Climate changes have been an ongoing issue throughout the world for a considerable amount of time, although the affects have only more recently been felt and seen, particularly within the last fifty hundred years. Climate changes are affecting billions of citizens around the globe. These negative effects of climate change that we are dealing with at present day are likely to become more dire and serious within the future if we do not enact change. In order to have a healthy planet on which to thrive we citizens must act now, before it is too late, before we have no choices left to make. How can we make changes to better impact our future? What changes need to be implemented? The answer to these questions are complex, perhaps difficult to answer, but these changes must begin somewhere.
While global warming has been previously recognized by scientists as a cause of concern it is only within the last decade or so that this has been more widely identified as an ongoing concern for life around the globe. A good place to begin looking at how climate changes are affecting the planet is by understanding the factors that are among the leading contributors that are playing a role in climate changes.
The largest contributor to global climate changes is the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect results from heat being trapped within the atmosphere and being pushed back at the Earth, this happens as a result from gasses that do not allow for heat to escape. These gasses include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. NASA reports that “Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived “forcing” of climate change.” (Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, 2018)
There are multiple ways in which human’s release greenhouse gases out into the atmosphere, of these, the largest production occurs due to natural gas, coal and oil being burned to produce heat and electricity. This accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. After this, the next largest contributor to greenhouse gases, at 24%, is due to agricultural use, and deforestation. The third largest producer of greenhouse gases comes from fossil fuels being burned in the name of industry, which accounts for 21% of emissions. The fourth contributor to greenhouse gases comes from transportation, at 14%. To round this out, the last 16% comes from buildings (an example of this would be cooking) at 6%, and 10% due to other energy uses (such as the process of fuel extraction). (“Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data | US EPA”, 2018)
In the year 2016 there was 3732 million tons of coal used worldwide, with the top five consuming countries being: China, India, the United States, Russia, and South Africa, using a combined 2829.9 million tons. (2018)
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation accounts for an estimated 18 million acres of forests being cut each year, with about half of all tropical forests now cleared. The countries that have lost the most acres of tropical forests are Brazil and Indonesia. (Bradford, 2018) Deforestation happens for a variety of reasons, although some of those reasons more directly correlate with agriculture. One such reason that deforestation occurs is that the now cleared land is then used in order to crow crops, in particular to create feeds for livestock.
These greenhouse gases are almost entirely emitted via human action, and are creating issues that are affecting life on land around the globe in many, various ways.
One way in which climate change is affecting life around the world is through the rising temperatures of the oceans, which are affecting both human and aquatic life. Rising sea temperatures are leading to polar ice caps melting, which have “…melted faster in last 20 years than in the last 10,000.” (www.dw.com), 2018) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has “satellite data (that) since 1978 show(s) that the annual average extent of sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk by 2.7 percent per decade, with losses of 7.4 percent per decade in the summer.” (“Study Says 1 Billion Threatened by Sea Level Rise | Worldwatch Institute”, 2018) Due to the melting of polar ice caps sea levels have been on the rise. It is estimated that the “…absolute sea level has risen at an average rate of 0.06 inches per year from 1880 to 2013, since 1993, however, average sea level has risen at a rate of 0.11 to 0.14 inches per year—roughly twice as fast as the long-term trend. (“Climate Change Indicators: Sea Level | US EPA”, 2018) According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sea levels have risen 4-8 inches around the globe. (Glick, 2018)
As sea levels are continuing to rise it is becoming a greater threat to life worldwide. One example of how rising sea levels are a threat is the potential affect it will have on cities around the globe. It is estimated that “…two-thirds of world’s largest cities — cities with more than five million people” live on lands that are “…less than 30 feet above sea level.” Roughly about 634 million people. (Greenfieldboyce, n.d.) Although the estimate varies, many scientists believe that the sea levels may continue to rise by about seven inches by the end of the century. This would be troublesome for millions, particularly for people in the following cities: Osaka, Japan, Alexandria, Egypt, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Shanghai, China, and Miami, US. (Holder, Kommenda & Watts, 2018) In places like these sea level rise could result in streets being flooded, homes being taken over by continuous standing water, airports being shut down, and cities being destroyed. And it could affect more than just city-scapes, for example the rising sea levels could inundate freshwater aquifers contaminating the water for human consumption as well as water that is used for growing food crops.
It is not just rising sea levels that are putting people in peril, there are a number of other factors that are in effect that have the potential to deeply effect lives around the world. One hazard that is increasing in severity as well as occurrence is wildfires. Wildfires are becoming a more widespread, taking place all over, from Southern Europe to North America. Another danger that is being enhanced by global climate change is the occurrences of droughts. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 152 million are faced with water shortages in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, China, and India. (“Drought disasters – UNICEF”, n.d.)
With knowledge of climate change being known, the question becomes “What can we do to help mitigate these changes?” The following steps can decrease climate change.
1.) Become more energy efficient- buy appliances that are energy efficient, replace lightbulbs with compact fluorescent or LED lights, turn off lights and electronics when not in use.
2.) Chose renewable power options- there are a few options, although wind and solar are more commonly used.
3.) Eat wisely- eliminate/reduce meat from your diet, purchase locally grown foods, and if possible grow your own food.
4.) Recycle/reuse- whenever possible, look into buying products with less unrecyclable packaging.
5.) End food waste- eat what you buy, and compost leftovers if possible
6.) Chose sustainable transportation- this includes riding the bus, taking the metro, riding your bike, walking, and carpooling. This includes trying to limit plane flights.
7.) Use less water- buy a low-flow shower head, don’t wash your car if not necessary.
8.) Plant trees and native plants- these will help absorb carbon dioxide, add beauty to the environment, and if planted near homes it will help reduce the cost of cooling your home.
9.) Increase access to birth control- this allows for women to control the number of children that are born, which then helps to lessen the strain that is put upon the planet to sustain lives.
10.) Educate girls- girls who receive educations are more likely in adulthood to birth less children, as well as having healthier children. This also helps to creates a stronger economy, which may lead to lessening of environmentally detrimental practices.
11.) End deforestation/reforest tropical forests- these lands are being lost at an astounding rate, and are extremely important as it helps to sustain both animal and human life.
It is not too late to bring about changes that can drastically reduce climate changes, we still have time and options available for us to access. It is when we continue down this same path that these options will no longer be readily available, and if this happens, life on land around the globe will become something that we cannot fully comprehend, or imagine today.