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Climate Change and the Oil and Gas Industry
Climate change can be defined as the change of patterns in the climate experienced in different regions of the world (Dale et al, 2001). Over time, there has been an increasing volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This has resulted to major changes in the daily atmospheric conditions in all regions of the world. Human activities such as industrialisation are, to a large extent, attributed to these changes. The need for high amount of energy, raw materials and production of wastes pose a great challenge to the environment. These aspects of production are associated with pollution and depletion of natural ecosystems which are essential in conserving the environment. The oil and gas industry is considered as a major cause of pollution and climate change due to the large amount of emissions including carbon dioxide and other toxic chemicals released to the environment (Demirbas, 2006). This study focuses on the oil and gas industry while discussing its benefits and challenges in diverting energy sources into renewable energy, and what exactly sustainable development means to them. It offers recommendations to the UN on the measures that need to be adopted in order for the industry to attain sustainable development.
Causes of Climate Change
The main cause of climate change is said to be the effect of greenhouse gases (Crowley, 2000). These gases are released to the environment forming a layer that act as a blanket on the atmosphere. Radiations from the sun can easily penetrate though this layer formed by the gasses to the earth’s surface. This is because the radiations possess high amount of energy on their way to the earth. However, as they hit the earth’s surface, they lose a significant amount of energy and the reflected radiations are not strong enough to penetrate the layer formed by the greenhouse gases on the atmosphere back to space. As a result, they are retained within the atmosphere thus leading to an increase in the amount of heat in the atmosphere. This phenomenon is referred to as global warming. The heating of the atmosphere is associated with detrimental effects such as droughts, rising of the sea level as a result of melting of ice caps, floods and diseases (Crowley, 2000). The sea level is expected to rise between 1-4 feet or up to 6.6 (as predicted by some models) per century (Wetzel et al, 2013).
Major greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFSs), and nitrous oxide (Casper, 2010). Water vapour is the most abundant gas in the atmosphere. It is mainly as a result of the change of climate. A high volume of water vapour leads to an increase in the amount of precipitation which in turn may lead to floods. CO2 regarded as the most significant cause of global warming due to the fact that its abundance and production increases steadily. Among the causes of increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere are natural calamities such as eruptions from volcanoes, burning of fossil fuels, logging, and industrial emissions (Casper, 2010).
Methane is another abundant gas in the atmosphere that is produced through the human activities and natural sources. These sources include agricultural activities, decomposition of wastes dumped in landfills and digestion which takes place in ruminant animals and also livestock. These sources produce a significantly small amount of methane thus making it less abundant in the atmosphere as compared to CO2. Nitrous oxide on the other hand gets its way into the atmosphere though processes associated with soil cultivation and the use of organic fertilisers (Casper, 2010). Burning of fossils, biomass and production of nitric acid also increases the abundance of nitrous oxides in the atmosphere. CFCs comprise of compounds that are synthetic in nature. These compounds are mainly produced by industrial processes which include perfumes applied on the human body. The increase in the use of these products has been said to greatly impact on climate change as the compounds react with the ozone layer thus destroying it. The ozone layer serves to protect the earth from the penetration of the sun’s rays which otherwise have detrimental effects on the living organisms. Such issues as skin cancer and eye cataract have been associated with UV radiations from the sun (Casper, 2010).
Effects of Climate change
The greenhouse gases have the potential of maintaining their presence in the atmosphere as long as hundreds of years. The result is the accumulation and increased adverse effects due to global warming. Among the major impacts of global warming is the melting of ice caps in the Polar Regions, the spread of diseases, drought, floods, heat waves, and natural calamities. The spread of diseases is mainly associated with warm temperatures whereby the system creates an environment that is conducive for the insects that act as carriers the diseases. These disease carrying organisms are believed to thrive well in warm areas and global warming offers exactly this. The insects also destroy crops and other plants that are have a crucial role in the maintaining the ecosystem (Schär and Jendritzky, 2004).
Increased temperatures have led to the melting of ice caps and glaciers both at the Polar Regions and also at the mountain regions where temperature were initially lower. In 1910, for instance, The Glacier National Park was believed to have over 150 glaciers. However, the number has currently reduced to less than 30 glaciers something which is considered and alarming rate. This melting will cause the sea water levels to rise thus making it difficult for the people who live at the coastal regions. Structures at the costal regions are likely to be submerged leading to loss of lives and property. The melting of ice is also believed to increase the exposure of dark waters which in turn absorb high amount of heat energy thus endangering aquatic life. It is obvious that human beings highly benefit from the sea. Food and other sea produces are necessary for human life hence the need to address the risks associated with global warming (Schär and Jendritzky, 2004). Other consequences of global warning include droughts and floods that result from into the loss of lives such as wildlife and also threaten food security among the people living in the affected areas. Floods transport water related diseases hence increasing the cost of medication.
Actions the UN can adopt to minimize the Impacts of Climate Change
The UN can consider a number of strategies to ensure climate change is kept in check. The UN has the potential to partner with governments to come up with the right actions aimed at reducing emissions. The main factor to be considered by the government is knowledge transfer. It is believed that people who have sufficient knowledge about climate change are likely to adopt proper ways of living and change of lifestyles in order to minimise and adapt to climate change (Adger et al, 2003). The government can also come up with frameworks to ensure the citizens are protected against the natural disasters resulting from climate change. The governments can give citizens insurance covers against these natural calamities. This reduces the negative economic impacts resulting from the change. It can offer citizens with protective equipment and facilities such as the construction of dams to act as reservoirs for flooding waters. The governments should improve the people’s living standards through creation of job opportunities. Economically empowered people have the capacity to manage a number of issues as opposed to people stricken with poverty (Adger et al, 2003). Companies, on the other hand, can adopt clean production processes in order to reduce the amount of emissions and wastes generated. Use of renewable sources of energy should be encouraged since they reduce emissions. There is also the fact of recycling. Such companies as IKEA have adopted these practices aimed at reducing emissions thus creating a positive impact on the quest for a cleaner environment (Enquist et al, 2007). The community is also responsible in responding to climate change. A number of measures that can be adopted include coming up with projects that are energy efficient and sustainable. For instance, fuel efficiency in the household can be practiced within communities to reduce the overall emissions released. Reuse, recovery and recycling of household goods can also be adopted (Daly et al, 1989).
Argument and Analysis
There has been a debate on whether climate change is natural or manmade. While the answer to this cannot be concluded with 100% certainty, scientists strongly argue that climate change is influenced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in November 2014 held that there was a very high likelihood that the experienced change of climate was mainly due to the human activities. They associated human activities with over 95% of the impacts that resulted from climate change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2015). The report indicated in the 19th century, the total production of CO₂ was approximately 280 ppm. It was stated that this was the normal amount of CO₂ produced throughout the ages in human history. It was, however, noted that, in 2014, the amount was higher than 400 ppm. This is the first time the amount reached that level for over one million years ago (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2015).
According to the report, the increase in the amount of fossil fuel combustion in different regions of the world is the main cause of the high amount of CO₂ produced. The US was regarded as the largest contributor to high emissions and, in 2012, an average of 38% of the CO₂ was emitted by the electricity generating plants while 32% was emitted by motor vehicles as well as buildings (Www3.epa.gov, 2016).
Scientists have come up with reports indicating that the oil and gas industry contributed up to 80% of the total emissions in the year 2005. Of these emissions, CO2 accounts for 98%. Currently in the US, it is estimated that over 4.1 billion metric tons of CO2 are added to the atmosphere every year (Olivier et al, 2012). Logging and destruction of natural ecosystems that act as carbon sinks is considered a huge challenge in attaining sustainability. Nevertheless, this annual amount of CO2 released is too high for the natural ecosystem to utilise all of it due to its large amount thus implying that, even with the natural ecosystem intact, it will still be retained in the atmosphere (Olivier et al, 2012).
The diagram below illustrates the global climate drivers from 1880 to 2000.
Source: (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016)
The UN holds that climate change can still be controlled if only the world acts now. A report by IPCC asserted that there is a possibility to keep the global temperatures controlled without impacting negatively on the people’s lives. As estimated by the report, the world should ensure that by the year 2050, the total amount of GHGs emitted have been reduced by at least 40 to 70% (Ipcc.ch, 2016). The report further suggests that if we create a world where people focus on the general welfare and not personal gains, it will be easier to attain these goals. It was also suggested that governments especially those in the developed countries that are characterised by high emissions should set us proper strategies that work for them in order to control climate change. Such strategies include using renewable sources of energy, adopting energy efficient options, reduction of wastes, use of prevention principles such as the polluter pay principle as well as offering their citizens information about the dangers of climate change and also how to control it (Ipcc.ch, 2016).
The rise of the world population is always attributed to number of aspects that have a negative impact on the climate. A study conducted Murtaugh and Schlax (2009) indicated that every single child born adds over 9000 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The report suggests that the savings arising from controlled birth are higher than the savings resulting from change in lifestyle. More people add more pressure to natural resources and increase the amount of consumption of resources as well as emissions. The graph below shows the rise in global temperatures from 1860 to 2000. Much of these changes have been associated with population increase.
Source: (Bbc.co.uk, 2016)
Population growth can be controlled in a number of ways. Provision of medical facilities and equipment that control birth can help people to manage the birth rates thus reducing population growth. Legal actions including strict measures to stop child marriages are considered efficient. Laws that target abolishment of child labour and slavery will help to stop parents who sell their children. Strategies aimed at reducing poverty have always been linked with reduced population. Population growth is experienced mostly among the poor thus making it a drawback to reduced population growth. Creating awareness, educating people and also supplying cheap birth control pills are also helpful in controlling population growth (Shea et al, 2010).
It is recommended that the world should turn to production of cleaner fuels. For instance, the use of renewable sources of energy such as solar energy, increased energy efficiency, natural gas and nuclear power can be used as alternatives to coal (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2015). Research is in going to identify to what extent these sources of energy are likely to offer the required alternatives.
There has been a continuous debate over the main causes of climate change. While other people argue that climate change is manmade, others are for the opinion that climate change is natural. Scientists are convinced that human activities contribute to climate change more than the natural activities. Climate change is associated with adverse effects including loss of lives, diseases, droughts and heat waves that reduce the quality for life among humans. There are a number of strategies adopted to reduce to help in solving problems associated with the change of climate. The solutions can only be reached if people join hands to address them in a holistic manner.
Adger, W.N., Huq, S., Brown, K., Conway, D. and Hulme, M., 2003. Adaptation to climate change in the developing world. Progress in development studies, 3(3), pp.179-195.
Bbc.co.uk. (2016). BBC – KS3 Bitesize Science – Changes in the environment : Revision, Page 6. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks3/science/environment_earth_universe/changes_in_environment/revision/6/ [Accessed 24 Jul. 2016].
Casper, J.K., 2010. Greenhouse gases: worldwide impacts. Infobase Publishing.Demirbas, A., 2006. Hazardous emissions, global climate change and environmental precautions. Energy Sources, Part B: Economics, Planning, and Policy, 1(1), pp.75-84.
Crowley, T.J., 2000. Causes of climate change over the past 1000 years.Science, 289(5477), pp.270-277.
Dale, V.H., Joyce, L.A., McNulty, S., Neilson, R.P., Ayres, M.P., Flannigan, M.D., Hanson, P.J., Irland, L.C., Lugo, A.E., Peterson, C.J. and Simberloff, D., 2001. Climate change and forest disturbances: climate change can affect forests by altering the frequency, intensity, duration, and timing of fire, drought, introduced species, insect and pathogen outbreaks, hurricanes, windstorms, ice storms, or landslides. BioScience, 51(9), pp.723-734.
Daly, H.E., Cobb, J.B. and Cobb, C.W., 1989. For the common good: redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future. Beacon Press.
Enquist, B., Edvardsson, B. and Petros Sebhatu, S., 2007. Values-based service quality for sustainable business. Managing Service Quality: An International Journal, 17(4), pp.385-403.
Frumkin, H., Hess, J., Luber, G., Malilay, J. and McGeehin, M., 2008. Climate change: the public health response. American Journal of Public Health, 98(3), pp.435-445.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2015. Climate change 2014: mitigation of climate change (Vol. 3). Cambridge University Press.
Murtaugh, P.A. and Schlax, M.G., 2009. Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals. Global Environmental Change, 19(1), pp.14-20.
Olivier, J.G., Peters, J.A. and Janssens-Maenhout, G., 2012. Trends in global CO2 emissions 2012 report.
Schär, C. and Jendritzky, G., 2004. Climate change: hot news from summer 2003. Nature, 432(7017), pp.559-560.
Shea, K., Jongejans, E., Skarpaas, O., Kelly, D. and Sheppard, A.W., 2010. Optimal management strategies to control local population growth or population spread may not be the same. Ecological Applications, 20(4), pp.1148-1161.
Union of Concerned Scientists. (2016). Global Warming FAQ. [online] Available at: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/global-warming-faq.html#.V5RbBaKdt80 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2016].
Wetzel, F.T., Beissmann, H., Penn, D.J. and Jetz, W., 2013. Vulnerability of terrestrial island vertebrates to projected sea‐level rise. Global Change Biology, 19(7), pp.2058-2070.
Www3.epa.gov. (2016). Carbon Dioxide Emissions | Climate Change | US EPA. [online] Available at: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html [Accessed 24 Jul. 2016].
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