By Erin Bloodgood
Elm Staff Writer
Whether the last time you learned anything about global warming was in middle school, high school or last week, you can no longer deny that it’s happening. In fact it has been occurring for decades now, but what’s the difference between global warming and climate change? Global warming is the long-term warming of the planet over time. According to NASA, climate change “refers to the broader range changes that are happening to our planet” such as rising sea levels, the melting of glaciers in arctic regions, shifts in plant blooming times, changing seasons, and much more. Global temperatures have been rising steadily since the early 20th century leading to an increased global temperature of 1°F. .
What has caused global warming and climate change? Well, humans did. Natural cycles and events that affect climate alone were not enough to influence the climate and cause all the changes that we’ve been seeing and are seeing today. Human activity has caused the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses such as methane and water vapor into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat causing temperatures to rise, and in turn cause all of the problems that are emerging with global temperature today. The biggest impact on climate is the burning and extracting of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. Other factors such like deforestation and farming particularly cattle farming produce carbon dioxide and methane that trap heat which also have the same effect in raising global temperatures. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have increased by more than 40 percent since pre-industrial times. According to the EPA in 2014, “human activities release over 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.”
Billions of tons of greenhouse gasses are being emitted each year the effect is already being seen through the world. Rising temperatures have a dangerous effect on storms and natural disasters. Accuweather reported in 2013 that between 2000 and 2009 there were three times as many natural disasters than there were between 1980 and 1989 and that 80 percent of this growth is related to climate related events. Not only are storms, floods, and other natural disasters worse, but droughts are more common. California has been in a major drought for four years now, and as reported by The Washington Post on Sept. 13, it has been the worst drought in California in 500 years. These extremely dry conditions leave California and other Western states susceptible to lightning strikes which spark wildfires, two of which are currently burning in northern California.
Climate change’s effect on rainfall pattern has made an impact on every section of the country. In the Great Plains region, where agriculture makes up most of the economy, it has had a negative effect on the business and food production that our country depends on. It is also affecting the global food supply, according to the UN. Reported by The Guardian in 2014, crop yields around the world are decreasing while flooding, droughts, and heat waves become more common. For instance India faced one of the deadliest heat waves in its history, and the fifth deadliest heat wave in the world this summer, according to The Washington Post. Rising temperatures, created by increased CO2 levels, led to the death of over 2,500 people. According to the same report, “the climate literature predicts more frequent, intense and longer-duration heat waves in future decades.” Heat waves have been prevalent around the world in recent years, and it seems as if they will continue to get worse if we do not do something to curb carbon emissions.
Another impact of climate change is the effect it has had on the earth’s ecosystems. A warmer climate has shifted the mating habits of some species of birds. Some animals that need cooler climates are moving north, shifting their usual patterns to try to adapt to the changing climate. Changes like these can disrupt the survival rates of the animals if they are off in timing on migration, breeding, or food availability, according to the EPA. Another aspect of climate change is the bleaching of the ocean’s coral reefs. As the ocean becomes warmer and more acidic from absorbing the excess CO2 coral reefs respond to the stress by releasing the algae living within their tissues. According to the World Wildlife Fund, one quarter of the world’s reefs are considered damaged beyond repair, some of which is due to climate change.
Global warming and climate change have already affected every single aspect of life on earth. We are now concerned about water and food security, increasing natural disaster events, changing ecosystems, and much more. Last month a photo of an emaciated polar bear has shocked the world. The polar bear, mere skin and bones, is trying to survive in the arctic, which according to a Sept. 11 article by NASA, is at its lowest sea ice level ever recorded. The future that scientists have been warning the world about for decades is here. We can no longer say that global warming is an issue of the future because that future has arrived, and it is terrifying. We need to develop alternative energies and get everyone involved with reversing we’ve made to the earth. Everyone should learn how to get involved and reduce their individual carbon footprint. Climate change is real and it is happening right before our eyes.