Polar Bear

Most people know about the issues of global warming and climate change due to their pervasiveness in the news media outlets. Both global warming and climate change are essentially interchangeable terms used to describe the effects that different pollutants have in the atmosphere, but climate change is preferred in some circles.

The reason the term climate change is often used instead of global warming is because some people may think that the Earth will enter a state of permanent summer; while some parts of the world may experience winter seasons with colder temperatures.

The basic premise of climate change and why it requires public awareness was eloquently explained by former vice president Al Gore in the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Scientific research into this meteorological phenomenon and its environmental and human impact has somehow turned into a hotly-contested political and ideological topic of debate.

At the heart of the debate is whether climate change is an extreme weather event caused by nature, similar to the glacial ages that occurred millions of years ago, or the consequence of emissions produced by humans.

 

The Scientific Evidence

Sea Ice
via NASA

The international research community has been investigating the causes of climate change for a few decades, and while some scientists have every reason to believe that our planet is undergoing natural change, the key findings point to human-induced emissions as major contributors. This means that while it is perfectly logical to think of our atmosphere undergoing natural change, the fact remains that our industrial and consumption patterns can only exacerbate global warming.

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The focus of research has been over the last 50 years, a time when carbon and greenhouse emissions have increased dramatically as industrial output continues and nations exploit their natural resources in order to stay competitive in the global economic stage.

 

The Causes

Coal Power Plant
via peggydavis66

Emissions that contribute to the greenhouse effect are thought to be the main culprits. These are gases that we produce and that absorb infrared radiation. While greenhouse gases occur naturally on Earth and the atmosphere, the activities of humans have greatly contributed to the production of excess greenhouse emissions with carbon dioxide and methane gases, two typical byproducts of industrialization.

In the United States, power plants that produce electricity by burning coal are considered to be the major sources of carbon dioxide pollution. Automobiles and factories follow.

Americans produce an astonishing 25% of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Simply put, Americans are burning fossil fuels in massive amounts, mostly through electricity consumption and transportation.

 

The Consequences

Harsher winters and longer summers are already being experienced worldwide, but it is important to consider the direct consequences of climate change: wildfires, floods, dust storms, decreased snow accumulation.

Natural habitats are particularly at risk since they support delicate ecosystems, something that always manages to endanger wildlife species. This in turn will increase the likelihood of pests in populated areas where vector-borne disease could reach epidemic proportions.

The effects aren’t limited to ecological impact; catastrophic weather events cause significant economic loss, leading to displacement of entire communities. The agricultural impact is of great concern as well: global warming has the potential to disrupt crop production and alter food supply negatively, a scenario which could send food prices skyrocketing and strain those living in poverty even further.

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How to Reduce Global Warming

We already know that pollution from our power plants and vehicles is to blame for a good portion of harmful emissions, and thus it is important to support clean energy initiatives such as hybrid or electric vehicles, the use of solar panels in our homes, wind-power farms, and mass transportation.

7 COMMENTS

  1. memememine,

    not with that attitude you can’t. If everyone thinks the way that you do, heaven help us all we will become extinct (humans) in the next 50-100 years. Every aspect of change requires each individual to do his or her part and from that single individual change we can definitely make a significant shared difference. The difficulty right now is that people are looking to deny that our current climate change pattern is happening due to the burning of fossil fuels and this is a really sad and naive way of looking at things especially in light of the mounting evidence that is constantly given. People who are looking for the immediate impact of fossil fuels’ effects on our world are akin to people who have loaded a single bullet into a six gun chamber clicking the hammer each time waiting to see if they will survive being hit with the bullet. I know this sounds rather extreme and possibly funny but really it’s not because that is exactly what we are doing when we deny and ignore the severity of the issue.

    I believe we need to make changes now–environmentalists are calling for fairly drastic ones which I believe they are right in doing so, however, I believe that any lasting and meaningful change comes through dedicated and progressive steps starting somewhere no matter how modest it is. We have a climate change issue on our hands and even if one believes that burning fossil fuels only contributes to a little bit my question to opponents is why is it so difficult to take a little pain to reduce the amount? For example instead of going to work in your own car arrange for a carpool, take public transit etc. Look for work which is within walking/biking distance in your own community as well as work that allows for telecommuting something which is becoming extremely popular now adays due to expenses associated with having a physical location as well as the wasted time needed to travel to and from work. There are viable simple solutions that can go a long way–just imagine how much pollution we can cut down on in regards to telecommuting (save on carbon emissions from vehicles needed to take us to work, on emissions from lights, electricity, and heat for the physical office space)–we can even do some simple things around the house, turn off lights when you are not in a particular room, have high energy efficient furnaces, conserve whatever resources you can–it will help cut down expenses and carbon emissions at the same time. If people can’t do that much—all I can state again is heaven help us.

    • Samir: I completely agree with everything you say, and it is important for each of us to do our part, but the reality is that the kind of changes in energy production that are required go way beyond reducing personal energy use: they involve huge investments in a smart electric grid that can carry renewable energy from where it is produced (often in the plains states) to where it’s needed (coastal states), as well as major changes in the use of power by industries and the military, and more realistic pricing of fossil fuels (that takes into account their environmental impact). So the MOST important thing that anyone can do to affect climate change is to engage people who deny it, put pressure on politicians to support efforts to do something about it, and vigorously oppose any politician who shows a willingness to pander to oil or coal interests or the anti-intellectualism necessary to deny that it is occurring or to believe in a worldwide scientific conspiracy to further a hoax. (Yes, I’m thinking of Rick Santorum’s claims yesterday.)

      Climate change is real. Each of us is implicated. But the most important factor in doing something about it is to involve all of us, not as individuals, but as a society. And this need for collective action is, without a doubt, the one reason so many people in the US are now in denial. There’s a cult of “individual freedom” that has taken over much of the US citizenry, and it is gradually (literally) killing us.

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