Climate change is a very popular topic nowadays. Major natural and climatic events are being linked to it.
For example, the intense and widespread bushfires in Australia that started in September 2019. The typhoon Hagibis that hit Japan in October 2019 killing at least 86 people, the heatwave in India when the temperature reached 49 C (120°F) in June 2019 killing 90 people (Radu, 2019), and other extreme natural disasters that happened in the last decade (Grossman, S.R. & O’Connor, L., 2019).
Despite all the catastrophic events mentioned above and scientific studies done, many are still wondering if climate change is really true and happening.
Scientists call for action
Scientists are urging governments and decision-makers to act urgently. Thankfully, we have all the solutions and technology to tackle the problem. But the window of opportunity to take action is limited.
Scientists and researchers estimated it to be within about 10 years after that the wheels of climate will have already begun and there is no way of stopping or escaping the consequences of climate change.
Environmental activists picture these consequences as apocalyptic. We hear these claims like “Billions will die”, “Life on Earth is dying”, “The world is going to end in 12 years if don’t address climate change”, and “Irreversible chain reaction to end our civilization” will happen (Shellenberger, 2019).
While these claims have some truths in it, it is causing a lot of fear and anxiety especially in younger generations (Ward, 2019). Before we can respond and take action, we first need to know the basics.
Is there truth about climate change and are there evidence to prove that this is actually happening?
Before we tackle the answer, let us first define what the phrase means.
According to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), “climate change” is human-induced global warming of the earth caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The biggest contributor to GHG is carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels used daily for energy. In New Zealand, methane from the agriculture industry is also a significant emissions contributor. (What is climate, 2016).
Since the Industrial Revolution, from the latter half of the 18th century when the United States and the UK have transitioned from making things painstakingly by hand to mass productions using machines and factories, human activities have caused the earth to warm by 1°C (Industrial Revolution, 2019). These tiny increase in temperature have serious consequences. It will create more and frequent heavy rainfall, hot days and droughts as well. As the temperature continues to hike, so will the number of extreme weather and natural disasters (What is climate, n.d.).
NASA starts by differentiating weather from climate to explain climate change as such: weather refers to the changes we see every day, like rainy, sunny, cold or hot. Climate, on the other hand, is the usual weather of a place and varies depending on the season (What is Climate, 2014).
For example, during summer a place will be mostly warm and dry while winter in the same place will be cool and wet. Different places also have a different climate. For instance, you may be living in the interior of Greenland with a polar chill climate where all throughout the year is very cold and dry. Or perhaps in inland Australia with the arid climate where the opposite is true. Very hot and dry all year long. Or in the damp tropical regions in Southeast Asia where you only have two seasons either rainy or dry season every year (Locsin, 2019).
Climate change, however, is a change in the usual weather of a place. For example, a change occurs in the usual amounts of rain or temperature of a given area for a month or a season. Climate change also refers to the changing temperature of the earth, and where rain or snow usually falls on earth (What is climate, 2014).
NASA explains that the earth’s climate has been changing many times over thousands of years. There have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, and the end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of human civilization. These past climate changes are the result of very small variations in Earth’s orbit that changed the amount of solar energy it receives from the sun. Making the earth cooler and warmer in the past than it is today (Climate change: how, 2020).
There are also other factors that can change the earth’s climate like the changes in the ocean or when a volcano erupts.
How about climate change today, what is causing it?
Scientists have found that the earth’s warming since the start of the Industrial Revolution is attributed to human activities or anthropogenic factors. Humans have dumped and continue to dump enormous amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from activities like driving cars, burning of coal, oil, and gas for energy thereby increasing the “greenhouse effect” (What is climate, 2018).
The greenhouse effect is the way that the earth absorbs some of the heat or energy from the sun. the solar energy radiating back to space from the earth’s surfaces is absorbed by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and emitted back in all directions. Without this natural greenhouse gas effect, the earth would be 30°C colder, making life on earth hostile (What is climate, 2018).
Scientists believe that we are increasing the greenhouse gas effect through enormous carbon emission released from the industrial and agricultural sectors. These emissions are trapping more energy in the atmosphere and thus increasing the earth’s temperature, known as global warming or climate change (What is climate, 2018).
The Earth’s temperature will continue to rise.
Scientists think that the Earth’s temperature will keep on rising in the next 100 years and will cause more snow and ice to melt and ocean waters to rise. And even with just a small increase in earth’s temperature can have big effects (What is Climate, 2014). A fact that most people probably find hard to believe.
Are there pieces of evidence for climate change?
Earth-orbiting satellites and advances in technology have allowed scientist to see the big picture and collect bodies of data. These data reveal that the climate is changing. According to NASA, not only there is evidence for climate change but it shows how rapid the change is. Below are events that show global warming is happening (Climate Change: How, 2020).
Global temperature rise. Since the late 19th-century surface temperature has risen about 0.9 degrees Celsius. Warming occurred in the past 35 years with the five warmest years on record happening since 2010.
Warming oceans. The oceans have absorbed much of the increased heat and NASA recorded more than 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit increase of heat in the top 700 meters of the ocean since 1969.
Shrinking Ice Sheets. Greenland’s and Antarctic ice sheets have shrunk. Greenland’s have lost an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while Antarctica lost about 127 billion tons in the same period.
Glacial retreat. It is happening in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa. The most remarkable is the Mt. Kilimanjaro in Iceland.
Decreased snow cover. Satellites show that the spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere has decreased in the last 5 decades and the snow is melting earlier.
Sea-level rise. Global sea-level rose around 8 inches in the last century and accelerating slightly each year.
Declining Arctic Sea Ice. The Arctic ice has declined rapidly both in extent and thickness over the last decades.
Extreme events. The increasing number of record high temperatures while record low temperature has been decreasing in the United States since 1950. The country has also experienced an increasing frequency of heavy rainfall.
Ocean acidification. Increased by 30 per cent due to increased CO2 emissions. The oceans are absorbing 2 billion tons of Carbon dioxide each year.
Who believes that climate change is happening?
In the United States, 18 scientific associations have declared in a statement that “climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver” (Scientific Consensus, 2020).
Among these scientific organizations are the American Association of the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Medical Association, American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, The Geological Society of America. Also, science academies like the U.S. National Academy of Sciences also issued a joint statement accepting that “global warming is occurring…and can be attributed to human activities”. U.S. government agencies such as the U.S Global Change Research Program also issued a statement in 2018 accepting the reality of climate change. And last but not the lease, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Scientific Consensus, 2020).
What can we do to help?
As citizens of this planet, we can do something to help prevent climate change and its very simple it will surprise you. NASA suggests that we can help by using less energy and water. For example, turn lights and electric equipment and appliances when leaving the room, conserve water as much as you can, and plant trees (What is Climate, 2014). Aside from these we can also switch to energy-saving lightbulbs, walk instead of driving, recycling and reducing food waste. Another thing that we can do is to check out eco-friendly ideas and conservation tips start doing it (What is climate change, n.d.).
We can do a lot more than the suggestions above. There are a lot of climate adaptation and mitigation actions that we can do.
Common sense tells us that when we take our environment for granted, dump our waste to it and abuse its resources, bad things happen but if we care for it then it will also care for us for many years and generations to come.