Global warming and “going green” are some of the most prominent buzzwords in the media today. The hype about water bottles produced using 30% less plastic and napkins made from 100% recycled paper isn’t just for any random reason, though. This is the result of concerns about climate change.
Although our weather changes from day to day, our climate generally stays constant over the years. Climate, defined as the average weather over a long period of time, is different in various regions of the world according to the amount of sunlight locally received as well as geographic factors, including proximity to oceans and altitude. It only takes a simple deduction to realize that if these factors change, then the climate changes.
Over the years, the Earth’s temperature has been gradually increasing (hence, global warming). However, a recent study conducted by Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field, senior fellows at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, has shown that climate change is now occurring ten times faster than at any other time in the past 65 million years (Stanford University), resulting in obvious consequences for our environment as well as some surprising ones for human activity.
Global warming and its effect on regional climate change has serious consequences and repercussions – for the environment, for biodiversity, for our own food sources and economies and, of course, politics.
The rapid pace of current climate change has already placed a great deal of stress on terrestrial ecosystems, including melting glaciers and irreversible damage to the habitats of Arctic and Antarctic animals.
It’s not just the polar bears that are suffering, though. Climate change is also causing flooding in some coastal areas and, according to a study conducted by climate researcher Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, may be related to increasing the severity and frequency of hurricanes (Rice).
As we’ve already established, climate change occurs when the factors that influence it changes. Changing climate on a global scale, though, can only occur when the amount of heat in the Earth’s system changes by either being added or released. Warming climates are the result of either an increase in heat entering the Earth or a decrease in heat released from the atmosphere.
The heat entering Earth comes from the Sun. Sunlight enters our atmosphere and heats the land surface and the oceans. The Earth then releases heat back into the atmosphere which radiates into outer space. The amount of heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere can fluctuate, possibly due to small changes in Earth’s orbit around the Sun that occur over thousands of years or by changes in the Sun’s intensity.
Or, the amount of heat can fluctuate as a result of human actions.
Certain gases in our atmosphere known as greenhouse gases allow the lower atmosphere to absorb the heat released by the Earth’s surface, trapping it within our atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane, are important to our ecosystem because their entrapment of heat prevents Earth from turning into a block of ice. However, lately the balance has tipped – the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been rapidly increasing over the past several decades, primarily as the result of burning fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide. As a result, the atmosphere is heating at an accelerated pace (“What Is Climate”).
It is projected that the average annual temperatures in North America, Europe, and East Asia will increase by 2-4°C by 2046 – 2065. One effect of this will be that the hottest summer of the last 20 years is expected to occur at least every other year. By the end of the century, if the trend of increasing greenhouse gas emissions continues, temperatures will increase by 5-6°C. The last time such a hike in temperature occurred was 20,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age! (Stanford University)
Besides the environmental damage, which is the original driving force behind studies of climate change, we as humans should be more aware of global warming’s consequences because it may have some effect on our behavior. In a recent study conducted by the University of California – Berkeley and Princeton University, scientists discovered a positive correlation between increasing temperature and human violence.
Researchers noted increased violence in many forms, such as domestic violence, assaults, murders, ethnic violence, land invasions, police violence, and civil conflicts. According to the study’s calculations, a global temperature rise of 2°C could increase intergroup conflicts by over 50% (Wilkey).
If we take these studies seriously, then “going green” can be a lot more important than we ever thought before.
Written by Constance Kaita
Images courtesy of datadiary.com, worldwildlife.org, and www.esrl.noaa.gov
Rice, Doyle. “Storm warning: Climate change to spawn more hurricanes.” USAtoday.com. 8 July 2013. Web. 2 August 2013.
Stanford University. “Climate change occurring ten times faster than at any time in past 65 million years.” ScienceDaily.com. 1 August 2013. Web. 2 August 2013.
“What Is Climate and Climate Change?” UCAR.edu. n.d. Web. 2 August 2013.
Wilkey, Robin. “Climate Change And Violence Linked, Breakthrough Study Finds.” HuffingtonPost.com. 1 August 2013. Web. 2 August 2013.