Take action to save the planet
As the Earth's temperature continues to soar, people are paying a heavy price for their governments' short-sighted policies, writes Elaine Yau
The recent arrival of a baby polar bear in a Berlin zoo captured the attention of people around the world.
While the furry cub has won the hearts and minds of animal-lovers, it has also drawn attention to the plight of a species whose habitats are fast shrinking due to the effects of global warming.
In its latest report on global warming, the United Nations issued grave warnings about imminent environmental disasters - one-third of animal and plant species will be extinct within 50 years; increasingly erratic weather patterns will lead to frequent floods and droughts; and more than 10 billion people won't have access to drinking water by 2050.
Despite frequent warnings about environmental crises, countries have been slow to take action to reverse the trend.
With economic growth topping their national agendas, industrialised nations are reluctant to adopt sustainable commercial practices and play their part in saving the planet. The United States, the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases, refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, fearing that the restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions would weaken the nation's dominant position in the global economy.
Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, also did not sign the agreement, arguing that it could lead to many Australians losing their jobs.
China, a rising economic powerhouse which is expected to surpass the US in carbon emissions this year, is exempt from the Kyoto restrictions because of its status as a developing nation.
As the planet's temperature continues to soar, people are paying a heavy price for their governments' short-sighted policies.
Erratic weather has been so frequent that people are no longer surprised by news about sudden climate change. Australia is in the grip of the worst drought in 1,000 years, with the disaster having cost the country U$3.9 billion.
With the rural economy on the brink of collapse, many farmers are heavily in debt. Some have become so desperate that they have even committed suicide.
Besides, the water shortage is so severe that it prompted a mayor in a drought-stricken town in Queensland to submit a proposal to recycle sewage for drinking water last year.
Hurricanes and tornadoes have also caused havoc across the world. Eighteen million people in Chongqing and Sichuan provinces are faced with starvation in what the mainland government called the worst drought in 50 years.
With global warming taking a heavy toll on humans, a movement to offset carbon emissions is sweeping across Europe.
Supporters of the campaign will measure their carbon footprints (the amount of carbon emissions produced as a result of their actions) and offer to compensate for their emissions with the help of a carbon-offset provider.
Many carbon-neutral companies have sprung up across Europe which help to lessen the guilt of carbon-gas producers.
For example, you are a Japanese jetsetter who has just returned from a business trip to London. The two plane trips will generate 4.74 tonnes of carbon emissions.
To offset the emissions, you can pay a carbon-neutral company which will launch conservation projects - including tree-planting and energy-saving initiatives - in some parts of the world.
While carbon-offset supporters can help save the planet by subsidising conservation projects, the scheme has been panned by critics for providing an excuse for people to pollute the environment. A British environmentalist even likened the practice to that of rich people buying forgiveness for their sins during the Middle Ages. Those who use carbon-offset services are also portrayed as hypocrites who want to flaunt their environmental conscience.
The most effective way to combat global warming is to follow eco-friendly practices and minimise carbon emissions.
Be it a bring-your-own-bag habit or a pledge to switch off idling engines, simple gestures by individuals can go a long way towards bringing our ailing Earth back to good health.
Climate change hits HK
Hong Kong is in the grip of erratic weather changes caused by global warming.
According to the records of the Hong Kong Observatory, the city recorded its eighth warmest year in 100 years in 2006.
The Observatory also estimated that the number of very hot days (with a maximum temperature of 33 degrees Celsius or above) would rise from 11 to 24 by the turn of the century. With the number of cold days reduced from 21 to below 1, it is likely that winter would be a thing of the past.
1. What can you do to combat global warming?
2. With soaring temperatures fast melting ice caps, many zoologists predict that polar bears will only be seen in zoos in the next century. How do you feel about this?
3. Do you support the carbon-offset scheme? Does it provide an excuse for people to pollute the environment?
4. Do you think Hong Kong is hotter now than when you were a child?