[Viewpoint] You, too, can save the earth

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[Viewpoint] You, too, can save the earth

A change of 0.75 degree Celsius. This minute rise in temperature is shaking the entire planet. Humans hardly feel such a slight temperature change. However, the earth is far more sensitive. The possibility is high that even a slight temperature change such as this could be catastrophic.

Scientists generally agree that the average temperature of the earth has increased by about 0.75 degrees since the industrial revolution, while some scholars say it is closer to 1 degree. The change reflects the effects of global warming from the use of fossil fuels.

The tragedy of Darfur illustrates how menacing even the slightest of changes can be. Darfur is a region in western Sudan, in the South Saharan desert. It used to be a peaceful place where Arabic nomads pastured their cattle on the fields of African farmers. The tragedy began in the mid-1980s, when the region was hit by a drought. As water and arable land became scarce, people began to fight over them. Arabic herders attacked their farming neighbors, and the clashes developed into bloody violence that resulted in 400,000 deaths and two million refugees. Scholars estimate that the farmers over-farmed the land, depleting the soil of its fertility, and the herders had too many cattle, exhausting the pastures with overgrazing. Taken together, the two practices eventually led to the drought in Darfur.

However, there is quite a shocking new theory to add to this. The cloud of sulfate aerosol, produced when dirty coal is burned, hovering over the North Atlantic Ocean returned a certain amount of solar radiation to space, which had the effect of cooling the surface of the sea. As a result, the Intertropical Convergence Zone, the area near the equator where the winds from the northern and southern hemispheres converge, moved southward and deprived Darfur of rainfall, which led to a drought. In short, as Gabrielle Walker and David King argue in their book“The Hot Topic: What We Can Do About Global Warming,” the use of fossil fuel is responsible for the violence and tragedy in Darfur.

The theory that the greenhouse gases emitted from the burning of fossil fuels threatens the lives of those on earth is nothing new. While some are still skeptical about the effects of global warming, it is serious enough for leaders of 192 countries to gather in Copenhagen to discuss reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. At the UN Climate Change Conference, those leaders failed to come up with an
agreement on a specific reduction goal. Fortunately, they did agree to restrict temperature increases to below 2 degrees. To adhere to that, we need to practice a policy of “me first.” President Lee Myung-bak asserted in his keynote speech that there is no alternative to the earth, and there is no alternative for saving the earth.

All Nippon Airways recently launched an eco-travel campaign that encourages passengers to visit airport restrooms before they board in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While some laughed at the idea, a change in attitude will the first step toward saving the planet. The year 2009 was the year of the ox, and we ruminated over the wisdom of going a thousand miles at the pace of an ox. We need such wisdom to save and preserve the earth. When each of us unplugs appliances and electronic devices when they are not in use and replaces old lightbulbs with the new, energy-saving ones, these small actions will revive the earth. We can begin by acting first. Me first.

*The writer is a deputy business editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jong-yun
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