It is sometimes difficult to know the difference between climate and weather. Weather is the changes we see and feel outside from day to day. It is the state of the atmosphere. It might rain one day and be sunny the next. Sometimes it is cold, sometimes it is hot. Climate, on the other hand, is the average daily weather for an extended period of time at a certain location. Climate can be different for different seasons and is measured over a long period of time. A place may be mostly warm and dry in the summer, but cool and wet in the winter. Climate change is a long-term shift in global or regional climate patterns. It’s a change in the usual weather found in a place. This might be a change in how much rain a place usually gets in a year. Or it could be a change in a place’s usual temperature for a month or a season. There have been times when the Earth’s climate has been warmer than it is now, and times when it has been cooler. This is a slow process that has taken place over hundreds and thousands of years. The change that is happening now is occurring at a much faster rate. As time goes by, the world changes in a way we have never seen before. Our climate is getting warmer. The Earth’s temperature has gone up about one degree Fahrenheit over the last 100 years. This rise in the planet’s temperature is called global warming. Global warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere, generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other pollutants.
An issue is that some effects are already happening, affecting ecosystems and communities around the world. Water, energy, transportation, agriculture and human health are experiencing these effects. Another issue is that the entire world is at risk of losing many tourist destinations.
Many things can cause the climate to change, but the main cause is human activity. It is very hard to speculate what will happen next, but scientists think we can take action to stop the climate from changing as much.
The sun noticeably affects our climate over millions of years, but it’s not the cause of the recent warming.
Until the year 1880, the key driver of periodic climate changes was volcanic eruptions; but since 1990, greenhouse gases have been the primary cause of climate change.
Volcanoes can also impact climate change. During major explosive eruptions, huge amounts of volcanic gas, aerosol, droplets and ash are injected into the stratosphere. The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens vented approximately 10 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in only nine hours. However, it currently takes humanity only 2.5 hours to put out the same amount while large explosive eruptions like this are rare and only occur globally every ten years or so. Orbital changes, solar output, volcanic activity and other natural causes affect our climate, but the warming we’ve seen over the last few decades is too rapid to be linked to changes in the Earth’s orbit and too large to be caused by solar activity. Increased levels of human-produced greenhouse gases are actually many times stronger than any effects due to recent variations in solar activity. The sun and volcanic eruptions were the major influences on Earth’s climate change. Right now, we have moved into a human-dominated climate. The major change in the Earth’s climate is now dominated by human activity, which has never happened before.
The largest driver of warming is the emission of greenhouse gases. Humans are increasingly influencing the climate and Earth’s temperature; our modern civilization is based on fossil fuel burning for energy consumption. Burning fuel and coal releases a great amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases are part of the make-up of our atmosphere. The atmosphere allows the heat from the sun to pass through to heat the Earth’s surface, and the Earth’s surface then gives off the heat. This heat is trapped by greenhouse gases, which radiate the heat back towards Earth. The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, nitrous, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). As the American adjunct professor directing the Program on Climate Science James Hansen said: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” Without these heat-trapping gases our planet would be too cold, and life as we know it would not exist. But the problem is human activities are adding too many greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which tends to warm the planet.
Deforestation is the second largest anthropogenic source of atmospheric carbon dioxide emission after fossil fuel combustion. It is the purposeful clearing of forest land. It is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land that is then converted to farms, ranches or urban use. Deforestation comes in many forms: wildfires, agriculture, clearcutting, livestock, ranching, and logging for limber among others. The greatest amount of deforestation is occurring in tropical rainforests. Building or upgrading roads into forests makes the roads more accessible for utilization. Slash-and-burn agriculture is a big benefactor of deforestation in the tropics. In this agricultural method, farmers burn large swaths of forests, allowing the ash to fertilise the land crops. Deforestation can result in more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. That is because trees take in carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis, and carbon is locked chemically in their wood. When trees are burned, this carbon returns to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. With fewer trees around to take the carbon dioxide, this greenhouse gas accumulates in the atmosphere and accelerates global warming. Between 15 to 18 million hectares of forest are destroyed every year, and on average, 2400 trees are cut down every minute.
Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Human health is at risk. The alteration in the environment is expected to cause more heat stress, poor air quality and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. These insects live longer in extended periods of warm water weather. As in, the insects fly into new areas that were previously too cold, and reproduce in water deposits left by the rain. Climate change is also creating ideal conditions for waterborne pathogens like bacteria, viruses and protozoa which flourish in warmer waters. People who have pollen allergies might experience more intense symptoms, and people who don’t normally have allergies might begin to experience them, and that’s because, in some areas, warming temperatures are extending the periods when plants release pollen.
Our food supply is becoming less nutritious; high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -a greenhouse gas put there mainly by the burning of fossil fuels- will reduce food’s nutritional quality, even as rising temperatures cut crop yields and harm livestock. Agricultural practices create a challenge for the farmers and ranchers- this actively demonstrates that food will soon cost more.
Changes to water resources can have a big impact on people’s lives. Droughts are an important factor affecting communities. In many regions, floods and water quality problems are likely to be worse because of climate change.
Ecosystems are also affected by climate change. Habitats are being modified; the timing of events such as flowering and egg-laying are shifting, and species are altering their home ranges. As temperature changes, many species are on the move. Some butterflies, foxes and alpine plants have migrated farther north or to higher, cooler areas. Some species including mosquitoes, ticks, jellyfish and crop pets are thriving.
Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earth’s poles. In Montana’s Glacier National Park the number of glaciers has declined to fewer than 30 from more than 150 in 1910. As such, average sea surface temperatures are rising. Increasing ocean temperatures affect marine species and ecosystems. This extra heat and water just happens to be the perfect fuel for hurricanes and, in the right conditions, can make dangerous storms even more powerful.
Heatwaves can become so intense that our roads actually melt; we’ve seen this happen on the tarmac at Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport in 2012.
Other effects could take place later this century if the warming continues. Sea levels are expected to rise between 10 and 32 inches (26 and 82 centimetres) or higher by the end of the century. Less fresh water will be available.
What scientists think we can do to combat climate change
Getting rid of your car can reduce 2.5 tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to one-fourth of the average yearly emission (9.2 tonnes).
“We should choose more efficient vehicles and whenever possible, switch directly to electric vehicles,” said Maria Virginia Vilarino, a master of assessment of investment projects. If you want to use the cleanest mode of transportation, nothing beats walking or biking, which create zero greenhouse gases beyond those produced making the bike and the food you eat.
Saving water reduces carbon pollution. That’s because it takes a lot of energy to pump heat, and treat your water. It also diverts less water from our rivers, bays and estuaries, which helps keep the environment healthy. Using less warm water makes it possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because it avoids the need to generate energy to heat the water.
A lot of energy use goes into growing, processing, packing and shipping food. In fact, eating the food you buy and eating less meat can make a big difference. In short, even if you aren’t already a vegetarian, cutting out some meat, especially red meat and large predatory fish as well as eating lower on the food chain overall can help significantly lower your personal greenhouse gas emissions.
Powering your home with renewable energy reduces environmental damage and influences others to make changes too. Recycling uses less energy, which translates into fewer fossil fuels burned and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Recycling metals can be a particularly powerful way to save energy; for example, using recycled aluminium scraps to make aluminium cans take 95 percent less energy than making aluminium cans from bauxite ore.
Other changes are needed that can only be made on a bigger system-wide basis. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide, transporting it to a storage site and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere. Usually, the CO2 is captured from a large point source, and it is stored in an underground geological formation.
Other ideas scientists would explore include greening the oceans so they can take up more CO2. Such schemes involve fertilizing the sea with iron salts to improve algae growth and, in turn, absorb more carbon from the atmosphere. Another project involves brightening the clouds to “re-freeze” the poles. The idea is to pump seawater up to tall masts on uncrewed ships through very fine nozzles. Seawater would be pumped up through the past like constructions and dissipated into the atmosphere. This produces tiny particles of salt within the seawater that would increase the reflective properties of the clouds, and so, cool the areas below them. Climate change is a considerable challenge that could end life on this planet. We need to act fast on it. We have to spread awareness of the aforementioned harmful effects. As Prof Sir David King, an emeritus professor in physical chemistry at the University of Cambridge, said, “What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10000 years”. He said the initiative’s mission would be to “solve the climate problem”. It has to be solved, and we can’t fail on it.