Things are Heating Up

    My first recollection of learning about the plight of the environment was when I was exposed to two environmental buzzwords of the eighties: the "greenhouse effect" and the "ozone layer." For a couple of years it seemed that news of global warming was everywhere, and that everyone was doing their part to halt the warming trend of the earth. Eventually, as if it were a fad, global warming took the backseat to seemingly more pressing environmental problems, such as oil spills. Unfortunately, the dilemma of global warming has not gone awayÖin fact, the warming trend has only continued. Many believe that of all the environmental problems the earth faces, global warming will ultimately have the biggest impact. And in Belize, the coral reef will suffer the greatest. What is global warming?

    Simply put, global warming is the gradual increase in the earth's temperature due to the presence of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane. When the sun provides energy that drives the weather and climate of the earth, it also heats the earth's surface. In turn, the earth radiates heat back into space, where atmospheric gasses are found. These gasses are able to trap heat, much like the glass panels of a greenhouse. Whenever fossil fuels (gasoline, oil, coal or natural gas) are burned, more carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere. Moreover, forest destruction and agriculture also release greenhouse gasses. In moderation, the presence of these gasses is a good thing if they were absent, the temperature of the earth would be near freezing. However, when there is an excess of these gasses, the ozone layer of the atmosphere opens up and more heat is allowed in, leading to an increase in the temperature of the earth. Consequently, this change affects many factors of the environment. How does global warming affect the reef?

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
    Because they are extremely sensitive to water temperature, coral reefs are an easy target for global warming. It's not fully understood why, but when water temperature rises above a coral's normal range, the polyp expels the zooanthellae and the coral dies. The increased temperature of the summer of 1998 proved to be particularly damaging to the Belize coral reef, causing high incidences of mortality and bleaching. The good news is that bleached coral can recover with a gradual accumulation of zooanthellae, usually taking six months. However, if the water temperature continues to rise, as predicted, the coral may not have the chance to fully recover. What's the forecast?

    According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the ten warmest years in this century have all occurred in the last fifteen years. Of these, 1998 was the warmest year on record. If emissions of the aforementioned heat-trapping gases are not reduced, it is predicted that global temperature could rise 2 to 6¹F in the next 100 years. Just a few degrees difference in the global average temperature can mean a significant climate change. What's being done?

    In comparison to the emissions that result from industry in the U.S., Belize is not a major contributor to global warming. Unfortunately, this environmental problem affects all countries, even those not responsible for the problem. Fortunately, work is being done to attack this problem from a global standpoint. On September 15, 1999 the United Nations Environment Programme, consisting of U.N. agencies, 850 individuals and 30 environmental institutes, launched Global Environment 2000, an assessment of the environmental crisis facing humanity in the new millennium, such as global warming. In addition to recommendations for immediate action, the key finding from GEO 2000 was that: "The continued poverty of the majority of the planet's inhabitants and excessive consumption by the minority are the two major causes of environmental degradation. The present course is unsustainable and postponing action is no longer an option."

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