The Challenge of Global Warming

By Paula Lomazzi
Climate change is upon us. Global warming is the most important challenge humans must meet in this generation. Global warming occurs when the earth's atmosphere contains too many pollutants, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CO4). Normally, when sun rays enter earth's atmosphere, some of the radiation that heats up the earth is reradiated back into space in the form of infrared radiation. Some of the infrared radiation is trapped on its way out to space by the earth's atmosphere and held within the atmosphere, which helps heat earth to its proper temperature. Our outer atmosphere is getting too filled up with pollution, which traps too much of the outgoing radiation and the earth heats up too much.

Earthlings have been living too high off the hog for too long, since the industrial revolution and the unrestricted use of cheap petroleum oil during the past century (a main source of carbon pollution). Of course the exponential increase in world population has compounded the problem with too many people dispensing too much carbon into the atmosphere. Deforestation is another factor since trees sequester carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air.

Scientists have taken core samples in glaciers and in the Antarctic (where they can go back 650,000 years) and they have been able to determine that in all that time carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have never gone above 300 parts per million. Temperatures have been measured and on a graph you could see how temperature and CO2 levels correlate. When there's more carbon dioxide, it gets warmer because it traps more sun in the atmosphere.

Currently, CO2 levels are way above where it's ever been and if left unchecked, will continue to rise along with corresponding temperature rises. The ten hottest years on record have occurred in the last 14 years. Also, measurements of ocean temperatures have been higher.

Hurricanes get stronger from warmer oceans. Warmer oceans cause melting of ice at the polar regions and glaciers. At the poles, this leads to more dramatic change because with less ice to reflect the sun's rays back into space, that radiation is absorbed by the ocean, causing warmer water and further melting of the ice. Polar ice melting would cause a rise in the global sea level, and could cause massive exoduses of coastal populations, making many homeless. The melting of glaciers would also be detrimental because many people depend on the glaciers' annual melt for much of their water supply.

Global warming causes the evaporation of more water from bodies of water and also sucks moisture from the soil. This can cause more heavy rains and can also cause droughts because of the change in rainfall patterns and because the increased evaporation from soils.

There are many changes we can expect, more consequences to face, but what can we all do to minimize those consequences? Corporations must surely make drastic changes in the way they do business, and governments must assure that they take those steps. Some of the larger polluters won't generally sacrifice their profit margins without community pressure and legislation. Communities should reform themselves into sustainable communities, minimizing costly fuel consuming imports, maximizing conservation and commuting with public transportation instead of gas guzzling cars. We should plant trees. All effort should be made from all sectors to minimize the excess release of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

Individuals have an important role in solving this problem. There is one way to get an idea of what you individually are contributing to the problem by using a carbon calculator--to find out what your "carbon footprint" is. SMUD has one at their website you can use, and there are others on the internet such as There you fill out a questionnaire and at the end they calculate how many tons of carbon your lifestyle makes you emit into the atmosphere per year.

A Homeless Carbon Footprint

I filled out the questionnaire with the answers I would have had when I was homeless. Factors were: living in the US; no heating; no traveling in air planes; no car; 60 miles on a bus per year; 60 miles on light rail; mixed diet; second hand cloths and furnishings (you had to select furniture of some kind), some waste recycled, and zero carbon recreational activities. (This wouldn't reflect the lifestyle of all people that are homeless.)

I was unable to find what the carbon footprint for campfires were. I talked to a person with the Air Resources Board and he did point out that with the dire need to keep warm, a campfire's carbon footprint would probably be negligible and certainly offset by all the other areas where a homeless person has a small carbon output. He did point out that camp fires have other hazards in that they emit toxins and are especially harmful to those with low immune systems.

The calculator said that as a homeless person I would have contributed approximately 1.075 tons of carbon a year. 1.075 tons sounds like a heavy burden on the environment but it is actually an exemplary small amount. The average US citizen has a carbon footprint of 20.4 tons! The US is by far the worse contributor, along with China that is starting to catch up with the US with their high population and coal fired utility plants. The world average is 4 tons per person per year. The global goal is to minimize to 2 tons of carbon per individual per year in order to avoid the worse repercussions of climate change.

There is a job for everyone, even for homeless people that are already sacrificing so many of the luxuries and even necessities that the average person takes for granted. When a person that is homeless does get their own home at last, they have already gained much experience in minimizing their impact on the atmosphere. Many have learned much about consuming less, conserving resources, recycling, and sharing resources.. They can use those lessons to help guide their own responsible living, and also to teach others that have never learned to "do without" or to "do with less".