Climate scientists have admitted that they know very little about hybrid storms such as Hurricane Sandy that has been wreaking havoc on the American coast line, with some speculating that global warming is to blame.
Although I would not go so far as to lay the blame squarely at the feet of global warming – you can’t narrow a weather event down to a single factor – there can be no doubt that the rising temperate in coastal waters contributed to the disaster.
There is more water vapour in the atmosphere, which leads to heavier rains and an increased risk of freshwater flooding.
In Hurricane Sandy’s case, global warming heated the water of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic ocean (which has been systematically rising), which indirectly caused a more ferocious storm.
According to James Hansen, a climate scientist, the amount of extra energy accumulating via the heating of the earth is the equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs each day.
Because the energy is distributed over the earth, it is barely perceptible by our bodies – it currently amounts to about 0.8 degrees Celsius.
But if we do hit the 2°C increase mark, the ice will melt, the oceans rise 45 feet and droughts, fires and large storms will continue to increase.
In short, continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, we are affecting our environment negatively. As environmental campaigner Al Gore put it, “Dirty energy makes dirty weather.”
It’s important to note that Africa will be the worst affected by the effects of global warming in the future.
South Africa, at present, produces around 1.5% of global CO2 emissions – we rank 14th on the global list for most emissions.
Our per capita emissions of just under 9 tonnes per person are the highest in the developing world and our principal power supplier, Eskom, is currently building what will be two of the largest coal fired power stations in the world.
If we hope to honour our commitment to reduce our emissions by 34% against a business as usual curve by 2020, we have to start taking action.
Businesses, in particular, should start paying attention to their emissions, as these will become increasingly regulated.
There are a few important steps to take:
• Measure your emissions
A baseline measurement shows you exactly what you should be reducing from.
This does not have to be expensive – online tools such as thecarbonreport.com will allow you to calculate your emissions cost effectively.
• Determine the reduction opportunities
The simplest opportunity for emission reductions are switching off appliances and lights one doesn’t use. Computers can be a huge source of wasted electricity. Make sure that staff disable screensavers and shut down their PCs at night.
If IT does security patching overnight, invest in remote wake-on LAN technology that will power PCs up and down as required.
• Tread lightly
Make a commitment to reducing indirect emissions by recycling paper, or using video-conferencing rather than travelling. Dispose of e-waste, such as old monitors, responsibly and have strict policies in place regarding electricity use at work.
Hurricane Sandy has once again drawn our focus towards the effect we have on the planet. We cannot, economically or otherwise, afford superstorms becoming the norm.
We have to start taking responsibility for our environment today to avoid potential disasters tomorrow.
Teresa has a background in geographic business applications and has over 15 years’ experience in data analysis. She has been trained by the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute in the USA and has a wealth of knowledge in this area.
Teresa, together with ex-IBM consultant Tim James, created the Carbon Report, South Africa’s first online greenhouse gas measurement and reporting solution.