The Facts On Global Warming: Do You Know the Truth?

It is important to know the true facts about global warming. Because it is not a small or localized environmental problem, it is going to require international cooperation as well as personal change from all of us to stop global warming. In fact, it may be the largest challenge humanity faces in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, it has also become a highly politicized issue.

You need to especially carefully about the information concerning global warming– you can learn which facts are accepted by the scientific community and which are created by ill-informed or political sources.

Global Warming:
A Fact or Myth?

It is a fact, not a theory. Global warming is a measurable process that is already underway. Temperature changes, alterations in rainfall patterns, and an increased frequency of storms are occurring and being measured around the world as we speak. The evidence against global warming is not convincing in light of the effects we are witnessing already.

Warming is destroying ecosystems worldwide that you and other people depend on, according to a highly detailed new study conducted by scientists at the Goddard Space Institute. The study found a trend of change all over planet Earth, including the “timing of plant flowering, bird nesting, ice melting, salmon migration and pollen release; declines in populations of polar bears, krill and penguins; and increased growth of Siberian pines and cool-water ocean plankton.”[1] This extensive study adds to the already voluminous evidence that global warming is real!

A Scary Figure:
150,000 Dead Every Year

Global warming has changed precipitation patterns around the world, disrupting traditional agricultural practices that you and the rest of the world depend on to live. The area of land on the Earth suffering from drought conditions has doubled since 1970.[2] Insurance costs in the coastal areas of the United States have escalated dramatically. These are the effects you can see already, and climate change is only beginning to make itself felt.

Climate-related deaths will double in 25 years according to a 2005 report from the World Health Organization. Climate change is already tied to 150,000 deaths globally every single year.[3] These deaths are caused by more frequent heat waves and droughts, as well as by floods and more powerful storms linked to climate change. Global warming has increased deaths in urban areas as heat waves have exacerbated the effects of smog and related respiratory problems.

We Cause The Problem

The basic global warming facts are well understood. Human activities are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The elevated concentration of these gases is raising the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere, thereby warming the surface of the Earth. This process has been repeatedly demonstrated in laboratory experiments and is now being measured on the Earth as a whole.

Interesting Effects on Weather

Global warming does not mean a universal and uniform warming of planet Earth, nor does it mean the end of highly unpredictable weather patterns. However, weather patterns are the result of an enormously complex process, and the effects of global warming on this process could be horrific.

There is a lot of uncertainty about how the different “feedbacks” operate, given the complexity of global weather systems. There is concern that global warming could cause changes in massive ocean currents like the Gulf Stream, which is part of a global system referred to as the oceanic “conveyor” because it propels enormous volumes of heat around the world.[4] If this happened, it would cause huge changes in global weather patterns.

The consequences will be enormous no matter which systems are disrupted first. Scientists are unsure about which systems in the world’s climate — tropical currents versus polar currents, or events on land versus in the ocean — cause or trigger changes in other systems. Even though you may live in a relatively stable climate, at some point the ecosystem you live in is greatly affected by climates around the world.

Is Uncertainty a Cause for Doubt?

Briefly, the answer is no. While we will never comprehend all there is to be known about such a vast and interdependent system, the larger trends are clear. You should use these uncertainties as a springboard for action, not a rationalization for further, unnecessary debate.

We Must Act Soon

The most alarming danger is that once warming reaches a certain level, it could cause global climate and weather patterns to shift quickly and dangerously. We now have a fairly detailed understanding of the Earth’s climate from the last 600,000 years and more. In the past, the climate has not changed slowly, nor has it changed in a linear, incremental fashion.

Abrupt changes dramatically alter life on Earth. Sudden shifts in temperature or ocean currents result when a certain amount of pressure to change is put in place. Ocean currents like the Gulf Stream that distribute heat and moisture around the world have historically changed course in a matter of a few years, or even a few months.[5] The historical record has shown us the devastation this sort of change can wreak on entire ecosystems.

Runaway Global Warming:
A Scientific Possibility

There is a chance we may trigger a runaway warming effect that would amplify itself uncontrollably. The most likely source of such runaway warming is the arctic tundra. In the polar regions, there are great expanses of tundra that have remained frozen year round for tens of thousands of years. These ice-locked fields contain enormous stores of organic matter. If these areas thaw, the decay of that organic matter will accelerate, releasing stored carbon and methane.[6] That could create a powerful positive feedback loop catalyzing further warming.

It could mean and end of life as we know it. Runaway warming could produce an Earth like the one that existed in the age of the dinosaurs: a steamy planet with sea levels hundreds of feet higher than they are now.

Figures on Carbon Dioxide Levels

The scary fact is that we are seeing changes faster than any of the climate models had predicted, and that the rate of accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is accelerating. Before the industrial revolution started pouring carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, the level of carbon in the air was about 275 parts per million (ppm). The average rate of carbon increase in the atmosphere from 1960 to 2005 was 1.4 ppm per year. But over the decade from 1995 to 2005, the average increase was 1.9 ppm per year,[7] and in 2007 the increase leapt to 2.14 ppm.[8] Carbon is accumulating in our atmosphere ever more quickly.

Figures on Growth in Methane Levels

In 2007, levels rose much faster than in previous years.[9] Although there is much less methane than CO2 in the atmosphere, methane is by far the more potent greenhouse gas per unit volume. Scientists are worried that this spike in methane levels may indicate that global warming is escalating the release of methane from the arctic tundra. This could be part of a positive feedback loop that will lead to further warming, as mentioned earlier.

In spite of all the attention global warming has been getting lately, we are headed rather decisively in the wrong direction. That is why you have to act, and act now!


Sources:

[1] Marris, Emma, “Warming world altering thousands of natural systems: Analysis shows effects of climate change on almost 30,000 biological and physical phenomena,” Nature News, 14 May 2008

[3] Eilperin, Juliet, “Climate Shift Tied To 150,000 Fatalities Most Victims Are Poor, Study Says,” Washington Post, 17 November 2005, p. A20, also published in Nature, Volume 438, Number 7066, p. 257-394

[2] Brown, Lester, Plan B 2.0; Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Norton, NY NY, 2006, p.63

[4] Pearce, Fred, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, Beacon Press, Boston, 2007

[5] Pearce, Fred, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, Beacon Press, Boston, 2007; Speth, James Gustave, Red Sky at Morning; America and the Crisis of the Global Environment, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004, p.60

[6] Pearce, Fred, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, Beacon Press, Boston, 2007, p.74-85

[7] Connor, Steve, “Carbon dioxide rate is at highest level for 650,000 years,” The Independent, 3 February 2007

[8] Adam, David, “World Carbon Dioxide Levels Highest for 650,000 Years, Says US Report,” The Guardian, 13 May 2008

[9] Greenhouse Gases, Carbon Dioxide and Methane, Rise Sharply in 2007, ScienceDaily, Thursday 24 April 2008


Author: Brown, Nathan. A Cooler Climate, 2008.

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