By: Suranthi Fernando
Recently the citizens and residents of Singapore, as well as the Strait of Malacca in Malaysia, have been waking up to hazy skies. At first, some may have thought that their eyes were still affected by sleep, or that their glasses had gone foggy, but nope, the skies are no longer as crisp and blue as they were at the start of the year. The lower air quality doesn’t only affect visibility, but also poses the problem of triggering health issues such as asthma, and can even make breathing uncomfortable on days where the smog is particularly heavy.
You may be asking why there’s a haze that’s suddenly affecting two different countries. The answer is simple, yet also quite complex. Simply put, the haze is smoke from forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, being carried over to the neighboring countries by the wind. While smoke being blown around by the wind is inevitable, the seriousness of the situation is only identified by taking a closer look at the forest fires. Most of these fires are set deliberately to clear forests or farms to make way for new crops. However, as many of the areas that are being burnt are on peatland, the fire burns downwards through carbon that has accumulated over thousands of years instead of spreading outwards. This releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere along with the smoke, adding to the already rapidly out of control rate of climate change.
What is climate change?
While there are a few variations for what climate change is, it’s basically how various geographical regions are affected by short and long term changes in air, water, ocean and ground temperatures (not to be confused with global warming, which, yes, is essentially the same effects, but on a global scale as opposed to regional).
While some say that climate change is simply the weather getting colder or warmer by a few degrees C/F, a plethora of studies and research reports say otherwise, that is it much more complex than that. Let’s look at the individual components affected, and the potential chain of results that would follow.
Firstly, rising air temperatures would bring about heatwaves, which have immediate effects on living things ranging from humans to animals and even plants. Prolonged heat waves also lead to droughts, which in turn affect crops that feed people not just in Asia but even all over the world (rice for example). Changes in air temperatures also cause changes in wind patterns, which could lead to a rapid spread of airborne diseases.
The results of warmer oceans are already being talked about, with massive glaciers being reduced to small ice shelves, or even starting to disappear altogether. This not only causes rising sea levels but also causes shifts in oceanic underwater currents, thus throwing off entire underwater ecosystems. This chain of events would not only affect coastal communities by affecting fishing patterns, but also migration patterns of sea creatures. There would be species going extinct that we’ve never even discovered, and we would be none the wiser.
As permafrost (frozen ground) thaws, it releases heat-trapping gases that were frozen in the ground for thousands of years, such as carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere encouraging the rapid acceleration of climate change. Not only that, human infrastructure which has been built upon permafrost ground would require frequent reparations if the foundation is gradually destabilizing – which is also an additional huge cost to humans, climate change aside.
As temperatures rise in lakes, rivers, and streams, aquatic species are affected by disrupting their reproduction cycles. This would affect the continuation of the species, eventually resulting in the lack of life in these bodies of water.
Effect on Asian Countries
While all this can be applied to the entire world, let me bring your attention to Asian countries and how they would be affected by the graphic descriptions preceding this sentence. Asia’s ever-growing population, the large levels of pollution brought about by development as well as the frequency of natural disaster occurrences foretell a dark future for the region.
Right off the bat, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that a human breathes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. Now, take this information, multiply it by the 4.6 billion individuals in Asia (with 2.7 billion in just India and China combined!!) and you have an unimaginable amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. Now, I’m definitely not suggesting that we do a Thanos in order to reduce this – there are other areas we can look into which something can be done.
However, with such a massive person count, resources needed to live healthily are also needed in large amounts. For developed countries, resources are readily available, but in underdeveloped countries or even still-developing countries, the amount of readily available resources can be strained.
According to a forecast by The World Bank, more than half of South Asia will have a decreased standard of living due to the changes in temperature, which will inevitably affect agricultural production. Even if emissions can be reduced, 375 million people could still be affected in the next 30 years.
Droughts which lead to a lack of rainfall would cause a huge jump in the competition to acquire drinkable water, as well as water required to ensure proper growth of crops. Should either one fall short, people would be heavily affected, but the latter could affect even more than just the residents of that area. A major example being rice fields. To grow 1kg of rice, it takes just under 2500 liters of water. Now imagine a drought in countries such as India, Thailand, Vietnam or Pakistan, where almost 88% of the world’s rice is exported from. Crops would not grow well, leading to a decrease in rice exports to the entire world, which would affect the food consumption levels of countries, especially those in which rice is a staple food.
Likewise, rising sea levels would affect agricultural production and in a chain of events to follow, the lives of Asians would be impacted. The most significant impact would be caused by the inability to grow rice crops, as most of the low-lying deltas in which these fields of rice are located are under the risk of disappearing underwater.
Another result of climate change in countries that are heavily populated would be that over time, people become susceptible to diseases caused by temperature changes, be it immediate causes such as heatwaves, or less visible causes such as an increase in airborne disease or lower quality of food and water. Having more people would mean fewer resources to go around. This increase in demand for resources would cause a shoot in prices, and following this, the competition to afford such resources – the sad reality would be that while the richest 1% would live lavishly without a worry, only a small minority would be able to afford basic human necessities for health, while the vast majority would have to scrimp and save just to be able to save a small group within their numbers.
Historically, North America and Europe accounted for half the CO2 emitted since the Industrial Revolution, while China and India accounted for just 14%. However, as the world continues to develop, more and more underdeveloped countries are catching up in the rat race, India and China being frontrunners. However, this brings about a negative side, mainly being the level of pollution produced in order to do so. While developed countries have found ways to reduce air pollution (and are actively practicing such methods), developing countries aren’t quite able to act at the same level as fully developed countries. Combine that with the number of resources needed to grow as a heavily populated country, and that would most definitely contribute significantly to climate change, which, as mentioned multiple times within this article, causes a chain of negative events that eventually will become a vicious cycle.
Frequency of natural disasters
The gradual-to-rapid rise in temperature globally has caused an increase in the rate with which Himalayan glaciers are melting, which in turn pushes up the number of floods and landslides during monsoon season. The long term effect of the melted glaciers includes the disruption of flow as well as water levels of major Asian rivers, including the Yangtze and the Mekong.
Projected changes in temperature and precipitation caused by climate change are expected to also cause threats to the health and safety of individuals outside of food crops and fresh water availability. Let’s revisit the forest fires in Sumatra. Firefighters and civilians alike are put in danger as they try to bring the fire back under control. On the opposite end of the spectrum, countries or regions that usually see annual rains and/or snowfalls may end up with extreme weather, ending in heavy flooding and blizzards.
Differences in air and ocean temperatures would also spur stronger hurricanes and typhoons, heavily affecting coastal cities and even entire countries. A strong example of this would be Haiyan, which left more than 6,000 dead in the Philippines in November 2013.
While the full chaos that climate change and global warming is expected to bring upon us hasn’t exactly manifested in its full power yet, it is an inevitable future if everyone as a collective society and world doesn’t do their part to help in saving ourselves and future generations. As of right now, while there are certain measures and actions being taken throughout the world, the difference between what has been done and what should be done is still significant.
Suranthi I. Fernando recently graduated from university with an honors degree in International Trade and Psychology and is currently in the process of fulfilling her dreams of becoming a published author and digital marketing specialist. She enjoys reading and watching Korean dramas in her free time in an effort to become fluent in Korean.
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