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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.