Global warming and climate change are happening now and for the past years, the global temperature is increasing rapidly. Some people argue that there’s a slowdown or a pause in the rise in global temperature, however, studies disapprove of this claim.
According to scientists, unless we manage our carbon dioxide emissions, the average global temperature could increase by up to 10 degree-Fahrenheit in the next century.
In this article, we will discuss what is global warming and climate change, what are its causes, and its effects in our world. We’ll also discuss some of the measures done by the international and national bodies to address such issues.
Defining Global Warming and Climate Change
Global warming and climate have been used interchangeably in any scientific articles for the past years, although, these two terms refer to different physical phenomena.
Global warming refers to the long-term trend of a rising average of global temperature. It is defined by Merriam Webster as an increase in the oceanic and earth’s atmospheric temperature due to an increase in the greenhouse effect from pollution.
On the other hand, Climate Change refers to the changes in the world’s climate brought about by an increase in the global temperature. Examples of climate change include an increase in the prevalence of heat waves, droughts, changes in patterns of precipitation, and others.
While the physical phenomena are almost the same, global warming and climate change are two different things. Human greenhouse gas emissions can cause global warming which in turn can cause climate change.
Causes of Global Warming
In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that human influence is the dominant cause of global warming since the middle of 20th century.
Human activities change the natural greenhouse. The greenhouse effect is trapping the sun’s warmth in the lower atmosphere. For the past years, the burning of fossil fuels increased the atmospheric carbon dioxide. Even the clearing of land for agriculture or other activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.
Certain gases in the world’s atmosphere prevent the heat from escaping. Gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere are the ‘forcing’ climate change. These type of gases don’t respond either physically or chemically to changes in temperature. Whereas, ‘feedbacks’ are the type of gases that respond physically or chemically to temperature. Example of which is the water vapor.
According to NASA, these are the gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect in our planet:
Carbon Dioxide in the planet is from respiration, deforestation, volcano eruptions, burning fossil fuels, and others. It is an important part of the atmosphere.
Through the years, the carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration increased by 1/3; and this is considered as the long-lived ‘forcing‘ element of climate change.
The CFCs are greenhouse gases. It is a synthetic compound which is an important chemical in various industrial products. International agreements now regulate the production of CFCs because it can contribute heavily to the destruction of the ozone layer.
Methane is a hydrocarbon gas which is from several human and natural resources. The decomposition of wastes in agriculture, landfill, domestic livestock, and others can produce methane. Methane is less abundant in the atmosphere but it is also considered as an active gas than CO2.
The Nitrous Oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas which is from using both commercial and organic fertilizer to cultivate the soil. The fossil fuel combustion, production of nitric acid, and burning of biomass can also create nitrous oxide.
The water vapor is known as the most abundant greenhouse gas. As the atmosphere of the Earth warms, the water vapor increases. It causes more clouds and precipitation; making it an essential feedback of greenhouse effect.
Can Solar Irradiance cause global warming?
Some researchers believe that the changes in the energy output of the sun can cause the climate to change since the sun is an essential source of energy that affects our climate.
For example, the decrease in the sun’s activity in 1650 to 1850 triggered the Little Ice Age. It caused Greenland to cut off by ice and glaciers advanced in the Alps, according to NASA.
On the other side of the debate, there are some that argue that global warming must not be linked to changes in solar energy.
First, the solar activities remained constant since 1750. Second, if global warming is caused by an active sun, then warmer temperatures must be expected on all layers of the atmosphere. What we have observed now is that the upper atmosphere is cool while the lower atmosphere is warm.
Evidence of Climate Change
Throughout history, the climate of the Earth has changed dramatically. There are about seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat in the past 650,000 years. These changes in the climate are due to the Earth’s orbit plus the small variation of solar energy our planet receives.
The current climate situation of the Earth is significant because it is caused by 95% human activity since the mid 20th century. Today, it now proceeds at a rate that was unprecedented for millennia.
These are some of the evidence of climate change:
Ice Sheets Shrink and Glaciers Retreat
According to NASA, due to Earth’s increasing temperature, the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets now shrink. Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers of ice each year from 2002 to 2006; while Antarctica lost 152 cubic kilometers of ice in 2002 to 2005.
The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. The observations in the satellite reveal that the amount of snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over 50 years. In addition, the thickness and the extent of the Arctic sea are declining rapidly for years.
In almost everywhere around the world, the glaciers are starting to retreat, especially in the Alps, Andes, Himalayas, Alaska, Africa, and the Rockies.
The acidity of the ocean has increased by 30% since Industrial Revolution. This is due to the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the atmosphere and it is absorbed by the oceans. According to studies, the CO2 absorption by the upper layer of the oceans has increased by 2 billion tons each year.
The Rise of the Global Temperature
Since the 19th century, the Earth’s temperature has risen for about 2.0 degrees-Fahrenheit. The warming happened in the past 35 years, according to NASA. Out of 17 warmest years, 16 occurred since 2001. In addition, the year 2016 is considered as the warmest year on record.
Meanwhile, the oceans have absorbed the increasing global temperature. Studies show that the top 700 meters or 2,300 feet of the ocean show that it has a temperature of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit and it is becoming warm since 1969.
Moreover, the planet’s sea level has increased about 8 inches over the last century. The rate for the past 20 years is double than that of the last 100 years.
Long-term Effects of Climate Change in America
The observable effects of climate change include shrinking of the glaciers, ice on rivers, breaking up of lakes, changing of plant and animal ranges, accelerating sea level rise, intense heat waves, and others.
For decades to come, scientists believe that the Earth’s temperature will continue to increase due to the greenhouse gases created by the human beings. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasted that there will be a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 100 years.
In addition, IPCC said that effects of climate change will vary per region depending on the ability of each region to mitigate or adapt with the said issue.
According to Third National Climate Assessment Report, the long-term effects of climate change in the United States are the following:
Frost-free season will lengthen
The frost-free season is increasing in the United States since the 1980s. The largest increases are concentrated in the western part and it affects agriculture and the ecosystems. Meanwhile, the growing season will continue to lengthen according to NASA.
Increase in drought and heat waves
Droughts and heat waves, especially in the Southwest area, will become more intense and cold waves will be less intense in any part of America. This phenomenon causes hot weather to last for days and even weeks.
In much of the Central and Western part of the US, summer temperature is expected to rise as well and there will be a reduction of the soil moisture. Extreme heat days are projected to occur every 2 to 3 years by the end of this century in the United States over other nations.
Precipitation pattern changes
Since 1900, the average precipitation in the United States has increased. However, there are areas with increases and some had decreases in precipitation. This trend is expected to occur even in regions where the total precipitation is expected to decrease, like in Southwest area of America.
Meanwhile, over the next century, it is projected that there will be more spring and winter precipitation in the Northern part.
Rise of Sea Levels
Since 1880, the global sea level has increased by 8 inches. Today, scientists project the sea level to rise by another 1 to 4 feet by the year 2100. This is due to the expansion of seawater and melting of ice land.
In the next decades, high tides and storm surges might combine with the rising of the sea level and increase flooding in various regions. Then, the rising of sea level will continue even after 2100 because the oceans take a long time to respond to warmer conditions of the surface of the Earth. Therefore, the ocean will continue to warm and rise for many centuries at rates which are equal to or higher than those of the current year.
Stronger and intense hurricanes
Since the early 1980s, the frequency, duration, and intensity of the North Atlantic Hurricanes have all increased. There is also an increase of the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. As the climate continues to warm, the intensity of storm and rainfall rates will increase too.
Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change
Mitigating climate change involves reducing the flow of greenhouse gases that trap in the atmosphere, according to 2014 report on Mitigation of Climate Change.
The goal of mitigation is to stabilize the levels of greenhouse gases and avoid significant interference with the climate system. Furthermore, the steps for mitigation will allow ecosystems to naturally adapt to climate change, ensure food production is not affected, and enable economic development to be sustained.
While climate change is more of a global issue, it is felt on the lowest scale. Thus, localities are at the frontline of adaptation. Cities and municipalities are focusing on solving on their own climate problems. They build flood controls, alternative plans for higher temperatures, and gather resources in times of disasters.
Currently, the government at different levels are getting better in climate change adaptation. They incorporate the issues of climate change on their developmental plans. For example, they have a specific fund for managing extreme disasters, protecting coastlines, water availability, protecting crops, production of energy, and public infrastructure.
Climate Change Initiatives
There are various international initiatives to mitigate climate change. Here are some of it:
- International Carbon Action Partnership
- Kyoto Protocol
- Muslim Seven Year Action Plan on Climate Change
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Meanwhile, Former President Barrack Obama proposed the reduction of CO2 emission in 2007 in America, in a strategy known as ‘Climate Action Plan’.
Furthermore, there are various regional climate change initiatives in the United States. For example:
- Global Warming Solutions Act (California)
- Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (Mid-Western States)
- North America 2050
- Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (Northeast and Mid Atlantic states)
- Southwest Climate Change Initiative (Arizona and New Mexico)
- West Coast Governors’ Global Warming Initiative (Oregon and Washington)
- Western Climate Initiative (Western States)
In sum, global warming and climate change are the most complex problems we are currently facing nowadays. It involves various dimensions such as society, politics, economics, science, and ethics. It is a global problem but felt on a local level; and it will be around for years, decades, and centuries to come.
Carbon dioxide and other gases linger in the Earth’s atmosphere and it has driven global warming. The Earth and everything on it including the land and the oceans will take a while to respond to warming. Thus, even if we stop the emission of greenhouse gases right at this moment; global warming and climate change will continue to affect the generations yet to be born.
Thus, humanity is committed to some level of climate change. The only thing to do is to respond to it through mitigation and adaptation.