Mark Twain is often credited with the famous line – “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” whether he truly made that classic observation, the sentiment holds true today not only regarding daily weather cycles, but throughout the global community of scientists, individuals, and government officials.
Changing environmental conditions today mean so much more than just weather patterns. The emphasis is now a focus on how Earth is being impacted by our changing climate. Before we can find the answer to combating the phenomenon, we need to understand and agree on a global climate change definition.
Generally Accepted Definition of Climate Change
An “official” definition of climate change at dictionary.com defines it as “a long-term change in the earth’s climate, especially a change due to an increase in the average atmospheric temperature.”
Many non-scientist residents of the planet have used the terms “climate change” and “global warming” interchangeably. This is a misnomer, since the impact of climate change may not in all cases result in increased temperatures. There has been ambiguity among individuals – and even nations – on the existence of climate change, and especially in reference to its cause and possible actions.
Surveys now show that over 97% of climate scientists believe that not only does global climate change exist, but there is a direct correlation with anthropogenic actions – man-made climate change.
Anthropogenic Climate Change Definition
If there is a consensus that global climate change exists, then we must determine what humanity is doing that impacts the environment of our planet.
Since the industrial revolution, manufacturing processes have generated ever-higher levels of greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide and others. Inefficient and irresponsible use of fossil fuels generates high volumes of pollution and increased temperatures.
There are many potential ways that human activity impacts our changing climate:
- Generation of carbon dioxide – our long-term reliance of fossil fuels for manufacturing, transportation, and power generation result in enormous volumes of the gas being released into the atmosphere. Since this element remains in the environment for decades or even centuries, the impact is compounded over a period of years.
Carbon sequestration is a natural process whereby carbon is reabsorbed back into the soil or oceans, but this is a long process (although scientists have been pursuing possible methods for man-made carbon sequestration).
- Methane – a natural gas emitted by multiple sources such as livestock, methane is also a product of human activity that includes large amounts being generated by our municipal landfills.
- Emissions from vehicles and power plants – these are some of the largest contributors to the creation of greenhouse gasses. Alternative energy sources are a focus area for reducing climate change.
- Shrinking or burning forests – clearing for harvesting or residential use, reducing the natural absorption of carbon dioxide and release of beneficial oxygen
These gases and others can be trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, having the same effect as retaining heat in a greenhouse, hence the reference to them as “greenhouse gases.”
What Climate Change Means to You
However we define climate change, the impact is the same for those of us residing on planet Earth:
- Disappearing glaciers and retreating areas of snow cover
- Rising and warming oceans, and destruction of coral reefs
- Increases in coastal flooding
- Droughts and expanding deserts
- Health issues from air pollution and allergens
- Changes to plant and animal life, due to changing ecosystems (National Geographic reported that the Adélie penguins of Antarctica have declined in population from 32,000 to 11,000 breeding pairs in the last 30 years)
- More frequent incidents of natural disasters and severe weather including heatwaves, wildfires, and more intense storms such as hurricanes
Many scientists have also alluded to an economic connection between climate change and its effects on the population. Natural disasters such as extreme storms, flooding, and wildfires have destroyed infrastructure, businesses, and entire communities at a cost in the billions of dollars worldwide.
The role of anthropogenic climate change has not been thoroughly analyzed for its contribution to these tragic losses, but the correlation seems obvious.
No country or individual is immune to the impact of climate change, as evidenced by such agreements as the 2016 Paris Climate Accord by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement establishes a plan for limiting and mitigating the generation of greenhouse gases and controlling the rise of the Earth’s through the end of the century.
Climate change that results in drought-stricken areas means less tillable soil, meaning a reduction in acreage available for food production. This is a significant issue that will impact all of humanity. This is not an isolated problem – areas of the Middle East and California in the U.S. are just as vulnerable to disappearing agricultural areas.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprised of over 1,300 scientists from the U.S. and other countries, predicts that the global temperature will continue to rise by 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit through the next century.
From an optimistic view – there is still time – if man can create climate change, man can also reverse the phenomenon.