Bathtub in Climate Change

Today’s class of Global Issues and Institutions was about the science of climate change. The discussion was, well, very warm too when touching on global warming’s reality or myth. It started by each of us having read the Forth Assessment Report of IPCC called the Synthesis Report and also calculated our carbon footprint. (Calculate yours here or another here). Then when it came to the discussion some were concerned with the issue but some were skeptical about it.

Prof Ann Florini debriefed the class after the two hour and half discussion by making a bathtub analogy in understanding climate change. Nice analogy, I think. Bathtub is the earth we are living. It is filled with “water” i.e. the stock of greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as CO2, which now already reaches our necks. But then we keep on putting more flows of these GHGs into the bathtub.

Thanks God, the bathtub has its drain to outflow the water. The drain here means the sea and also the forests as the channels to absorb the GHGs. The more we can expand the sea and do reforestation, climate change could at least be slowed down. Such things are called ‘mitigation’, efforts to reduce global warming by reengineering the Mother Nature.

Another thing we can do is ‘adaptation’. It is effort to survive from the increasing threat of climate change. When students were asked “what you would do if some people would certainly be drowned in their countries because of the rising sea level?”, we unconsciously answered “building seawalls, migrating to other countries”.

That was normal and very humane. But that is the problem: we tend to see things human-centric-ly. Do those adaptations solve the real problem? Does climate change only about human beings? No. It turns out to be bigger than only about human beings. It is about the ecosystem in where we are living now. It is about the plantation, forests, paddy fields, and animals (from cows to mosquitos).

I had never paid attention to such things though. But I am considering about it now. Things like global virus, avian flu, and other diseases are results of how climate has changed the ecosystem. It is shaken: more extinction of the animals which are supposedly balancing the ecosystem chain due to the increasingly heated habitats, more proliferation of viral spread ‘taking advantage’ of the imbalanced ecosystem.

Seen from International Relations perspective, I guess constructivists still have a long way to convince the global community that climate change is so real and so closed to their lives. Prof Ann mentioned that the way IPCC laid out the explanation about the danger of climate change was so far from being easily understood by lay people. Sad but true.

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