rate at which we clear large plots of land for cattle grazing, resulting in the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Finally, some amongst us would be confounded to learn how volcanic eruptions can also contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with the release of volcanic carbon dioxide. In fact, the eruption of Mount St. Helens vented approximately 10 million tons of carbon dioxide in a short span of 9 hours in 1980, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a science bureau within the United States Department of the Interior. It currently only takes humanity less than 3 hours to produce the same amount based on similar research carried out by USGS! Therefore, in juxtaposition to large explosive eruptions such as Mount St. Helens, which don’t occur often, humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases persist and increase every year.

Whether man-made or natural, the list of causes is interminable, mirroring our ongoing fracas with an immortal enemy in climate change. What is of paramount importance is really the pressing need to acknowledge the adverse impacts that climate change can have on our planet. We must all be more aware of the whys and hows of climate change, so that we can play our part in mitigation. 

The Repercussions of Climate Change

The dire consequence of global warming and climate change is already apparent, with the arctic sea ice shrinking by 12.85% each decade. Based on research carried out by climate scientists, coastal tide logs also showed that sea levels have been rising each year by 3.3mm since 1870. 

Additionally, since 1990, investigations revealed that the frequency of extreme weather events such as cyclones and floods have also increased, occurring during queer moments of the year at devastating levels of intensity. Geographical phenomena such as El Nino have aggravated the drama by growing increasingly irregular, causing perilous droughts in areas already under the menace of chronic aridities (dryness), such as East Africa.

Animals are also held hostage as they lose their habitats and are coerced to migrate in a mad frenzy from one ecosystem to another, causing pernicious wreckage to biodiversity globally as some animals struggle to adapt to their new living environments elsewhere.     

The Way Forward

The curtains are not drawn on the stage now and the play is not over. Yet. 

According to Channel News Asia (CNA), on 30 October 2021, leaders of the 20 wealthiest countries will acknowledge the existential threat of climate change and pledge to take radical steps to battle global warming and climate change for the 26th year running. This promise comes from a draft communique prelude to the Conference of the Parties (COP) summit, an annual event organised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Ironically, this was staged with the conspicuous absence of Europe’s oil and gas oligarchs, who audaciously rebutted that the burden of curbing fossil fuel demands lies on the shoulders of the government.

So what is next after this episode? Considering how we have chosen to live with COVID-19 in our daily lives, when do we decide how much carbon dioxide is sufficient to avoid an apocalypse of Gaia in the long run as we vacillate between environmental activism and economic interests of the posterity like a swinging pendulum? 

Written by Yap Qian Yi Jasmine, Ministry of Education, Singapore
Illustrations by Lee Ai Cing


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