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Engineers' Angle | Climate change: how does it affect you?

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2019 | 12:00 AM
File An iceberg floats off the Australian Antarctic territory. Scientists argue that climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer will trigger further melting in the world’s polar regions.

Have you ever heard the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’? Have you ever wondered what these terms really mean and how they affect you?

In recent decades, these buzzwords have become very popular, and more so, recently with the flurry of media broadcasts on the Paris climate agreement, which is supposed to bring all nations to a common goal to combat climate change.

It might seem too ambitious to attempt to adequately discuss climate-change effects in such a short column on what could be the title of a book or the foundation of a PhD thesis. There have been many publications, too numerous to mention on this very topic. But nonetheless, an attempt is made here to simply whet your appetite and provide a basic overview on a topic of much scientific debate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides significant resources to promote better understanding of climate change and the expected effects and thus forms the basis for this discussion.

It was not long ago that climate change was typically mentioned as a concern for the future. But nowadays, when we speak of climate change, we are talking about the present. No longer will climate change affect everyone. Rather, it is affecting everyone. It is happening right before our very eyes. Climate change affects the entire world. It is not specific to any one country and to appropriately address it requires the cooperation of all countries and their citizens.

What is climate change and global warming?

It is important to understand that there is a difference between climate change and global warming. The planet’s climate is changing in response to global warming. Global warming is caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, which contains greenhouse gases, trapping too much of the sun’s heat. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect.

However, the addition of more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from activities such as the burning of fossil fuel straps more heat, causes the planet’s temperature to increase above the norm. Another greenhouse gas that has been reported to be far more effective at warming the Earth is methane. Methane can enter the atmosphere from many sources, both natural and manmade, such as the production and transport of natural gas and oil, the rearing of livestock and by the decay of organic waste.

As the Earth’s temperature increases, it provokes global weather changes. Hence, global warming causes the climate to change. The ways in which the climate is being, and will be, affected is the cause of much debate among scientists. But one thing is certain, the climate is changing, and we must do what we can to adapt to ensure our survival. I will merely attempt to highlight a few changes we have seen and are likely to experience in the not-too-distant future. You can just imagine the further impact of what is mentioned here.

First, global warming makes the Earth hotter. The result is that there are more hot days, more frequent heat waves, and fewer cold days. Additionally, as the atmosphere warms, the number and severity of hurricanes and accompanying rainfall increase. This results in shorter periods of more intense rainfall resulting in more floods followed by periods of drier droughts. The combination of increased heat and drought makes farming difficult, thus negatively impacting food security.

Furthermore, the sea level is rising, which is due mainly to thermal expansion and the addition of freshwater from the melting glaciers in a warmer atmosphere. As sea level rises, beaches disappear, and valuable land space is lost. Countries like Jamaica that depend on beaches for tourism are reasonably concerned. Therefore, governments must begin to make the necessary preparations to satisfactorily address and possibly find alternative sources of revenue. The financial well-being of any country should concern all, as it affects the entire nation.

So, what should you do? Find ways in which you can play your part to secure your family, considering the expected changes. Make smart decisions about where you live, since we expect heavier rainfalls and more frequent hurricanes. Ensure your own food security by growing what you eat and eating what you grow. We cannot allow ourselves to become unrealistically dependent on imported food products. We must manage our energy use, diversify our energy mix, and continue to increase the use of renewable energy sources.

We must work to secure our future in Jamaica.

- Kirkland Rowe is a senior lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Technology, Jamaica, a certified energy manager and a registered professional engineer. Email feedback to