▲ In 1987 a pathway was built along the Yongmeori Seaside above, but is now under restricted access as during high tide it is submerged in seawater. Photo by Brian Miller
It was not long ago that the term global warming was plastered all over the media. News reports, radio programs and full-length films were devoted to the subject, but then the term seemed to disappear and a new phenomenon began to emerge; climate change. Probably due to its lack of dramatics and impending world destruction, this phrase has so far failed to garner the same attention as its predecessor. Since global warming was coined scientists have conducted much research and according to Jeju National University Prof. Pang Ig Chan, climate change was adopted as a more accurate appellation.
“Initially people thought the earth would continue to become warmer so we called it global warming, but there are academics saying that this is the dawn of the earth’s next ice age, so it has changed to the more comprehensive term,” Pang said.
Climate change is defined by Kang Seung Chul, Deputy Director of the Climate Change Action Center as the gradual change of climate “due to both natural and human causes.”
This metamorphosis of the term and coinciding definition in no way denies that currently global temperatures are rising, Pang said. The new phrase was employed to reflect that very little is still known about the causes, the effects upon the world and how the climate is fluctuating.
What is known is that over the last hundred years the world average temperature has increased by .74°C, Kang said, continuing, “The phenomenon has been happening more drastically in the northern hemisphere where South Korea is located. Also, the last 20 years has been reported as the hottest [decades of] … the 20th century.”
The major controversy that surrounds climate change concerns the confusion over what is causing temperatures to rise. Both sides of the debate agree that wasteful consumption by humans and natural environmental activities are to blame, but which factor is doing the most harm?
Pang believes that the increase in temperature is “a small part of nature’s cycle,” and “the climate has never been stable since the last ice age. It has fluctuated up and down,” due to change in ocean circulation and continental drift. Kang, on the other side of the argument, cites human production of carbon dioxide to be at fault; “According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th report, at the current rate of consumption of fossil fuel, by the end of the 21st century, the average global temperature will increase by 6.4°C and the sea level [will rise] by 59 millimeters at the worst.”
Neither side can seem to agree on the effects of climate change either. “For animals and the ecosystem, climate change is good because during the pre-historic area when dinosaurs roamed, the average temperature was much higher and it was the most abundant and striving era for ecosystems,” Pang said.
Kang said, “It is believed that 20-30 percent of animal [and] plant species will face threats of extinction if the average temperature rises as little as 1.5-2.5°C. In addition, it is expected that the structural changes of the ecosystem will gravely endanger human survival.”
Whatever the cause the effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent. Over the last 80 years Jeju’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°C and over the last 40 years the sea level has increased by 23 centimeters, which is twice the global average. The reason for the accelerated increase is currently unknown, though Pang said there are several theories such as the rapid industrial development in Southeast Asia over a short period of time has created different temperatures of sea water which combine to create conflicting pressures that elevate sea levels.
One of the more dramatic and obvious indications of climate change that both Pang and Kang highlighted was Jeju Yongmeori Seaside in Seogwipo. A pathway built in 1987 is currently under restricted access due to being submerged in seawater during high tide.
To combat the increasing sea level and temperature, in 2007 the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province made an agreement with the Ministry of Environment to reduce the production of greenhouse gases by 10 percent from the level of 2005 by 2012. Kang’s Climate Change Action Center has implemented several carbon-neutral programs, as well as the green-start campaign and they hope to establish the Asia Climate Change Education Center on Jeju.
Even though Pang and Kang may not necessarily agree with the causes of climate change, they do believe that it is a problem. Pang said, “I think environmentalists and governments attempt to decrease carbon dioxide is very important … The best humans can do to survive is to delay these rapid changes.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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