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Global Warming & Development

by
Shishir Kant Jain

The people all over the world are worried about the harmful
effects of global warming which may assume a catastrophe in
the near future. The melting of arctic sea ice and shrinkage of
glaciers on the Himalayas are alarming signals. The arctic sea
ice and the glaciers are considered to be the natural thermostat
that controls the temperature of the earth from rising. Many
scientists believe that if the earth surface temperature were
allowed to increase by 3 degree C there would be one-meter
rise in the sea level. If this happens it is not difficult to visualize
that it would result in disappearance of hundreds of sea island
nations and flooding of world large seaports, affecting millions
of people. Moreover, the global warming would affect the
climate adversely. The weather would become erratic and
events like cyclones, storms, droughts etc would be more
frequent in the coming years. The agriculture would suffer and
yields would be poor resulting in great misery and suffering of
the people and animals.

Green House Effect & Global Warming:

The atmosphere is a layer of gases surrounding the planet


earth that is retained by its gravity. The atmosphere protects life
on earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the
surface through heat retention (greenhouse effect), and
reducing temperature extremes between day and night. Dry air
contains roughly (by volume) 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen,
0.93% argon, 0.038% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of
other gases. Air also contains a variable amount of water vapor
which is on average around 1%. The global warming is
attributed to the growing concentration of the green house
gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. GHG are gases like carbon
dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydro fluorocarbons, per
fluorocarbons and sulphurhexafluoride. Out of these gases
carbon dioxide and methane is the main contributor to global
warming. Water vapours and clouds also have a very high
percentage of green house effect. However the green house
effect of the clouds is mitigated by the changes in earth’s
albedo. According to NASA the overall effect of all clouds
together is that the earth surface is cooler than it would be if the
atmosphere has no clouds. Water vapours can change its
phase to liquid or solid. There is cooling as water evaporates
and kinetic energy is released when it condenses. For example,
the release of latent heat by formation of rain drives
atmospheric circulation, clouds vary albedo levels and oceans
provide evaporative cooling that modulates the green house
effect down from estimated 670C surface temperature.

Greenhouse effect is a warming of the lower atmosphere and


surface of a planet by a complex process involving sunlight,
gases, and particles in the atmosphere. This effect is enhanced
with the upcoming of modern industry in mid-1800. The
greenhouse effect is so named because the atmosphere acts
much like the glass roof and walls of a greenhouse, trapping
heat from the sun.
It is believed that the atmosphere reflects toward space about
30% of the energy of incoming sunlight. The atmosphere
absorbs about another 30% and the remaining nearly 40%
reaches the earth’s surface. The earth’s surface reflects back
towards space about 15% of the solar energy it receives. The
remaining energy heats the lands and seas. The warmed lands
and seas then send most of the heat back into the atmosphere,
chiefly as infrared rays and in evaporated water. When the rays
from the land and sea strike certain substances in the
atmosphere, such as greenhouse gases and particles, those
substances absorb the rays. As a result, the gases and particles
are heated. They then are cooled by sending out infrared rays
of their own. Some of the rays go into space. The remainder
radiate back toward the earth’s surface, adding to the warming
of the surface layer of air. Without the natural greenhouse
effect, the average temperature of the earth’s surface would be
about 330C colder than it is now.

The greenhouse effects that are caused by human activities are


known as the anthropogenic greenhouse effect. This is
contributed mostly by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide
levels. Carbon dioxide is produced by fossil fuel burning and
other activities such as cement production and tropical
deforestation. Carbon dioxide concentration has increased from
about 313 ppm in 1960 to about 383 ppm in 2009. Since the
beginning of the industrial revolution, the concentrations of most
of the greenhouse gases have increased. For example, the
concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by about 36% to
380 ppm, which is 100 ppm over modern pre-industrial levels.
The first 50 ppm increase took place in about 200 years, from
the start of the industrial revolution to around 1973; however the
next 50 ppm increase took place in about 33 years, from 1973
to 2006. The elevated carbon dioxide levels contribute to
additional warming.

The nature has provided a balance of concentration of oxygen


and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Human and animals
breathe oxygen and release carbon dioxide while plants use
carbon dioxide in the presence of sunlight and release oxygen.
As long as this balance is maintained, there is no problem.
However, when the fossil fuels like coal and petroleum products
are burnt, carbon dioxide is released. Since emission of carbon
dioxide by burning the fuel is immediate and its absorption by
plants is a slow process, the equilibrium in the nature is
disturbed and the concentration of carbon dioxide is increasing
in the atmosphere day by day. The demand of the fuel is
increasing to an alarming proportion and there are not enough
plants and vegetation to take care of the released carbon
dioxide. Moreover, the enormous quantity of carbon dioxide is
also produced by burning of agricultural waste, wood, twigs,
leaves, paper, cotton and other organic compounds. Both
carbon dioxide and methane are emitted from municipal solid
waste dumped in the landfills, municipal sewage, rice paddies,
animal and human excreta on the open land etc. Since cattle
and sheep form a very large population in the world, they
contribute significantly to GHG emission. The carbon dioxide is
emitted from industries, transports, cooking and powerhouses
etc. The emission of carbon dioxide is in a way index of
development or standard of living. A larger per capita emission
of carbon dioxide indicates a higher standard of living. It also
indicates that developed countries are more responsible for the
air pollution and global warming. A handful of 30 rich countries
accounts for nearly half the global emission. Just to give an
idea, the per capita emission in tons per year, for the year 2004,
for USA and India are 20.6 and 1.2 respectively.

Besides the solar energy a significant amount of heat energy is


generated by human activities in every day life round the clock.
It is produced by burning of fuel in powerhouses, transports,
industries, cooking etc. It is also produced in accidental fires,
forest fires, fire in oil depot, lightening of fire works, explosives,
rockets, running of motors and compressors, house hold
electrical and electronic gadgets, electrical bulbs, candle light
etc. Even the tip of lighted cigarette is about 550C. The heat is
produced by mechanical friction e.g.; the car tyres get heated
up when it runs on the road or the railway track when a train
runs on it. In fact it is difficult to count the events by which heat
is produced. They all contribute to the rise of temperature of the
earth. It has significantly larger effect locally. Therefore there is
always extra heat in the atmosphere and on the earth that has
no time to cool off immediately and in the meanwhile it affects
the life of people around the source of heat energy. The carbon
emission and the amount of heat generated by the human
activities is directly proportional to the population of a country
and their standard of living. Therefore the retention of heat
energy will increase with these factors. It is desired by all the
nations to improve the standard of living of their people and in
order to achieve cooling, the growth of population should be
stopped or reversed specially in the highly populated countries.
This is one of the ways of reducing GHG.

Carbon dioxide is the most abundant GHG in the atmosphere


and is used as a basis to describe GHG emissions. Its effect on
health of living beings and plants are more significant and
require a more thorough study.

In order to reduce the global warming India endeavours to


reduce its carbon emission intensity by 20-25%, USA has
committed 17% reduction and China has committed 40-45%
reduction by the year 2020 from the level of 2005. The EU has
offered to reduce its emission by 20% by 2020 from 1990 level.
Carbon intensity or emission intensity is the carbon emission of
a country per unit of its GDP. In mathematical terms, the carbon
intensity is the total carbon dioxide emission in a year, divided
by the country’s GDP in US dollars. It is generally measured in
tonnes of carbon dioxide emission per 1000 US dollars.
In the developing countries like India which are low in carbon
intensity at present would require a huge amount of energy in
the future for the development and for providing basic amenities
to the people e.g., electricity. In India about 400 million people
are still without electricity and around 150 million people burn
twigs and leaves for cooking. India has to devise methods to
reduce the emission without affecting the rapid development
plans.

Green Electricity & the Waste Management:

Green electricity is defined as power produced from renewable


sources. Renewable sources include wind, solar, hydro and
waste. All these sources should be fully exploited. Particularly
the municipal waste and other forms of waste require more
attention as they have been neglected so far.
Landfills have been a standard practice for disposing of the
municipal waste. The collection, transport and disposal of waste
are not a waste management but a waste mismanagement.
Besides wasting a vast piece of valuable open land, the
contaminants in the waste leach into the ground water, the
gases like methane and carbon dioxide emitted by degradation
of waste cause environmental damage. The foul smell,
emanating from the waste, spreads all around to far off places
in all directions spoiling the atmosphere of the surrounding
areas. Moreover it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and
pathogenic bacteria, which are hazardous to the health of the
people.

The waste should be regarded as a valuable source of energy,


a fact that is often ignored. If the energy is not recovered and
the waste is allowed to degrade on the open land it would emit
GHG like carbon dioxide and methane any way adding to the
carbon intensity. On the other hand if it were utilised to produce
electricity, it would save equivalent amount of fossil fuel, save a
large sum of foreign exchange and would not contribute to an
additional green house effect.

The waste is a permanent source and is generated in the higher


amount in an affluent society. The waste varies from 1 to 3 kg
per person per day depending upon a country. Therefore India
with a population of roughly one billion generates about one
billion kg (or A million tons) of waste per day on a conservative
estimate. The waste in most communities can provide up to 1/3
of their total power requirement.

Various technologies and equipments are available for


generation of electricity with varying efficiency, economy, costs
and environmental impacts. The selection of technology is very
important. The author has an access to one of the best
technologies available.

The sewage can be treated biologically in an anaerobic digester


and can be converted into biogas. This could either be used as
a fuel in cooking or be converted into electricity. This again
would not have any additional green house effect.

Utilisation of Waste from Forest:

A huge quantity of leaves, flowers, pine needles and other plant


material are shed from trees in a forest all the year round and
particularly during the autumn season. If these are allowed to
remain on the ground, they degrade to produce mostly carbon
dioxide and methane. This biomass is a valuable source of
energy. They should be collected and either briquette or
converted into biogas by anaerobic digestion. This could
generate a large employment opportunity to local people; give
them a cheaper fuel and electricity. The forests could also be
cleaned and saved from fires.

Sea Weeds

A very large quantity of weeds is present in the sea and wasted


when they are destroyed in strong under current. Apart from
their usage as food and in the manufacture of chemicals like
agar-agar, sodium alginate etc, they could be used for
generation of biogas and electricity. Similarly biogas could be
generated from weeds present in rivers, ponds etc. The rivers
and ponds could also be cleared of weeds this way.

Bicycles

India requires bicycle friendly roads. A large number of people


desire to use bicycle for the daily activities such as shopping
and going to office. Even if 20% of population starts using
bicycles, it would save millions of litres petrol per day. It will
ease the pressure of motor vehicles on the roads and in the
parking lots. It will reduce sizable amount of carbon emission.
Some 54% of Dutch use bike for the daily activities and a
person pedals on an average 866km per year. It is also a good
exercise and burns around 550calories per hour.

Rise in sea level & yields of crops


There are conflicting views regarding rise in sea level, adverse
affects of higher concentration of carbon dioxide and melting of
glaciers. The recent estimates of an international commission
on sea level changes put the figure at somewhere between a
rise of about 20cm and a fall of about 10cm. Moreover in the
allegedly threatened Maldives the level has actually fallen.
According to one report the rise of sea level is undulating in
nature. It would come and go in a particular coast and
phenomenon would not be uniform across all the seas. With
regard to increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere some
scientists believe and seem to be logical that this may result in
the increased yields of the crops like wheat, rice and clover etc.
Carbon dioxide is a heavier gas and its concentration is more
near the earth due to gravitation. With the increase in the
concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere its
concentration near the earth will be higher. This would result in
higher yields of crops. However it might affect human beings
and animals adversely. The global vegetation density seems to
be benefiting as the net gain in growth across the whole planet,
since the early 1980s, has been observed. Even the tropical
forests and the Amazon are reported to be growing more
luxuriantly.

However, the perceptible changes with regards to melting of


arctic sea ice and adverse climate changes towards warmer
side cannot be ignored. According to a report, during the past
century the global temperature has increased at the rate of
0.050C per decade and this trend has accelerated to 0.160C
per decade in the past 30 years. The last 10 years are recorded
to be the warmest years. According to 2007 report of IPCC
(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) there is a
consensus of the world leaders to cap the future temperature
rise to 20C above 1990 level.
Nature’s Gift of Cooling the Planet:

The nature has provided us a wonderful gift of cooling the


planet by way of evaporation of water. When water
evaporates, it takes away latent heat of evaporation from
surrounding, thereby cooling it. This happens irrespective of
green house gases that are present in the atmosphere. This is
the principle of desert coolers that are widely used in India in
the summer. Water evaporates all the time at all temperatures
from sea, rivers, ponds and other sources of water and
contribute to cooling in a big way. This requires no extra energy
as in a refrigerator. The surface moisture of ground is another
big factor that contributes to the cooling of earth. The surface
area of earth is very large. The larger is the wet surface the
larger is the cooling. With rapid urbanization of large area of
land the open green covered land is disappearing. The tarred
roads and concrete houses and buildings have no moisture in
them. Therefore the advantage of natural cooling by
evaporation can’t be achieved. Due to the poor town planning
there is no provision of large open grounds at regular intervals
and practically any water fountains. In 1940s Delhi roads were
sprayed with water, by tankers in the summer. The roofs of the
houses used to be cooled by spraying water on them. Now
there is a shortage of water. Groundwater makes up about
twenty percent of the world's fresh water supply, which is about
0.61% of the entire world's water, including oceans and polar
sea ice. Global groundwater storage is roughly equal to the total
amount of freshwater stored in the snow and ice pack, including
the north and south poles. This makes it an important resource
which can act as a natural storage that can buffer against
shortages of surface water as in during times of drought.
Groundwater is a highly useful and often abundant resource.
However, over-use, or overdraft, can cause major problems to
human users and to the environment. The most evident problem
is a lowering of the water table beyond the reach of existing
wells. Wells must consequently be deepened to reach the
groundwater; in some places e.g., California, Texas and India
the water table has dropped hundreds of feet because of
excessive well pumping. In the Punjab region of India, for
example, groundwater levels have dropped 10 meters since
1979, and the rate of depletion is accelerating. A lowered water
table may, in turn, cause other problems such as subsidence
and saltwater intrusion. Groundwater feeds soil moisture
through percolation, and many terrestrial vegetation
communities depend directly on either groundwater or the
percolated soil moisture above the aquifer for at least part of
each year. Due to the substantial lowering of ground water table
the natural surface moisture is fast disappearing from the
ground. The surface moisture could provide continuous cooling
in the natural way as it is replenished by ground water through
percolation. This way cooling could take place on a very large
area of the earth. A proper attention has not been paid to the
water management. Except in a few states rain harvesting is
hardly carried out. The rivers are becoming stagnating drains.
The rivers are being polluted by municipal solid waste,
untreated sewage, industrial and household waste. The water is
full of excreta and pathogenic bacteria to alarming high level.
The water is neither fit for drinking nor for bathing. It is an irony
that millions of people take holy dip in these rivers to purify
themselves. A proper water management to clean the rivers and
to replenish the ground water is urgently required.

The total quantity of water remains practically the same on the


earth. It keeps changing the forms like liquid, solid or vapours.
This is again a gift of the nature that enables to purify the
polluted water in the form of rains and snow on such a large
scale, which is humanly impossible. It is unfortunate that we are
not able to store them properly to our advantage. If ground
water from all over the earth is replenished by rain harvesting or
other means it will cool the earth in two ways, first it will provide
ground moisture continuously as it evaporates and secondly it
will absorb a significant amount of heat from earth. This ground
water storage has another big advantage that it will help to
maintain the sea level, which is of the greatest concern to day. It
is imperative that this water can be used if drought condition
exists in a particular season. It will also help to increase the
vegetation on the earth and reduce the desert area.

Research Work Desired:

In order to reduce water consumption and to reduce water


pollution it is desirable that certain research projects are
undertaken urgently by the national or private research
laboratories. One such project is to find substitutes of soap and
detergent. Millions of tons of these products go down the drain
daily polluting rivers and the sea. The detergents contain a
small percentage of active ingredients and rest are inorganic
salts, which don’t take part in cleaning. In order to reduce water
pollution more effective and environment friendly products are
needed which can be used in smaller quantities.

Regarding economical use of water, a novel technique is


desired that could reduce the consumption of water per kg of
clothes. Leeds University, UK, have developed a new
technology that saves water up to 90% used by the
conventional machines and saves power up to 30%. The
washing machine works by replacing most of the water by
thousands of tiny reusable nylon polymer beads. The machine
is yet to be commercialised. Such type of research work could
lead to saving of a large quantity of water.

Summary:

The people all over the world are worried about the global
warming, which may assume a catastrophe in the near future.
The global warming is attributed to the growing concentration of
mainly carbon dioxide and methane gases in the atmosphere. A
global effort and particularly from the advanced countries is
required to reduce the carbon intensity. The developing
countries like India require a huge amount of energy in the
future for development and consequently the emission of
carbon dioxide would also increase. In order to overcome this
problem the green electricity should be generated from the
waste biomass that is available daily in millions of tons as
municipal solid waste, sewage, shed leaves from trees and
particularly from forests, weeds from sea and rivers etc. The
waste if not converted into energy and allowed to degrade
would emit carbon dioxide and methane any way contributing to
the carbon intensity in a big way. On the other hand if that is
used as a source of energy there is no additional carbon
intensity. The technology for generation of electricity and biogas
is available. The selection of technology is very important. This
will generate new employment opportunities and save a
substantial amount of foreign exchange.

The emission of GHG is directly proportional to the population of


a country. In order to reduce carbon intensity the growth of
population should be stopped or reversed. All renewable
sources including solar energy should be fully exploited. India
should provide bicycle friendly roads in order to save petrol.
The earth receives solar energy daily and gets heated up. It
cools down by reflecting back or radiating the infra red rays to
space. The earth also cools down by evaporation of water from
all sources of water like sea, rivers etc. The cooling also takes
place by evaporation of surface moisture from earth. Due to
excessive pumping of ground water around the world the
surface moisture has dried up. This is affecting cooling of the
earth. There is an urgent need to replenish the underground
water by rain harvesting or other means. It will not only help to
cool the earth but also can be utilised at the time of drought.

A large quantity of water is used up in washing clothes.


Research work is required to develop a new system of washing
that could reduce water consumption. Leeds University claims
to have developed such a machine in which consumption is
reduced by 90%. Research work is also required to develop a
new type of detergents and soaps that can be used in smaller
quantities and are environment friendly.

Mr. Shishir K. Jain is M.Tech. (Synthetic Drugs & Fine Chem.),


IIT, Kharagpur; Ph.D. (Chem.), Dept. of Chem. Tech., Mumbai
Univ. (1966). He performed his post doctoral research work at
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio for Prof M.S. Newman
(1966-67) and Prof M.L. Wolfrom (1967-69). He was
responsible for setting up a bio-gas plant on commercial scale,
based on the distillery waste, for the first time in India at
Pungaon. He retired as Chief Executive (Tech.) of Cellulose
Products of India Ltd, Ahmedabad. He worked on the electoral
reform and municipal solid waste management at Centre for
Civil Society, New Delhi (2003).