Global Warming / Climate Change
What is Global Warming aka Climate Change?
Global warming is the increase of the average temperature in the atmosphere and oceans over time due primarily to human influences. Since the late 19th century, scientists have monitored the fluctuations in temperature and studied global warming theories and trends to determine the causes and to assess the extent to which they are due to human activity. The greenhouse effect is largely caused by human-generated carbon dioxide (CO2) and, to some extent, by increases in solar activity, etc. The term “global warming” is used to imply a human influence while “climate change” is most often used in association with changes in climate with no easily identifiable cause, such as the processes that produced the Ice Ages.
Current climate models (simulations) based on estimates of increasing CO2 and, to a lesser extent, by decreasing sulfate aerosols, predict that temperatures will increase by 1.4-5.8°C (2.5-10.4°F) between 1990-2100. This is a somewhat wide range; however, it is difficult to predict CO2 emissions because of the number of variables involved. Some climate studies have shown that, even in the absence of the CO2 emission variable, global climate will increase by 0.5°C (0.9°F) over the next one hundred years due to warming caused just by the ocean. In addition, models predict that sea levels will rise by about 10 cm over the next century.
Evidence of global warming includes decreased snowfall, rising sea levels and changes to weather trends. Precipitation levels, precipitation patterns, cloud cover, severe weather, and other elements will be impacted by the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. “Greenhouse gases” are so named because they trap radiant energy from the sun that would otherwise be radiated back into space.
The Kyoto Protocol was developed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The Protocol was entered into force in February 2005, and signed by countries committed to reducing CO2 emissions and 5 other greenhouse gases. They may also engage in emissions trading, or the purchase of credits from other countries that remain under the limits of greenhouse gas emissions. In this way, countries that may exceed the limits can still comply with the protocol. To date, 141 countries have ratified the agreement. Unfortunately, neither the United States nor Australia have been participating, which has generated speculation as to whether the Kyoto Protocol will successfully reduce greenhouse gases, even if completely implemented by all signed countries. Related news: Ignoring Planetary Peril, a Profound ‘Disconnect’ Between Science and Doha
Global climate change has been studied on a large scale based on analyses of global temperature fluctuations over thousands of years; for example, since the last Ice Age, which occurred approximately 12,000 years ago, global temperatures have been relatively stable. Studies on a smaller scale, however, show that temperatures in the lower troposphere have increased between 0.08 and 0.22°C per decade since 1979. Still, these modern day changes are not always linear, which has created a source of debate within the scientific community and the news media.
The study of paleoclimatology (ancient climates) is increasingly linked to modern day climate study. For example, the Earth was in an ice age for the last 160,000 years prior to the end of the last Ice Age. Earlier studies of this time period showed little variability in temperatures; however, more recent studies showed the variability to be about twice as great as previously published, indicating that temperature fluctuations are more frequent throughout time than first thought. However, this does not negate the impact of human activity on the current rate of global warming.
Climate change is caused by both natural and external forces, the latter including both human—greenhouse gases—and non-human causes such as changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, solar activity, and volcanic emissions. Science is increasingly pointing to human activities as the reason that global warming is accelerating.
The greenhouse gas theory started in the 19th century when the Swedish chemist and 1903 Nobel Laureate, Svante Arrhenius, determined that increases in greenhouse gas concentration would lead to higher global mean temperatures, while decreases would lead to colder global mean temperatures. His finding was a result of his research on ice ages, and was largely rejected by his peers at the time. A colleague of Arrhenius, Arvid Högbom, was one of the first scientists to study the carbon cycle. Arrhenius used his data to base his assessment that in 1890, emission and absorption of CO2 in the atmosphere were roughly in balance, and that burning fossil fuels would not cause problems. However, this was based solely on the use of coal, not on the use of fossil fuels in the automobile and other industries.
Opponents to the global warming theory postulate that water vapor and clouds will cancel out warming effect of CO2emissions. However, the warming trends over the past few decades are increasingly negating the cancellation hypothesis. Furthermore, sophisticated computer models of the climate, validated by the scientific community in demonstrating accurate simulations of known climate variations such as El Niño events, have predicted that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will create a warmer climate in the future. The degree to which this warming will occur varies by model, however, and opponents of the global warming theory point out variables that models are not equipped to factor, such as changes in vegetation and cloud cover.
In spite of the dying debate, it is known that coal-burning power plants, automobile exhausts, factory smokestacks, and other waste vents contribute about 22 billion tons of CO2 (6 billion tons of pure carbon) and other greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere each year. CO2 levels have increased by about 31% since 1750, about 75% of which can be attributed to fossil fuel burning. The remaining 25% is largely due to land-use change, particularly deforestation.
In their 2006 report, the IPCC stated that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has exceeded levels over the natural range for the last 650,000 years. The consensus is that human activity is, in almost all aspects of global warming, the most likely cause. This is a change from the previous report that stated human activity was merely a likely cause.
“Today, 310,000 people took to the streets of New York City to call for climate action — the largest climate march in history. And on Tuesday, the world’s politicians will gather in New York to talk about climate action — 125 heads of state in total. They’ll be gathering with the knowledge that more people than ever are demanding action, not just words, and that their political future is on the line — as well as the future of the planet. We will bring that message to the top leadership of the UN inside Tuesday’s summit, with a hand-delivered message to top UN climate negotiators. If you stand with the hundreds of thousands of people who marched today around the world, tell world leaders that you mean business: http://act.350.org/letter/ready-for-action”
Implications for the Ocean
Recently, a sign of climate change was seen in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. There was not enough ice to provide necessary habitat for thousands of baby harp seals, and nearly 100% of all pups born this year drowned. In Tasmania over the past 50 years, 20-80% of the east coast kelp forests have disappeared as they’re surrounded by warmer, nutrient-poor waters. Scientists recently predicted that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the only biological structure that can be seen by the naked eye from space, will be virtually dead within 30 years. As mentioned earlier, Arctic polar bears are facing extinction due to dramatic reductions of Arctic ice, a problem that will also threaten all Arctic wildlife. These terrible events, as they say, are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Bigger, more terrifying events are taking place. For example, corals are already under serious threat right now due to “bleaching” due to the seas growing warmer. A coral is a living animal, 80% of its energy is generated by photosynthesis via tiny algae within its body known as zoozanthellae. If environmental conditions change, the coral’s defense is to expel the algae, which results in death of the coral. But this is not the only “hot water” corals face.
Global warming may also impact ocean life and life on earth by altering the ocean’s circulatory patterns and the flow of surface currents and local areas of upwelling and downwelling, which can affect nutrient and oxygen delivery over large areas. As Arctic ice melts, it dilutes the deep nutrient-rich ocean currents that move throughout the Atlantic and reduces their ability to sink, a process necessary for the normal circular path of these deep currents which transfers 85% of the world’s heat around the world. If melting continues at an alarming rate, the Atlantic Ocean’s ability to maintain the weather as we know it might collapse. Giant storms, breeding in unstable conditions, could grow in intensity and numbers as they pummel the coastlines of Northern Europe and North America.
Scripps Researchers Find Clear Evidence of Human-Produced Warming in World’s Oceans – Climate warming likely to impact water resources in regions around the globe
Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and their colleagues have produced the first clear evidence of human-produced warming in the world’s oceans, a finding they say removes much of the uncertainty associated with global warming.
Human Impact on Climate Change
Whether or not the planet is warming at accelerated rates, likely caused by human activity, is no longer a topic of debate. The data can no longer be disputed.
The terms “global warming” and “climate change” are used interchangeably. However, “global warming” implies the warming of our planet due to a direct human influence while “climate change” is more accurately used to describe changes in climate due to natural fluctuations, such as the processes that produced the Ice Ages.
The scientific evidence in support of global warming continues to mount and the media is increasingly highlighting the topic to inform us of the very real dangers involved in global warming. Common media images include polar bears that are no longer able to find enough ice to survive and often drown in search of food. Glaciers in the Arctic and Greenland are breaking apart at unprecedented speed, causing sea levels to rise. The ocean’s temperature is rising; as a result, we are witnessing marine species forced to migrate from habitats they have lived in for at least thousands of years in search of more hospitable areas.
Recently, some island nations and communities have actually begun evacuation procedures as rising seas flood their homes and land. Rising sea levels caused by the expansion of sea water as it warms and the melting of glaciers has caused a one mm increase in sea level, which translates to a shoreline retreat of about 1.5 m. This has been seen in the U.S. along the Atlantic Coast where erosion has narrowed beaches and washed out houses. In other countries, such as the TuvaluIslands in the Pacific, communities are planning their moves as their homelands are slowly submerged. Other currently threatened nations include the Cook and the Marshall Islands, where one island (Majuro) has lost up to 20% of its beachfront already.
Scientists have recently discovered that the basic chemistry of the ocean is being altered by excess carbon dioxide absorption, which threatens marine organisms by increasing acidification. Acidification is caused by a reaction between CO2 and H2O, which forms carbonic acid (H2CO3). Carbonic acid increases the acidity of ocean waters by lowering the pH which inhibits the reaction organisms (e.g., coccolithophores – one of the most abundant phytoplankton in the ocean, corals, foraminifera, echinoderms, crustaceans, and some mollusks, especially pteropods) use to secrete skeletal structures and shells made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). With increasing acidity, every marine species that constructs skeletons and shells of CaCO3 will find it more difficult to survive in the future. The impact of such a widespread decline in shell-producing marine organisms could be disastrous for nearly all ocean ecosystems. Increasing acidity will also undoubtedly affect numerous reproductive and/or physiological processes in other marine species with unknown consequences.
All these changes, whether we recognize it or not, are connected to us. Anything that happens to the ocean will affect our lives. Between half and three-quarters of the world’s population live within 60 km of the sea which will be driven inland by rising sea levels. All major cities will be filled up with unimaginable congestion; food and water supplies will dwindle, good relations will break down; housing will be unavailable; homelessness and poverty will become overwhelming. And this could happen in 20 years or less. And we will feel the impact in other ways as well.
As sea life dwindles in the oceans, it will mean fewer and fewer jobs for anyone dependent on resources from the sea. As major parts of world economies break down, the last remaining marine species preserved by humankind in aquariums will come to haunt us, as rare wild species in zoos already do. Already today, hundreds of years of overfishing have resulted in an empty ocean through which immense populations of wildlife once swam. There is now less of everything, and more of nothing.
Global warming will make memories out of many living things, and as we remember the bounty of life that this planet used to support, we will feel shame and a deep sense of loss, unless we do everything we can to slow climate change, protect what is left, and restore at least part of what we have lost.
However, little of this has to come to pass, yet. We can protect the future by realizing that no one is born a conservationist. A conservationist is shaped and inspired by world events: these events, changes happening to our world. Human beings have always been at their best when things are at their worst. We can no longer wait for the worst to come before we reveal what is best within us. Now is the time to step up.
Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been studying climate change for decades. Considerable information about the oceans and climate change is available at: http://www.whoi.edu/institutes/occi/. The Institution held a panel discussion to address questions about climate change. The discussion was introduced by Terry Joyce, director of the Ocean and Climate Change Institute and a senior scientist in physical oceanography, and moderated by Tom Wheeler, chairman of the corporation.
If you haven’t watched An Inconvenient Truth yet, we highly recommend it.
Center for Investigative Reporting | PBS Frontline
Climate Change Impacts on the United States
The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change
By the National Assessment Synthesis Team, US Global Change Research Program Published in 2000
Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists Are Fueling the Climate Crisis—And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster
Everyone should read this book if you’re interested in the future of civilization.
A few random quotes from Gelspan’s book:
“Many activists today are promoting the use of energy-efficient light bulbs, carpooling, and other climate-conscious lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, these strategies, even under the most wildly optimistic scenarios, fall far short of nature’s requirement that we cut our consumption of coal and oil by 70 percent.”
“Our climate is capable of immense and wildly disruptive surprises. Every day, those surprises seem progressively more likely than not. Not only are we gambling with our future, we are gambling with our eyes blindfolded. We can’t even see the cards we’ve been dealt.”
“Although the disappearance of the glaciers is visually striking, its importance may be overshadowed by a less visible but more pervasive consequence of atmospheric warming. All over the world, species are traveling toward the poles in an effort to maintain temperature stability.”
“There is only one chance in 100 that the rate of warming will be less than double the warming rate of the last 100 years—and a 99% probability that it will exceed double the past warming rate…. The most likely estimate of warming between [now] and 2100 is 5.5°F. This is five times the warming rate experienced over the past 100 years. At the high end, there is a five percent chance that the warming could be more than eight times the warming rate of the past century.”
“In this immense drama of uncertain outcome, this much is true: A major discontinuity is inevitable. The collective life we have lived as a species for thousands of years will not continue long into the future. We will either see the fabric of civilization unravel under the onslaught of an increasingly unstable climate—or else we will use the construction of a new global energy infrastructure to begin to forge a new set of global relationships.
If we are truly lucky—and visionary enough—those new relationships will differ dramatically from what we have known throughout our recorded history. They will be based far less on what divides us as a species and far more on what unites us. Embedded in the gathering fury of nature is a hidden gift—an opportunity to begin to redeem an increasingly fragmented world. The alternative is a certain and rapid decent into climate hell.” Get the book (~$5 used) here: Boiling Point
See 101+ Things We Can All Do to protect our environment, hopefully slow global warming and protect our ocean.
North Carolina Wishes Away Climate Change
Disappearing world: Global warming claims tropical island
Global Warming & Rising Oceans by Jeffrey Chanton, Ph.D., Department of Oceanography, Florida State University
How Did Humans First Alter Global Climate? by William F. Ruddiman, Ph.D. – A bold new hypothesis suggests that our ancestors’ farming practices kicked off global warming thousands of years before we started burning coal and driving cars.
Defusing the Global Warming Time Bomb – Global warming is real, and the consequences are potentially disastrous. Nevertheless, practical actions, which would also yield a cleaner, healthier atmosphere, could slow, and eventually stop, the process – by James Hansen – Science & Technology at Scientific American.
Climate Models Reveal Inevitability of Global Warming
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Wikipedia: Global Warming
An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security – October 2003 (PDF)
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040 – By 2050, rising temperatures exacerbated by human-induced belches of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could send more than a million of Earth’s land-dwelling plants and animals down the road to extinction.
World of Change: Global Temperatures – Earth Observatory/NASA