Before I begin, a common misconception in society is the interchangeable use of the terms, ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’. Although these two concepts may have some commonalities, they have separate meanings. Climate change refers to the alteration in global and regional climate patterns, while global warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere.
More specifically, global warming is a type of climate change. Even though climate change is a broader problem, the more prominent threat nowadays is the continuous rise in global warming as it calls for various long-term threats and makes the existence of life on earth much harder. While global warming is a worldwide (aka global) issue, this gradual warming of our planet can best be explained as a series of causes and effects. One question that we need to ask ourselves after years of neglect to our planet is, are we too late and far into this catastrophe to turn it around?
To stress the importance of this conundrum, in the Spring of 2019, at a high-level meeting of the United Nations (UN), prominent dignitaries such as the UN General Assembly President, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés of Ecuador and the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, spoke out about global warming’s ever-raging terror. Ms. Espinosa said, “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,”.
Following those remarks, Mr. Guterres elaborated on those comments by emphasizing, “We must address this global emergency with ambition and urgency. As citizens and visitors of the earth, we need to become knowledgeable in understanding what this environmental problem calls for”.
Causes of global warming:
Even though there are many causes of global warming, some are natural while most others are man-made. The most commonly known cause of global warming is the emission of greenhouse gases. The increased level of these gases in our atmosphere has been seen predominantly in the 20th century because of the world’s increasing population, economy, and use of energy. However, the overarching problem is the rising demand for industrialization in the modern world to fulfill almost every need is causing the release of the majority of these gases resulting in an overall much hotter planet.
These gases are known as greenhouse gases because they go through something called the greenhouse effect. The gases get collected into the atmosphere and absorb heat particles, leading to the warming of the earth's surface. This is similar to the walls of a greenhouse that allow light to pass through but keep the extreme heat or cold outside the box, making it possible for crops to grow all year long.
Two common greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, and in recent years the outpouring of these compound molecules has increased by tenfold. Carbon dioxide is emitted from various natural and industrial processes including, photosynthesis and smoke from factories, which vary from place to place due to the abundance of factories and plants. Sulfur dioxide is present in the environment from the burning of coal and oil in power plants.
Methane is another greenhouse gas released by the anaerobic decomposition of organic materials. These processes include the breakdown of waste from landfills, natural gas, and petroleum systems.
Another cause of global warming is ozone depletion, which is the declination of the ozone layer, mostly over Antarctica. This is due to the emissions of halocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons which are produced by products containing a chemical named aerosol like propellants, air conditioners, and fridge coolers. The ozone protects the earth's surface by inhibiting the harmful sun rays reaching to earth.
Therefore, with the depletion of ozone, such a protective mechanism is eliminated, resulting in the increased overall temperature of the planet. The harmful ultraviolet sun rays enter the biosphere and get absorbed by the greenhouse gases which ultimately increases global warming. According to the National Geographic, "the size of the ozone hole is twice the size of Antarctica – which is more than 25 million km squares).
Effects of global warming:
There are so many harmful effects that can be viewed due to global warming in terms of the resulting environmental changes. As we have seen, there has been a big change in the climate for 20 years and has made a mark on our planet more so in the past decade. Some of the most noticeable examples are seasonal changes, the ability to grow crops, and the rising sea levels.
Firstly, a good example to illustrate this point would be - the seasonal changes; nowadays the weather is much more unpredictable. The summer months have become more brutal and last longer in the year extending into winter, with much shorter, cold, winter months. The more prolonged warmer weather makes natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes more extreme and prevents rainfall resulting in more frequent droughts with longer durations.
For example, in 1960 there were 616 tornadoes, while now without the year is over, there have already been 672 reported cases. More importantly, these problems affect our wellbeing. Scientists predict “temperatures will rise by 5.6 to 8.8 degrees” resulting in “6,700 to 11,300 more heat-related deaths” (Barboza, Boxall, Xia 3).
Ability to Grow Crops
Secondly, our capability to grow crops has and will continue to become hard as warmer temperatures affect the conditions of the soil. More specifically, the warm temperatures are causing the soil to dry up and the heat reduces the chances of rainfall leading to droughts. This is an ongoing problem, which leads to the inability to grow fruits and vegetables.
A recent study of global vegetable and legume production concluded that if the constant outsources of greenhouse gases continues at its projected rate, production yields could fall by 35 percent by 2100. This scare of such a dramatic decline to fresh food production has led to the poor quality of food that we have seen because farmers are having artificial ways for cropping due to the lack of natural resources required.
Rising Sea Levels
Lastly, the last major effect of global warming is rising sea levels. The ice caps and glaciers from Antarctica and Greenland are melting at an alarming rate. These condensed ice structures have neutralized the water level preventing floods.
However, the melting of such ice forms is causing flooding to happen more often. Scientists say, “sea-level rise by the end of this century could amount to about 5.48 feet” (Barboza, Boxall, Xia 4). This rise in the ocean could be troublesome to “more than 250,000 residents, $38 billion in property and 1,400 miles of roads along the coast are at risk of flooding during a severe storm in Southern California” (Barboza, Boxall, Xia 4).
According to scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), "Even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases today, global warming would continue to happen for at least several more decades, if not centuries. That’s because it takes a while for the planet (for example, the oceans) to respond, and because carbon dioxide – the predominant heat-trapping gas – lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of years." More specifically, Susan Solomon, who is a reputable author and an expert on climate-related science says, “that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years.”
Potential Solutions to global warming:
With everything that has been discussed thus far, it is fairly obvious that we must care for our planet if we want to live longer. The flip side is that if we don’t take action on this matter now, continued climate change and global warming could eventually end humanity and the reversal of this problem is second to none. To save our earth, we all need to take part in the following efforts at some level.
First of all, the consumption of petroleum, coal, and natural gas should be contained and limited as best as possible. By regulating the use of these fossil fuels, the emissions of certain greenhouse gases will be restricted allowing the overall temperature of the earth to decrease. A major alternative for the combustion of these substances is using electric means for energy and cars.
Second of all, we should minimize or stop deforestation and allow trees to act as carbon sinks so that they can soak up all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Lastly, we need to figure out cleaner forms of energy for industrial uses like the mass production of cars, toys and other human wants. As a society, by advocating for a cleaner environment we will and can reverse global warming.