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Analysing General Paper Essay Topics: The Environment
We have already mentioned in all our previous articles on A Level General Paper that it is an important prerequisite for university. However, beyond your A Level grades and university applications, A Level General Paper is an extremely helpful subject to take because it not only trains you to consider issues from a plethora of perspectives but also encourages you to educate yourself on an excellent breadth of current affairs knowledge. Out of the 7 different themes that you can be tested on during paper 1 of your A Level General Paper examinations, Zenith has already covered three on politics, media, and the arts. Today, we will be covering the theme of ‘Environment’.
This theme is definitely one to look out for; you can definitely expect at least one question on the topic of the environment, given that it’s such a contemporary issue. It has even been described as the definitive crisis of our time. Prepare yourself for these questions by keeping up to date with the latest news on the ever-changing climate. Having concrete evidence and being well-read is already half the battle won! Having said that, Singapore’s top General Paper Tuition Centre has compiled an introductory guide to this theme.
An introduction to ‘Environment’
The term ‘environment’ can refer to one's surroundings, or it could also refer to the natural climate, and in this article, we will be focusing on the latter. Due to rapid global warming, there has been major climate change occurring, making it an extremely pressing issue, which we will delve into deeper in this article.
According to the United Nations, climate change refers to “long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns”. These can be natural outcomes of our ever-evolving world, but in recent years, it has been attributed to human activity like deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels occurring all around the world. Climate change is an issue that we definitely cannot ignore because of the devastating after-effects. At Zenith, we have compiled a few outcomes of climate change here for you:
Food and water insecurity
Conflicts between countries
1. Rising temperatures
As we partake in activities like deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels, greater amounts of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere. Forests are known as carbon sinks, meaning that they store huge amounts of carbon dioxide. This is due to photosynthesis, where plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. However, by cutting down trees, there are now a reduced number of trees taking in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and more carbon dioxide will be found in the atmosphere.
A similar idea applies to the burning of fossil fuels, take for example the cracking of crude oil. The cracking of crude oil yields lighter oils like diesel oil, petrol and even cooking oil, which are all necessities in today’s modern world. However, in the process of cracking, subproducts like methane gas are produced. Both methane and carbon dioxide are known as greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and prevent extra heat from being reflected back into space. This trapped heat in our atmosphere then leads to a rise in global temperatures.
In the past few years, global greenhouse gas emissions have reached an all-time high of 1,900 parts per billion in 2021, and are projected to continue rising further if we do not make an effort to curb this increase. Already increasing temperatures could potentially rise to above three degrees celsius by 2100 and cause permanent damage to the earth’s ecosystems as crops are unable to grow and wildlife populations dwindle. Besides the potential damage that rising global temperatures could cause on the earth’s ecosystem, rising global temperatures could also have drastic effects on colder areas like the arctic Global warming has resulted in temperatures of areas in the arctic reaching shocking high numbers that are out of the norm. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research and data, 2020 alone was the second-warmest year on record (Fig 1.).
Fig 1. Global Average Surface Temperature
Rising temperatures are so significant to these areas because of the glaciers that are found there. Glaciers are bodies of slowly moving ice that can be several hundred or thousands of years old. Because they start to melt when the temperature rises, glaciers are an excellent indicator of climate change, i.e the faster the rate at which the glaciers melt, the greater that magnitude of climate change. In the past few years, the world has seen glaciers melting at an extremely alarming rate. In Chile, 24,000 of 26,000 glaciers are melting! Melting glaciers and rising temperatures are a never-ending cycle, which makes this melting phenomenon a very critical component of global warming. Usually, these ice-covered (white) surfaces of the arctic reflect excess heat back into space, preventing the accumulation of excess heat in the atmosphere. As glaciers melt, there are fewer such surfaces to reflect heat back into space, resulting in an accumulation of heat in the atmosphere, and thus global temperatures will increase. When temperatures increase, glaciers will continue to melt, resulting in a never-ending cycle.
Besides indirectly causing a further rise in temperatures, melting glaciers also result in habitats disappearing for many exotic creatures that live in the arctic and rising sea levels. Disappearing habitats lead to the bottleneck effect, where the populations of certain species dwindle, directly affecting the food chain and the ecosystem. Rising sea levels can then increase coastal erosion, elevated storm surges, and the risk of flash floods. Unfortunately, almost two-thirds of the world’s cities are located in areas at risk of sea-level rise, and nearly 40 percent of the world’s population stays within coastal areas. If the sea level continues to rise, entire cities of Osaka, New York, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and Rio de Janeiro could potentially be submerged within our lifetimes.
2. Food and water security
Another one of the devastating effects of climate change and global warming is the strain on food and water security. With increased global temperatures, crops in certain regions might not survive due to the high temperatures. This will inevitably lead to decreased crop yields, and if demand for these crops remains the same, there will be a shortage of food.
Moreover, human activities may result in soil degradation. Due to irresponsible disposal of chemicals from plants and factories, these chemicals could seep into water bodies and soil beds. The presence of such chemicals could easily affect the acidity of the soil, resulting in soil degradation, and making it difficult for crops to thrive. This once again leads to a decreased crop yield and shortage of food. When there is a shortage, there will inevitably be an upward pressure on price.
Additionally, as the chemicals seep into water bodies, these sources of clean water are also contaminated, resulting in a lack of access to clean water, especially in third world countries where citizens do not have sufficient technology or means to purify the water.
3. Climate change as a catalyst for conflict
As mentioned in the previous point, climate change will place a significant strain on food and water security, causing a widespread shortage in the market. With a shortage, there will inevitably be an upward pressure on price. Countries will not only see food prices soaring but food supply being rapidly depleted as these countries grasp for resources to feed their people. This could potentially heighten international tensions as countries fight for the same resources. If unresolved, heightened tensions could lead to international conflicts and political unrest.
Statistics to keep in mind
According to the World Wide Fund (WWF), more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before 2100. This will lead to a greater magnitude of increase in sea levels, leading to even more drastic effects
According to the United Nations, 90% of disasters occurring around the globe are caused by volatile weather and climate (such volatility is a result of climate change).
According to the United Nations, 26 million people have been forced into poverty as a result of climate-related natural disasters.
Global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5 degrees celsius within the next 20 years.
According to the WMO, natural disasters like wildfires have increased in both frequency and intensity. As of recently, wildfires have been blazing through California, charring more than 2,000,000 acres of land in 2021.
Hurricanes are reaching new extremes, the frequency of high-intensity hurricanes (those ranked as categories 4 and 5) has increased over the last 30 years.
According to NASA, the last 7 years have been the warmest on record, with 2020 tying with 2016 as the hottest year on record
Key figures / events
2019 Climate Action Summit: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out in September that “the climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win”.
The sixth climate change report: This report is drafted by the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), and you will be able to find recent data and/or statistics regarding climate change.
Greta Thunberg: Greta Thunberg is a young Swedish environmental activist known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation. She is also well known for her impassioned ‘How Dare You!’ speech at the September 23 United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019. You can watch her famous speech here.
The 2019 UN Climate Action Summit was held at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City on 23 September 2019. The UN 2019 Climate Summit had the theme "Climate Action Summit 2019: A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win." The aim of the summit was to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This would effectively prevent the mean global temperature from rising by more than 1.5 °C. At the summit, 60 countries presented steps to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions” and “support populations that would be most vulnerable to the climate crisis".
COP25, the ‘Paris Agreement’: COP25 (Fig. 2) was a very significant moment, because, for the first time ever, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees. This agreement was then dubbed the ‘Paris Agreement’. The commitment to aim for 1.5 degrees is important because every fraction of a degree of warming will result in the loss of many more lives. Under the Paris Agreement, countries brought forward national plans, outlining how much they would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’.
Fig. 2 COP25 conference at Chile, Madrid
So far, we have listed out some examples that are good to know when tackling environment questions. After touching on content, let's move on to a few sample questions!
1. ‘To what extent has tourism had a negative impact on the environment?’
Q: Cause and effect
D: Whether tourism has had a huge negative impact on the environment or whether tourism has had a negligible negative impact.
K: ‘extent’, ‘negative’, ‘impact’
C: Negative impacts on the environment caused by tourism
2. ‘We have very little control over the environment we live in’. Discuss.
Q: Absolute question
D: Whether we do have little control over the environment or whether we actually have much control over the environment
K: ‘very little’, ‘control’
C: Depending on the environment ‘we live in’
3. ‘The real heroes of environmentalism are rebels.’ Discuss. (ACJC 2019 Prelims)
Q: Absolute question
D: Whether the real heroes that will save our environment are rebels or not.
K: ‘real’, ‘heroes’, ‘rebels’
Those who do not conform to their realities and stand up for their own beliefs are heroes because they are the spark that will ignite a revolution. It is human nature to blend in and fit into the mold society has cast for us. More often than not, for fear of being wrongfully judged, people choose to remain within the norm and go with the flow, instead of standing up for what they think is right. It is not uncommon for parents to educate their children to protect the environment, in recent years at least. Films like ‘Wall E’ and ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ act as a warning to their audiences of what is to come if humans do not change their destructive ways. Every revolution needs a leader, and those who dare to oppose the norms are our leaders in this fight against climate change. Take for example, Greta Thunberg. Despite her youth, she has bravely done what many of us have not. She spoke at the 2019 World Climate Summit, questioning world leaders with her infamous ‘How Dare You’ speech. ‘How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and childhood’, her impassioned speech was a clear act of opposition, and perhaps defiance, the anger of a young girl directed towards the world leaders and their passivity in the battle against climate change. Greta has since then trended across social media across the world, prompting people to follow in her footsteps to stand up for the environment. Greta, who dared to oppose, who dared to rebel, is a hero, because she has single-handedly shed so much light on the climate change crisis, and kickstarted a new era. Thus, the heroes of environmentalism are those who rebel.
Above lies one sample paragraph for a typical environmental question. You can expect more samples in our Top A Level General Paper programme, where tutors work hard to churn out writing samples and examples for you! Here at the Top A Level General Paper Tuition Programme in Singapore, we provide similar succinct, clear, and useful content for our students. You can expect our tutors to be well updated with the latest news and current affairs. Across all subjects, our dedicated tutors meticulously compile concise notes just for you. Our tutors also take pride in answering your questions as soon as possible. If you wish to stay back after lessons or arrive earlier for consultations, we’ve got your back! Our centres are fully equipped with designated study areas just for our students. All centres have fully stocked pantries and power plugs for you to charge your devices, and your energy levels too. At Zenith, we understand the qualms of being committed to a tuition program, which is why we conduct free trials as well. Slots are limited, don’t wait before signing up!