With 4% of the world`s population, the United States

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With 4% of the world’s population, the United States produces 25% of the world’s
greenhouse gases. Average Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita in the U.S. is
currently 5 times more than the worldwide average and 13 times more than what can be
emitted without raising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. These emissions contribute to
global warming which is already taking a measurable toll on our plant.
The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the
warmest for several millennia. Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting.
Montona Glacier National Park, for example, now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in
1910. This mass meltdown has reduced the availability of fresh water for irrigation and
domestic use. Animals and plants, who rely on the glacier-melt, are finding their supply
has dwindled.
Rapid temperature changes have also affected the seasons. Feeding periods for young
birds and the availability of worms or insects for food have been altered. Polar bears in
the Hudson Bay area of Canada are losing weight and strength, as the ice now breaks up
2 weeks earlier in spring and robs them of 2 weeks’ hunting.
With more warm weather, conditions are becoming ideal for the spreading infectious
diseases such as Dengue Fever, Malaria, Cholera and Encephalitis – which could result in
the deaths of millions of people. Malnutrition could skyrocket due to climate stress on
agriculture.
Global warming has also heightened the likelihood of conflict. Longer and more
devastating droughts exacerbate the fight over the world’s water and increase border
tensions and human suffering. The current violence in Darfur began with onset of a
decade-long drought, which caused land and water conflicts between farmers and the
herders. One study estimates the number of refugees around the world will top a billion
by 2050 (one out of nine people!)
The world clearly cannot afford these negative impacts. The educational sector of the
society has a responsibility to assume several leadership roles to reverse or slow down
these trends. One role is to reduce our schools’ carbon footprint.
There are 250,000 buildings containing over 4 billion square feet of space in U.S.
campuses. Most were constructed in times of cheap energy, and contribute to 70-90% of
schools’ greenhouse gas emissions. (Remaining emissions are due to vehicle fleets,
refrigerants, fertilizers, etc.)
Studies indicate that over 30 percent of energy in these buildings is used inefficiently or
unnecessarily. To address the problems, UW campus conservation efforts over the past
four years have led to annual reduction of CO2 emissions by over 70,000 metric tons per
year. To remove an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, you
would need to add 110,000 grown trees, the same number as the City of Madison’s
current street trees!
The University’s tangible accomplishments are proof that we can reduce waste –
immediately, and with significant impact. As the effects of global warming are proving,
the time for this type of action is now.
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