Climate change has been a hot topic of conversation as of late. The credibility of the geological phenomenon has debated for years, but recently those conversations have been politically charged.
The term gets thrown around quite a bit, but IMO most people don't really know what climate change is (I include myself in that category), what causes it, or what risks to humanity it really poses. (Because let's face it - no matter what happens with Earth's climate, the planet will survive.)
According to Google, climate change is defined as "a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular, a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels."
Ok...but what does that really mean?
Let's back up a step and make we're on the same page regarding some basic definitions. Climate is different than weather. Weather changes daily and is something tangible. Climate references the typical weather patterns of a specific geological region. Earth's climate is a combination of all the different climates around the world.
The Earth's climate changes all the time. Sure, the changes last for billions of years, but our planet has been a lot warmer (and a lot colder) than it is right now.
These changes are controlled by Earth's climate system, a system comprised of five different components: atmosphere (gases surrounding the Earth), hydrosphere (liquid water on Earth), cryosphere (frozen water on Earth), lithosphere (the Earth's soil, rock, and sediment) and biosphere (living things on Earth). They all work together to regulate temperatures on the planet. If one component of the system is impacted (the cryosphere, for example), all other systems are also impacted.
These systems can be affected by a variety of different elements. Let's talk about ALL of them.
Ocean-atmosphere variability: The world's oceans and atmosphere work together to redistribute heat. If ocean temperature rise, redistributing this heat will be affected.
Life: This refers to natural events that have an effect on climate, like cloud formation and evaporation.
Orbital variations: Slight changes to Earth's orbit around the sun affect the way sunlight is spread out over Earth's surface. This can affect seasons and seasonal weather.
Solar output: The sun provides the large majority of heat on Earth. Increases or decreases in the sun's overall temperature would have a major impact on the planet's climate.
Volcanism: A big enough volcano explosion would create a global layer of "sulfuric acid haze" affecting sunlight on the Earth's surface and overall temperatures.
Plate tectonics: Tectonic plates are always moving and shifting, affecting ocean currents and the location of lakes and seas. These changes affect the way heat and moisture is distributed about the globe.
Humans: Increased CO2 levels have a direct impact on Earth's climate. Fossil fuel combustion, aerosols, land use, ozone depletion, deforestation, and animal farming (cows produce methane when they belch, etc.) all increase CO2 levels.
(Ok, ok, I get it. This is a little overkill on the science side of climate change. You know me: I like to be thorough.)
There are people that study the planet's climate (scientists). They take measurements and analyze data to formulate theoretical models. According to them, the Earth's temperature (remember this is the average temperature of the entire planet, not just Alaska or Costa Rica) has increased about one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years. Over the next 100 years, "the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century." We commonly refer to these increases as ‘global warming.'
It may not seem like a lot, but these small increases in the Earth's overall temperature can have a massive effect on our planet. In fact, climate change is affecting us right now. There is less sea-ice (scientists predict all sea-ice will be gone by 2050), increased water levels (levels have increased eight inches since 1880), and rising temperatures. Climate change is also the cause of increased droughts and heat-waves and stronger and more intense hurricanes.
And these changes aren't consistent across the US. According to NASA, each region gets its own personalized level of crazy...and it's only expected to get worse...
In the northeast, heat waves, heavy downpours, sea level increases, and changes to agriculture and fisheries. In the northwest, increased wildfires, tree diseases, and increased ocean acidity. The midwest has fallen victim to extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding. In the southeast, sea level increases pose the biggest threat, and in the southwest, changes include increased heat, drought and insect outbreaks, increased wildfires, and reduced agricultural production.
Well...THIS SOUNDS TERRIBLE!!
It's not all bad. I guess. One positive aspect of global warming is that the frost-free season (growing season) has increased and allowed for more food to grow.
Considering the world's current political climate, maybe we really should be thinking about the positives. Unless drastic measures are taken and fast, the UN warns that the effects could become irreversible (we might already be there). Fossil fuel producing countries have to commit to reducing their emissions. Currently, some have, some haven't, and some seem prime to change their stance.
But you can help reduce emissions on your own. I swear. The EPA has put together a lovely list of 25 things you can do to help protect the climate at home, work, school, and on the road. Things like turning off lights when you aren't using them and checking the air pressure in your tires regularly. It's a nifty little guide and I highly recommend checking it out. You can access these tips here> (https://www.epa.gov/climatechange/what-you-can-do-road)
(Considering the new Administrator of the EPA is Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, I would read that guide sooner rather than later. The information might suddenly become unavailable.)
Oh, there's just one more thing…
Do you think you know more about climate change than you did when you first started reading this article? Yeah, me too. Well, at least that's how I felt before I started writing this thing. Based on the knowledge I gathered, very little good comes from climate change, so I, for one, would like to at least try and slow it down.
And now to my closing point: If you believe the Earth is getting warmer and that temperature increases have the potential to dramatically impact climate change in a negative way, well, then you MUST help spread the word. People need to be informed of the truth, the science behind climate change.
So please share. Share with fellow Earth lovers and climate protection enthusiasts. Share with people that waste water and litter. Share with deniers and fanatics, with the indifferent and unaware. Knowledge truly is power. And if we all work together, we really can make a difference.