The issue of global warming has taken center stage in political discourse over the last few years. Along with economic issues such as the growing disparity between the rich and the poor of the world and international military conflicts, the issue of global warming is one of the most important issues at present. This makes it imperative that anthropologists and other social scientists, at both the theoretical and the applied levels, “give serious consideration to the impact of global warming because it has and will continue to impact upon peoples who we historically have studied, be it the Inuit of the Arctic, cattle pastoralists in East Africa, horticultural villagers in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, Andean peasants, Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, and peoples who we have been more recently studying, such as urbanites in both the developed and developing worlds” (Hans Baer, 2008). While the concern regarding global warming is a legitimate one, there is no consensus as to the extent of its threat to our planet and the life forms that inhabit it. While a majority of the community of scientists is of the view that global warming, if not checked immediately, will tip the delicate balance of global ecology and lead to natural disasters of unprecedented scale. This view is opposed by a few scientists, who argue that the phenomenon of global warming is as old as recorded history and that it is an integral part of the cyclical climatic patterns witnessed in the planet. This essay will present these two opposing viewpoints and finally arrive at a synthesis that captures the reality of the situation.
Thesis: Global warming poses a serious threat to the survival of ecosystems and life-forms that inhabits them.
Over the course of the last century, global average surface temperatures rose 0.6-0.7°C. This trend culminated in the year 2005, which was one of the hottest years recorded in the last hundred years. Scientific data also point out that “40 per cent of the Arctic icecap has retreated during the past several decades; and glaciers around the world have been rapidly retreating” (Hans Baer, 2008). This view is seconded by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well, which comprises of about 2,500 climate scientists drawn from across the world. The panel estimated that in the coming hundred years, the average global temperature will rise by about 3°C, extrapolating at the present rate of greenhouse gas emissions. This is a huge increase in the global temperature which will have devastating consequences on the survival of all species of life, including our own. Already, in the last few decades, global warming
“appears to be the primary impetus behind the spread of infectious-borne diseases in environments north and south of the equator and heat waves that threaten the lives and health of vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and the sick. Global Warming has also been implicated in the resurgence of a number of epidemics, including malaria in various parts of the world, cholera in Latin America in 1991, pneumonic plague in India in 1994, and hantavirus epidemic in the Southwest of the United States, also in 1994. Air pollution linked to longer, warmer summers particularly affects those suffering from respiratory problems, such as asthma. … ‘tropical’ diseases (e.g. malaria and dengue fever) that spreads to new places and peoples because of global warming, as well as the detrimental health effects of failing food security due to desertification of pastoral areas and flooding of agricultural lands.” (Hans Baer, 2008)
Anti-thesis: Global Warming is a naturally occurring ecological phenomenon and there is nothing alarming about it.
A select but vocal section of the scientific community is of the view that global warming is part of a natural pattern of warming and cooling that has taken place ever since the formation of the planet. They point out that planet has seen a steady warming since the mid-1800s, but before that it cooled for more than five centuries. Such cyclical periods of cooling following by periods of warming have been part of our planet’s natural climatic history going back millions of years. While these scientists agree that fossil fuel usage by human beings have majorly contributed to global warming, they do not believe that this should lead to catastrophe for our species (Uzawa, 2003). They claim that there is no hard scientific evidence to support the view that global warming has led to an impending catastrophe. They also believe that the media has indulged itself in sensationalism over scientific reality and have played up the threat posed by global warming. According to Jack M. Hollander,