Global Warming

Ice There is broad consensus among the global scientific community today that human activity is increasing the earth's temperature.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), average atmospheric temperatures rose between .56 and .92 degrees Celsius (1 to 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) during the last century.  Depending on the rate of atmospheric gas emissions, human activity and other factors, global temperatures are predicted to increase by between 2.7 and 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the twenty-first century[1].  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), seven of the eight hottest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the 10 hottest years in history have all occurred since 1995.   Extreme heat waves caused more than 20,000 deaths in Europe in 2003 and more than 1,500 deaths in India. In 2010, flooding linked to global warming covered more than one fifth of Pakistan, overwhelming the government's ability to respond to an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.  Russia, meanwhile, recorded the hottest temperatures in its history, with severe heat and heavy smoke from peat fires bringing the mortality rate in Moscow to 700 people per day, twice the normal rate, in July and August 2010.  Scientists believe these events are indicative of trends that will continue to worsen as global warming progresses, causing glaciers to melt at accelerated rates, sea levels to rise, patterns of precipitation to change, and deserts to spread in subtropical regions.  If global warming continues unchecked, our future will likely be characterized by:

  • Increased incidents of drought, flooding, wild fires, and severe storms;
  • Reductions in the availability of clean drinking water in coastal areas, where almost forty percent of the world's population resides;
  • Oxygen depletion and increased acidification in oceans, leading to the spread of 'dead zones' and disruptions in food chains supporting a wide range of species;
  • Increased rates of animal extinction;
  • Disappearance of coral reefs and alpine meadows;
  • Increased incidents of malaria, Dengue Fever, and other diseases transmitted by arthropods
  • Increased incidences of malnutrition

Global warming is caused in large measure by the generation of gases that allow the sun's heat to reach the earth's surface but prevent it from dissipating in the atmosphere.  The effect of these gases is often compared to that of a car window, which allows sunlight to enter the car, but prevents the resulting heat from leaving the car's interior.  Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the most common of these gases; it is produced primarily by the consumption of coal, oil, and gasoline.  According to the NOAA, the range for CO2 concentrations in the earth's atmosphere during the past 650,000 years was 180 to 300 parts per million by volume (ppmv); however, by the end of the twenty-first century, these concentrations will range from 490 to 1,260 ppmv – seventy-five to three hundred and fifty percent above pre-industrial levels.

Environmental groups, local communities, churches, and universities have begun taking steps to reduce the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that they produce.  Simple changes in each of our individual behaviors are also an essential part of efforts to reduce the rate of global warming.   Check out about.com for a few basic ideas on easy steps you can take.

Sustainability, Study Abroad, and Green Passports

Galicia Issues of global warming and environmental sustainability often become particularly acute for students studying overseas. While abroad, students may find themselves in communities where questions relating to deforestation, water usage, recycling, and energy consumption are subjects of intense national interest and debate. In some communities, students will discover that their usual lifestyles are not compatible with either the available resources or the cultural mores of their host country. Indeed, even participants studying in such relatively familiar places as Germany and France are often surprised at how strongly European attitudes toward water usage differ from those of most Americans, while many students living in such areas as Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America find their understanding of environmental issues profoundly altered by their experiences overseas.

Become a Green Passport holder! Many students preparing to travel abroad have decided to participate in the Green Passport program as a sign of their commitment to learn about the environmental issues of their host site, to act in ecologically responsible ways while overseas, and to help educate their fellow students about the pressing environmental issues of our day. We hope you will consider joining them.

Travel, Carbon Offsets, and Volunteering Your Time

Virtually every study abroad participant must travel to his or her site by airplane, a significant source of greenhouse gases.  Carbon emissions from air travel increased by 87 percent between 1990 and 2006, and airlines are now estimated to cause 3.5 percent of all global warming.  By the year 2050, experts fear this figure will have climbed to 5 percent.  A single person on a round-trip flight from Washington, DC to London, England generates over 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide gas emissions, while a single passenger on a round-trip flight to Hong Kong produces almost 6.5 tons of CO2. 

Tree Many airline travelers now purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the CO2 generated by their flights.  Roughly speaking, offsets are monetary contributions to environmental projects designed to reduce greenhouse gases in proportion to the amount of carbon generated by an individual activity (in this case, flying to an overseas destination).  Projects supported by offsets may be dedicated to the development of biofuels, wind farms, and solar power projects; reforestation, which helps reduce CO2 concentration since plants build their biomass from atmospheric CO2; and methane gas collection (produced by landfills and farms, methane is less abundant in the atmosphere than C02, but it is a more potent greenhouse gas).  The carbon offset industry has grown rapidly in recent years, and the efficacy of some offset programs is under debate.  However, many offset providers have been carefully reviewed and sanctioned by well-known environmental groups.

Sustainable Travel International: Here you can calculate the amount of C02 that will be generated by your travel to your study abroad site and purchase offsets.

TerraPass: Here you will find another carbon calculator and carbon offsets for purchase at the website for Terra Pass, a highly respected CO2 offset program.

Casey Trees: If you would like to offset the CO2 produced by your travel abroad but prefer to donate time instead of money, we hope you will consider volunteering at Casey Trees, a local DC organization that plants trees in the area.  Their website includes schedules for community tree plantings and other volunteer opportunities.

Perhaps the Most Important Offset

Mirror image Your experiences overseas and your actions when you return to the U.S. may be the most important carbon offset of all.  If you make new discoveries about environmental sustainability while abroad and begin to challenge your local community to develop more ecologically sound practices after your return to the U.S., the environmental costs of your travel will become a valuable investment in our collective future.  We hope, therefore, that in addition to purchasing carbon offsets and volunteering your time, you will begin as soon as possible to consider how best to maximize your learning about environmental sustainability while studying overseas.  And when you return to Georgetown, we ask that you continue working with OGE and Eco Action, Georgetown's biggest and oldest student environmental organization, to promote sustainability issues on campus and in our community.

Additional Resources

A great deal of additional information and resources relating to global warming are available on the Internet (some of which should be viewed with skepticism).  Below are a few useful sites with more information:

New York Times: Global Warming (Overview)

National Geographic: 'What is Global Warming?'

National Geographic: Causes and Effects of Global Warming

Global Warming: Early Warning Signs: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

National Geographic Photo Gallery

Global Footprint Network

Mechanisms that influence climate change, Wikipedia

[1] The IPCC estimates an increase of between 2.7 and 8.1 degrees in the twenty-first century; studies by Australian researchers indicate the rise could be significantly higher and may reach 10.8 degrees. See "Global Warming Risk 'Much Higher,'" BBC news (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5006970.stm).