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Acknowledgements

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Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following:

Figures

Figur
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1 A climate change icon

The polar bear has become an international climate change icon. But how much is known about this bear, its habitat and life? This unit will talk about the role of language, but by way of introduction how about the name of this bear? To me it is the polar bear; to a German it is an Eisbär (ice bear) and to a French person it is an ours blanc (white bear). In these three examples the bear is referred to as polar, white, or an ice bear – eminently sensible. The Latin name for th
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Introduction

The scientific theory of plate tectonics suggests that at least some of these Arctic lands were once tropical. Since then the continents have moved and ice has changed the landscape. This unit will concentrate on evidence from the last 800,000 years using information collected from ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, and will use this evidence to discuss current and possible future climate. The cores show that there have been nine periods in the recent past when large areas of the Earth
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6.4 The role of governments and business

Despite all the possibilities for individual and group action to lighten carbon footprints, there will still be people, groups and organisations who will not be doing much. Many individuals limit themselves to ‘every little bit helps’, with relatively minor effects on their carbon footprint, like reusing plastic bags or recycling paper. This avoids having to consider more significant changes in car and air travel, home energy use, diet or shopping. Others will simply carry on producing an
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6.1 ‘I’, ‘we’ or ‘they’?

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action.

(Al Gore, 2007)

There are some things that we can do as individuals: making this an energy-efficient house and making smart transport choices. Then there a
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5.3 Moving towards a sustainable carbon footprint

So far, you've been considering reductions in average individual or household carbon footprints by 20% to 30% or more.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that this will not be enough. As I mentioned in Section 4, developed countries, like Britain, Germany and America, will have to reduce their CO2e emissions by 60% to 80% or more by 2050 to prevent climate change running out of control, while at the same time allowing the growing populations of Africa, India and China to r
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2.2.1 Long-term rhythms in the climate

The instrumental record referred to above is based on direct temperature measurements (using thermometers), and extends back only 150 years or so. Temperatures further back in time are reconstructed from a variety of proxy data. These include historical documents, together with natural archives of climate-sensitive phenomena, such as the growth or retreat of glaciers, tree rings, corals, sediments and ice cores (see Author(s): The Open University

2.2 Records of the Earth's temperature

To put the temperature records reported by the IPCC in context, we start with a longer-term geological perspective on the Earth's GMST.


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2.1 Preamble

Here are some quotes from the ‘Summary for Policymakers’ (SPM) included in the report from the scientific working group in the IPCC TAR (IPCC, 2001a):

  • The Earth's climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era, with some of these changes attributable to human activities.

  • Globally, it is very likely that the 1990s was the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the instru
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1.7 Summary

  1. Figure 12 summarises the ways in which the Earth's surface and atmosphere gain and lose energy. The main points are as follows:

     

    • A proportion (the planetary albedo) of the incoming shortwave radiation from the Sun is reflected (or scattered) directly back to space, mainly by clouds and the Earth's surface (especially snow and ice cover), but also by aerosols (e.g. dust, salt particles, etc.). Most of the re
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1.5 ‘Radiative forcing’ as an agent of climate change

Since its first major report in 1990, the IPCC has used the concept of ‘radiative forcing’ as a simple measure of the importance of a potential climate change mechanism. The basic idea is straightforward. Any factor that disturbs the radiation balance at the top of the atmosphere has the potential to ‘force’ the global climate to change: it will either warm up or cool down until a balance is restored. The perturbation to the energy balance of the whole Earth-atmosphere system i
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1.1 Introduction

At the beginning of the 21st century, terms such as the ‘greenhouse effect’, ‘greenhouse gases’ and ‘greenhouse warming’ are printed or spoken thousands of times a week in the context of climate change caused by human activities. This section is designed to consolidate your understanding of the basic science behind these terms, and then to review what is known about the human impact on the composition of the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age, commonly put (in this co
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2.3 Citizens in conversation with nature and experts

Before leaving office in 2008, Sir David King (the ex-Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government) introduced an ethical code for scientists. This drew particularly on his experience in working across the scientific–political divide on issues of climate change. The code comprises three attributes of scientific endeavour: rigour, representation and responsibility (Author(s): The Open University

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • understand why systems thinking might be useful and know something about how it can be applied in the context of environmental responsibility;

  • describe the significance of environmental pragmatism and cognitive justice as tools for supporting environmental policy and action.


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1.3.8 Summary of section

  • During the 1970s and 1980s, countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan benefited from their low-cost advantages in the new global division of labour. Now, however, the gap between rich and poor nations is wider and competition in the world economy greater, prompting campaigning groups to argue that contemporary low-wage economies do not have the options for economic development that their predecessors had.

  • In the face of market fragment
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1.3.4 Bringing remote sweatshops within reach continued

Another claim made by the movement is that we are all in some way connected to a market system which effectively allows sweatshops to exist in the first place. This is about more than targeting the big brand names and linking them directly to exploitation abroad; rather, it is about piecing together the global market machinery that ties the corporate buyer, the boardroom executive, the factory owner and the consumer into a system which establishes particular lines of responsibility (Ha
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1.2.8 In praise of cheap offshore labour? continued

There are two points which are central to this line of thinking. One, according to Wolf (2004), is that the whole process, as odd as it may sound, is about mutual exploitation. Outside firms do indeed exploit the poor by taking advantage of the profitable opportunities that a pool of cheap labour represents. But Indonesian or Chinese workers, for instance, could be said to exploit the incoming firms by extracting higher pay from them and taking advantage of opportunities that previousl
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6.3 (b) Switching to renewable energy sources

The use of renewable energy usually involves environmental impacts of some kind, but these are normally lower than those of fossil or nuclear sources.

Approaches (a) and (b) are essentially ‘supply-side’ measures – applied at the supply end of the long chain that leads from primary energy production to useful energy consumption.


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6.2 (a) ‘Cleaning-up’ fossil and nuclear technologies

This means mitigating some of the adverse ‘environmental’ consequences of fossil and nuclear fuel use through the introduction of new, ‘clean’ technologies that should substantially reduce pollution emissions and health hazards. These include ‘supply-side’ measures to improve the efficiency with which fossil fuels are converted into electricity in power stations; cleaner and more efficient combustion methods; the increasing use of ‘waste’ heat in combined heat-and-power scheme
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4.5 Sustainability of renewable energy sources

Renewable energy sources are generally sustainable in the sense that they cannot ‘run out’ – although, as noted above, both biomass and geothermal energy need wise management if they are to be used sustainably. For all of the other renewables, almost any realistic rate of exploitation by humans would be unlikely to approach their rate of replenishment by nature, though of course the use of all renewables is subject to various practical constraints.

Renewable energies are also rela
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