About Climate Change: How It is Changing Our Planet

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Climate change is all over the news. It is one of the most debated topics out there, and is a major issue in the modern world. But even with all this talk we seldom answer the important questions about climate change: How do we know it exists? What are its effects? How will it affect ME? This essay address these questions. However before we can answer these questions, we must ask one of the biggest questions of all; What is climate change? To answer that we have to first ask another question. What is climate? The answer to this question may seem obvious, but in reality there is great confusion around the difference between climate and weather. According to NASA weather is “the changes we see and feel outside from day to day,” while climate is “the usual weather of a place” averaged over around 30 years.

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For example, a town may have torrential rains one day, and be completely dry the next. Thus while weather changes, the climate stays the same. Now that we know what climate is we can address the question of what climate change is. When we talk about climate change, we usually are talking about anthropogenic climate change. Anthropogenic climate change is climate change resulting from humans releasing heat-trapping gases, called greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere, causing a set of changes to the Earth's climate. Used almost interchangeably with climate change is the term global warming. This however, is an error. Global warming is a part of climate change, referring to the average temperature increase since the start of the industrial revolution. Climate change refers to global warming, the indirect effects of global warming, and other changes to the environment. This includes increasingly random weather patterns and increasingly severe weather. In essence Anthropogenic climate change is the changes we caused to take place in the environment. With that in mind we can finally learn the answers to our questions. Anthropogenic Climate Change is a real process which we caused and has an impact on many things in the modern world.

Before one can get into either the causes or the effects of climate change, we must first answer the following questions. “How do we know it even exists?” And, “What evidence tells us that?” There are many factors that tell us about climate change. These include surface temperature rise, upper ocean warming, snow and ice loss, and increased ocean acidity. Of all of these, one of the most prominent is the increase in surface temperature. According to the climate division of the national air and space administration. The surface temperature of the earth has risen around 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of the past 35 years. At a rate of around 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit per year, this seems like nothing. In reality, however, this increase has had huge effects on the world’s oceans and weather. This increase is enough to cause large effect on our world, all due to a minuscule increase in the temperature of the air and water. Ocean water also gives us evidence towards the existence of climate change. Nasa reports that the top layer of the ocean has warmed more than 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. This increase in water temperature adds to the severity of storms, effects the migration of whales, changes the habitats of fishes, and even contributes, in part, to the loss of sea ice. This loss is another way that we can tell climate change exists. By measuring the loss, we can look at the effects of climate change. Data from nasa shows that Antarctica lost about 2737 billion tons of ice between 1993 and 2016. Even more drastic loss is that of Greenland. According to the national snow and ice data center, Greenland lost 7306 billion tons of ice between from 1993 onward. This equivalents to 225,307,573,683 cubic feet of ice, enough to fill 3520 football stadiums. By looking at the loss of sea ice, we can track global warming. The ocean tells us a lot about climate change.

The last way we use it to track climate change is ocean acidity. Ocean acidity defers to the PH levels of the oceans. Ocean acidification, the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth's oceans, is a way that we can measure climate change. When the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, or CO2, dissolves in water (H2O) the molecules join to form the molecule H₂CO₃, carbonic acid. Thus we can measure the amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by measuring the ph levels of the ocean. Using this method, nasa was able to find out that the acidity levels increased by about 30 percent since the start of the industrial revolution. This measurement of carbon dioxide levels in turn can give us a gauge on the levels of climate change we are experiencing. When we take this increase in ocean acidity into account, along with the warming and ice loss, we have a mountain of evidence that confirms that climate change is indeed real.

Although there are many opinions and conspiracy theories about the origin of climate change, the scientific world is at a consensus as to the causes of climate change. This consensus points us to the culprit: Us. More specifically, climate change is caused by Human impact and expansion on the Greenhouse effect. Nasa says that “climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the ‘greenhouse effect.’” this is achieved by releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. To verify this point, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts supervised by the United Nations, concluded that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet. These activities, such as burning fuel and cutting down trees, having picked up in the last 50 years, have caused our climate to change. The United Nations says that “after more than a century and a half of industrialization, deforestation, and large scale agriculture, quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years.” The industrial revolution, the transition to new manufacturing processes in both Europe and the US, which took place from 1760 to 1820, first began producing significant amounts of greenhouse gasses, but emission rates did not spike until 110 years ago. All this evidence, however, is meaningless unless we understand what the greenhouse effect is.

The greenhouse effect is a process in which heat trapping gasses, called greenhouse gasses, keep the earth warm. This is a good thing, but as they say too much of a good thing is a bad thing. This saying remains true Too much greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere contribute to a global temperature increase. We have been causing this since the start of the industrial revolution, Burning fossil fuels releasing greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Thus, by burning oil, coal, gas and other fossil fuels, humanity caused climate change due to our increasing carbon dioxide levels usually kept down by plants, trees and other photosynthetic organisms. Clear cutting forests, and using other forms of deforestation, has had a negative impact on the amount of CO2 that is absorbed. The fact that we have increased the acidity of the oceans, causing huge amounts of phytoplankton to die off. This and the other impacts we have on the world can safely be said to be the cause of climate change.

While one might know that climate change is changes to the world's weather patterns resulting from humans releasing greenhouse gasses, and also know how we know it exists, not many people really know the effects of climate change. One of the major effects of climate change is on the weather. This effect is composed of changed precipitation, increased storm intensity, larger amounts of weather related disasters and record heat waves. This change in precipitation rates is evident in the united states. According to the climate division of the national air and space association, Average U.S. precipitation has increased since 1900, but some areas have had increases greater than the national average, and some areas have had decreases. Nasa shows us that the increase in precipitation is an average and while some areas had large amounts of rain, some areas, like California, had droughts. These increased precipitation rates include rain from storms witch are also affected by climate change. In fact, climate change has, nasa says, Increased the intensity, frequency and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes. It can increase some relatively mild category 2 hurricanes, sporting winds of around 74 miles per hour to a category 4 or 5 with wind speeds exceeding 157 mile per hour and carrying over 150 tons of water. The frequency of these Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s.

According to national geographic, Meteorological records show a rise in weather-related disasters since 1980. Water in the form of snow and ice also has an impact on this country a large part of the eastern us is suffering from sub zero temperatures. This is caused by the arctic vortex an upper-level low-pressure area lying near the north pole that contains very very cold air. Climate change has caused the arctic vortex to spread, now encompassing some parts of the eastern us. Climate change is not making everywhere rainy and frigid, some of it makes areas hot and dry. This problem is evident in California and other parts of the western united states. Nasa says that Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves everywhere are projected to become more intense. In support of this production The global average temperature in May 2015 was the highest on record. India was hit the hardest by this, with some 2,200 people perished during a ten-day heat wave when reported highs hit 113°F. Climate change is not causing weather to tip one way or another, it is making weather more extreme.

The effects of climate change are noticeable in the natural world. Some of the animals that feel the effects the most are the African elephant and the polar bear. African elephants posses a number of traits make them vulnerable to a changing climate. These including sensitivity to high temperatures, susceptibility to a variety of diseases, reliance on there habitat, long generation time, and low genetic variation. There sensitivity to high temperatures makes them ill equipped to deal with heat waves while their vulnerability to diseases means they will not do well in a climate where diseases flourish. The African elephant’s long generation time, the time between two consecutive generations, and low mutation rates mean it would be hard for elephants to adapt. With these aside, the biggest concern for elephants is their need for large amounts of fresh water. With droughts becoming more and more frequent, the water elephants need will become more and more scarce. However, their dependence on sea ice makes them highly vulnerable to a changing climate. While elephants rely on liquid water, polar bears rely on its solid form. they rely heavily on sea ice for traveling, hunting, mating, resting, and in some areas, maternal dens. According to the World Wildlife Fund, polar bears, in particular, they depend heavily on sea ice-dependent prey, such as ringed and bearded seals. The WWF also says that, their long generation time and low birth rate may impede their ability to adapt to changes in climate. While African elephants and polar bears are two examples many other animals feel the effects of climate change.

This is, in part due to loss of habitat and sea level rise. Sea level rise may seem like a purely human issue, but many organisms rely on beaches to survive. This reliance is mainly in the form needing to lay eggs on beaches. These animals, such as sea turtles, are in danger in a changing climate. The effects of humanity on the natural world have been mainly negative. In fact, 50% of the world's species have been driven to extinction since 1980, and, while poaching combined with habitat loss, caused by deforestation, urbanization, pollution, and construction, has had an impact on the natural world, climate change has also contributed to this mass extinction.

Although the effects of climate change may seem far off, climate change has a observable effect on humans. These effects include Sea level rise, severe weather, diseases and poor air quality. Sea level rise has and impact on areas close to sea level. Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since 1880. It is predicted to rise another 1 to 4 feet by the year 2100. This is the result of added water from melting sea and land land ice and the expansion of the molecules in seawater as it warms. Warming sea water and air causes more severe storms. These storms cause costly damage and even fatalities. In 2017, 477 people died from weather related injury in the united states alone. In that year, such extreme weather events caused $306 billion in damage in the United States causing it to be the most expensive year on record regarding natural disasters in the united states. People in California know about the dangers of decreased air quality, witch is one of the effects of climate change that is currently affecting us. Air pollution levels spiked around 1980 though climate measures have started to curb the growth. High air pollution levels can cause immediate health problems such as added stress to heart and lungs and damaged cells in the respiratory system. Long-term exposure to polluted air can have permanent impacts on one's health including accelerated aging of the lungs, decrease in lung function, and diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly cancer. As if these health concerns weren’t enough, a changing climate causes more stagnant water, witch not only causes increased water borne illness but benefit mosquitos, witch need stagnant water to breed. All of these are already having an impact on human health.

Mountains of evidence prove that Climate change is real. Scientists have seen large amounts of ice loss, found rising CO2 levels, and observed temperature increase, both in water and out. Our impact on the climate has noticeable effects on the weather, causing storms, hurricanes and other weather related phenomenons to be more severe and to strike with more frequency. It has contributed to the extinction of millions of species of animals and plants, working in tandem with other human impacts. And now, it is affecting us. Hopefully this has cleared the mystery surrounding climate change by answering questions most don’t think to ask. 

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