Climate change is such an unfortunate term representing an environmental crisis. The Earth’s climate continues to change and – as long as the Earth exists – will keep changing. Think of Pangea. What a different world we would live in if every continent were connected. In the past 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of our climate vastly changing, including the advance and retreat of glacial ice. These fluctuations are due to changes in the Earth’s rotation and varying amounts of solar energy absorbed into the atmosphere. Our current climate era began ~ 7,000 years ago. The question arises if humans are independently causing the climate to change. This idea is known as anthropomorphic climate change.
According to the IPCC, the current climate trend has a 95 percent significance as a result of the rise of atmospheric carbon due to humans’ reliance on carbon-based energy. There is no question that gases such as methane and carbon dioxide act to sequester heat within the atmosphere. As these gases continue to build in the atmosphere, the Earth’s temperature will continue to rise. The question of real importance — how quickly can we react to our changing planet? (1)
Global Temperature Rise
The average surface temperature of the planet has risen nearly 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) in less than a century. This change can mainly be attributed to the increasing level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses being emitted into the environment. In fact, the majority of the surface temperature warming has occurred within the last 35 years. Five of the warmest years on human record have taken place since 2010. 2016 recorded eight of the 12 hottest months ever recorded. The oceans act as an impressive conductor of heat, showing a warming trend of more than 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. (2)
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, ocean water acidity has increased nearly 30 percent. Earth’s oceans not only trap heat from Earth’s atmosphere, but also absorb carbon dioxide. In fact, the ocean is able to intake almost one-quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted. While the oceans beneficially act as buffer for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, the increased acid water can disrupt the delicate chemistry. The imbalance of ocean chemistry affects reef formation and many shelled organisms. (3)(4)
Healthy ecosystems require abundant plant and animal life. When a species is removed, the hierarchy is thrown off balance. In the Americas, it is believed that nearly 31 percent of all indigenous species have disappeared since the first European settlers arrived. While statistics can be debated, there is little doubt that human interaction has created an imbalanced system. (5)
Glacial retreat occurs when the snow and ice abate more quickly than can be replenished by the accumulation of snowfall. Higher global temperatures and less snowfall around the world have incurred vast glacial retreat around the world. (6)
Sea Level Rise
Within the last century, the sea level has risen nearly eight inches, although within the past two decades, the rate of rise has nearly doubled and is accelerating every year. (7)
Volatile Climate Events
The level of high-temperature climate events has increased every year. This includes high levels of intense rainfall and storms. In fact, from “May 1, 2018, to April 30, 2019, the lower 48 states collectively averaged 36.20 inches of precipitation, a full 6.25 inches above the mean”. These events are reducing crop yields and creating bleak outcomes for the future of agriculture if these events maintain their trend. Surmising that every weather disaster is anthropogenic may not be the correct hypothesis. An alternative ideology is that as the atmosphere’s temperature continues to increase the likelihood of intense weather events will also increase. (8)
1. National Research Council. “Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years.” 2006.
2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “2016 Marks Three Consecutive Years of Record Warmth for the Globe.” 2016.
3. NOAA. “Ocean Acidification.” 2019.
4. C. L. Sabine, et.al., “The Oceanic Sink for Anthropogenic CO2,” 2004.
5. Harvey, Chelsea. “Climate Change Is Becoming a Top Threat to Biodiversity.” 2018.
6. National Snow and Ice Data Center. “Mountain Glaciers.” 2019.
7. R. S. Nerem, et.al., “Climate-change—Driven Accelerated Sea-level Rise Detected in the Altimeter Era.” 2018.
8. Wuebbles, D.J., et.al., “Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I.” 2017.