The issue of climate change, due to the increasing rate of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, is one of the biggest, if not the biggest issue that faces our planet today. While Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere is something that is necessary for life on Earth, human contributions to the natural emissions has pushed CO2 rates to levels that are dangerous for our planet. The effects of our emissions can be seen all over the planet. The polar ice caps are melting at alarming rates, sea levels are rising, the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, and weather is becoming far more extreme. If we do not move away from greenhouse gases and convert to cleaner energy, we are heading towards a dismal future.For as long as there has been life on Earth, the greenhouse effect explains how light from the sun hits the surface of the earth, the planet then absorbs much of that energy, which heats the planet up. Earth is then radiating heat energy and that’s where CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs much of that outgoing heat radiation, sending much of it right back to the surface.
This then makes the planet even warmer. Say we didn’t have CO2 in our atmosphere, Earth would be covered in ice at temperatures that would make life on Earth not possible. According to the IPCC, every year the Earth naturally emits 150 billion tonnes of CO2. 42.
84% of this is due to ocean- atmosphere exchange, 28.56% to soil respiration and decomposition, 28.56 to plant and animal respiration, and .
03 to volcanic eruptions. While humans emit around 40 billion tonnes of CO2 per year (“EPA Document’). 65% of global greenhouse gas emissions are from CO2 that comes from fossil fuel (43%-coal, 36%-oil, 20%-natural gas) and industrial process, 11% comes from forestry and other land uses, 16% comes from methane, 6% comes from nitrous oxide, and 2% comes from f-gases (“EPA Document’). For the last 10,000 years, until the industrial revolution, every tonne of CO2 that went into the atmosphere was balanced another tonne of CO2 coming out through natural processes. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, more than 2,000 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide have been added to the atmosphere by human activities according to the Global Carbon Project. This has drastically affected the CO2 makeup in the atmosphere, which in result means that more heat from the sun will be reflected back to the Earth. Over the last 650,000 years, Earth had never had more than 300 CO2 parts per million in the atmosphere until the 20th century (“EPA Document’).
On April 18th 2017 the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii recorded that there were 410 CO2 parts per million in the atmosphere (“We Just Breached the 410 Parts Per Million Threshold”). At the same observatory in 1958, it was recorded that there were 315 parts per million and in 2013 it was recorded to be 400 parts per million. This drastic increase has led to the rise in temperature. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, The average temperature over all land and ocean surfaces have warmed around 1.33°F over the last 100 years, and more than half of this has occurred since 1979.
An ice sheet is a mass of glacial land ice that extends more than 20,000 square miles. The two ice sheets on Earth today cover most of Antarctica and Greenland. Together, the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets contain more than 99 percent of the freshwater ice on Earth.
The Antarctic Ice Sheet extends almost 5.4 million square miles and contains 7.2 million cubic miles of ice. While the Greenland Ice Sheet extends about 656,000 square miles. According to scientists, it is estimated that if the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, sea levels would rise about 20 feet. While if the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, sea level would rise by about 200 feet (“Man’s Contribution to Global Warming”). The increase in temperature that Earth has seen over the last 100 years is why we have the polar ice caps melting at alarming rates. Figure 1.
Atmospheric CO2 rise, 400,00B.C.- Now. Graph from NASA, Global Climate Change, (November 30, 2017), Web.All of this extra water being put into the oceans then leads to sea level rise. This is an issue because hundreds of cities, a lot of those being major cities, are at increasing risk to going underwater. This requires those cities to make a hard decision. They either have to evacuate and give up on their city or they would have to invest large sums of money into a wall that protects them from the rise.
Even then though, this is dangerous because all it takes is for one bad accident and the whole city is now underwater. Over the globe, sea level has been rising at an average rate of 1.7 millimeter per year (plus or minus 0.5 millimeter) over the past 100 years, which is much larger than the rate averaged over the last several thousand years (“MacEgan”). Figure 2. Global Temperature Rise, 1860-2010.
Graph from National Climatic Data Center, (December, 2015), Web.The world’s oceans have become much more acidic than they once were. The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the CO2 that is emitted into the atmosphere. When CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur resulting in the increased concentration of hydrogen ions. This increase causes the seawater to become more acidic and causes carbonate ions to be less abundant. Carbonate ions are an important building block of structures such as sea shells and coral skeletons. Decreases in carbonate ions can make building and maintaining shells and other calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying organisms such as oysters, clams, deep sea corals, sea urchins, calcareous plankton, and shallow water corals,. Also certain fish’s ability to detect predators is decreased when water becomes more acidic.
When these organisms get altered, the entire food web is then altered. Ocean acidification is affecting the entire world’s oceans, and because of that it is affecting everyone on this planet. People worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein and many economies are dependent on fish and shellfish. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the pH of the ocean has fallen by 0.1. This may not sound like a lot, but this change represents approximately a 30% increase in acidity. If mankind sticks to the path that it’s on right now, it is estimated that future ocean carbon dioxide levels could be nearly 150% more acidic by the end of the century, resulting in a pH that the oceans haven’t experienced for more than 20 million years (“MacEgan”).
Figure 3. Atmospheric CO2 rise compared to Seawater pH decrease, 1920-2007. Graph from Ocean.Si.
Edu, Web.Extreme weather and climate events, such as heat waves, floods and droughts, is the major way that most people experience climate change. Human induced climate change has increased the number and the strength of these events. Over the last 50 years, most of the world has seen increases in prolonged periods of high temperatures, heavy downpours, and in some regions of the world, severe floods and droughts. This has severely affected the lives of millions around the world, often times people will lose their homes, communities, and sometimes even their life. Heat waves are periods of abnormally hot weather that lasts anywhere from days to weeks. In recent years, the number of heat waves has increased significantly. In 2011 and 2012, the number of intense heat waves were almost triple to that of the long term average.
This has also affected the number of droughts that there are and how strong they are. The rate of evaporation has increased due to higher temperatures, this goes for the amount of water that is dropped and the loss of water that plants now have to deal with. This causes the more rapid drying of soils.
So as the soil dries out, more heat from the sun is now going into the ground. This results in hotter, drier summers. An example of this occurring is Texas and Oklahoma in 2011. They suffered more than 100 days with temperatures over 100°F (“MacEgan”).
Since 1895 when records started being kept, neither state had ever had any year with numbers like this. The drought depleted the areas water sources and led to more than $10 billion in direct losses to agriculture alone.Figure 4. Natural Disaster Reported, 1900-2008. Graph from ITU, Web.While some areas can’t get any rain, some areas have too much. Over the last five decades the rate of heavy downpours has increased significantly. Since 1991, the amount of rain falling in very heavy precipitation events has been significantly above average.
This happens because warmer air can contain more water vapor than colder air. This extra moisture is available to storm systems, resulting in heavier rainfalls. These heavier downpours are part of why the rate of floods has also increased. Worldwide from 1980 to 2009, floods killed more than 500,000 people and affected nearly 3 billion people (“MacEgan”). While in the United States property and crop damage averaged nearly 8 billion dollars per year. These numbers are only going to rise in the coming years considering that floods will only become more prevalent. There are many solutions being considered to help keep energy production rates at the same rate while cutting down CO2 emissions. Solutions such as ethanol derived from crops, hydrogen electrolyzed out of water, and the use of wind and solar energy.
Former President Barack Obama said it best during a conference call with public health programs in 2014, where he said “”When Americans are called on to innovate, that’s what we do — whether it’s making more fuel-efficient cars or more fuel-efficient appliances, or making sure that we are putting in place the kinds of equipment that prevents harm to the ozone layer and eliminates acid rain. At every one of these steps, there have been folks who have said it can’t be done. There have been naysayers who said this is going to destroy jobs and destroy industry. And it doesn’t happen because once we have a clear target to meet, we typically meet it. And we find the best ways to do it.” Obviously the end goal is to completely cut out fossil fuels from being used but this is something that is simply not possible to just cut out all at once. For developed countries, fossil fuels are the backbone of society.
They are what makes modern society go, while in regards to developing countries it is argued they deserve the same benefits that fossil fuels have given the developed world. So with that being said, the United States along with other highly developed countries must steadily decrease their use of fossil fuels overtime (already being done by a lot of countries) while increasing their use and research into cleaner energies. Something else they must do is invest in cleaner energy for these underdeveloped countries so that for one, they “catch up” a little bit in regards to their standard of living, and for two so that they don’t have to use fossil fuels and other forms of dirty energy in order to “catch up”. Now while we can lay out what should be done in a world with no political hurdles, we need to look at what we must do to be able to actually solve this. Most Republican congressman who say they don’t believe man has contributed to climate change don’t actually believe this. They just have to say it because the people that helped put them into power would be severely hurt financially if the world were to get off of fossil fuels. So in order to free their hands and let them vote for what’s best for everyone, there must be some sort of ban on political donations from corporations, specifically those having to do with the fossil fuel industry.
If this can be done, the fight against climate change will see its biggest push from the united States government.The increasing rates of CO2 emissions, mostly from greenhouse gas burning is affecting many aspects of life for people all around the globe. While most CO2 that goes into the atmosphere every year is through natural processes, a good chunk of it is from humans. Unlike the natural emissions, the portion that is contributed by humans isn’t balanced out. This has caused the CO2 parts per million in the atmosphere to increase by nearly 100 parts per million in the last 60 years. This has led to the average temperature across the globe to slowly rise, which has resulted in the increased rate of solar ice caps melting, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and far more extreme weather patterns.
While things aren’t looking the greatest right now, there is still hope for the future. There is new technology being created everyday that can help solve this worldwide problem, we as a people just have to overcome the political hurdles that come along with this major change. If this can be done, I have full faith that mankind can overcome these issues and head back on a path for a healthy planet.