There is great uncertainty surrounding the science of global warming and climate change. The Earth’s history is full of abrupt climate changes .
The Intergovernmental panel on climate change at the Kyoto protocol determined in 2007 that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations” .
Furthermore, based on the assumption that significant anthropogenic warming has taken place over the past 50 years over each continent except Antartica, it has been concluded that anthropogenic climate change is having a significant impact on physical and bilogical systems globally . Climate change is occuring on all continents and in most oceans. Changes in the natural system since 1970 have been occuring where temperature increase has taken place. These changes cannot be explained by natural climate variations alone. This implies that climate change is primarily attributable to anthropogenic factors.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conclude that the earth is warming and that humans are probably the cause. Technologies to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and strategies for carbon sequestraion have been found to be essential as species extinction has been found to be related to climate warming .
German Biologist Josef Reichholf contradicts the conclusions of the IPCC stating that there have been much faster climate changes in the past and that these did not automatically lead to a global extinction of species .
However the IPCC found that climate change is primarily based on anthropogenic factors but with the help of technologies, the effects could be minimized.
This essay will focus on four aspects of anthropogenic factors believed to be contributing to climate change. These will explore factors such as burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Some of the natural factors which may cause climate change will be described, such as the effects of volcanoes.
Introduction: Climate change has become one of the major global issues of our times. The Earth’s climate is changing rapidly, due to a rise in the average temperature of the global which has a subsequent impact on a variety of geographical factors. These include rising sea levels, melting of polar ice caps, flooding of land, hotter days and colder nights, and heat waves. All these phenomena bear a threat to the Earth, its ecosystems and its inhabitants, most importantly the human race. Problems such as global food shortages, natural disasters and health risks are on the rise posing severe threat to millions of lives. The risk of floods, hurricanes and heavy rains leaves major chunks of population living in potential danger of becoming homeless at any time. Changing weathers render portions of land arid and foodless, creating food security threats. A growing population only aggravates the problem. The impact of climate change is thus extremely hazardous, and it becomes important to identify the root of this problem.
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Climate change is a direct product of global warming. As heat from the sun reaches the Earth, some of it is absorbed by the surface and the atmosphere, and the rest is reflected back into space. However, due to global warming, more and more of this heat is being trapped into the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in high temperatures. The Earth’s surface has warmed by more than 0.8 degree Celsius in the past century and almost by 0.6 degree Celsius in the 1970s-2000s .
Causes: The rise in temperature is attributable mainly to human activities which are termed anthropogenic factors. Global warming has increased over the years due to human activities of burning of fossil fuels which release harmful gases, deforestation and emission of chemicals. Other concerns are the use of gases such as Chlorofluorocarbons in refrigerators and aerosol sprays and the means of transport. Most of this damage has occurred after to the heavy industrialization over the past three centuries, from 1750 the time of industrial revolution.
The impact was scientifically proven and presented by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in a series of reports. In 2007, the IPCC published its last assessment on the subject in which it asserted that human factors have in fact contributed widely to the resultant climate change. It is very likely that human factors are responsible for sea level rise, changing wind patterns, risk of heat waves and droughts. In fact, had it not been for the anthropogenic factors, the solar waves and volcanoes would more likely have cooled the Earth rather than warming. The IPCC incorporates into its findings the concept of radiative forcing, a term which empirically measures the impact of each factor on the climate change. Radiative forcing is defined as
“How the energy balance of the Earth-atmosphere system is influenced when factors that affect climate are altered. The word radiative arises because these factors change the balance between incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation within the Earth’s atmosphere. This radiative balance controls the Earth’s surface temperature. The term forcing is used to indicate that Earth’s radiative balance is being pushed away from its normal state.”
Thus, if a factor has a positive forcing, it means that it is contributing to an increase in overall temperature. Typically, carbon dioxide has a forcing measure of more than 1.5 watts per square meter, which is the largest forcing caused over this period.
GHGs:Greenhouses gases have increased by about 70% ever since 1750, bearing direct relation with the problem of global warming. These include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide.
The emission of carbon dioxide gas has contributed 80% to the heating up of the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is produced due to the burning of fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal. Humans burn fuel for cooking, for deforestation, for protection from the cold. The industrialization has led to the use of fossil fuel in industries, for running of machines, and in cars. In fact, the burning of fossil fuel contributes towards 80-85% of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Methane is another gas being emitted in the process which all have served to increase the greenhouse effect. Methane is produced from the cultivation of rice, from the burning of coal and from cattle, It has increased by 145% due to human activity.
These gases increase the concentration of particles in the atmosphere, which prevents heat from the sun to reflect back into the space. As a result, most of the incoming radiation becomes trapped in the atmosphere, heating up the Earth’s surface.
Deforestation: Deforestation is another issue created by the needs of fossil fuel, agricultural land, food and space. In most developing countries, the basic need for fuel is satisfied by forest wood. Hence, forests are being burnt down by rural families on a daily basis. In addition, as agricultural land becomes less and less for the needs of growing population, people extend their space by clearing up the forests. However, the land beneath forests tends to be unproductive and devoid of natural chemicals of fertile lands. It serves as source of food for a few years, after which it becomes unfertile and useless, its nutrients get depleted, and exposure to heavy winds leave it deserted. Forest removal results in various problems such as destruction of natural ecosystems, wildlife extinction and aggravation of floods and natural hazards .
Forest removal not only contributes to warming due to increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, but also, it decreases the evapotranspiration efficiency, and decrease roughness of earth surface. Both of these factors contribute to warming of the Earth.
Climate change as a natural phenomenon: There is another school of thought which repudiates the claims made by IPCC regarding the climate change. According to this school, anthropogenic factors cannot be held responsible for the overall climate change, which is infect a natural phenomenon. Kininmonth in his book Climate Change: A Natural Hazard provides an alternative explanation for climate change by saying that the IPCC in its global warming model ignores the regional variation in Earth’s climate. Earth is a sphere, and radiation from sun is absorbed differently by different portions. The tropics absorb more incoming heat, whereas outgoing radiation is far greater than incoming radiation at the poles. Hence, the Earth is not heating up as a whole due to the effect of radiation. Moreover, circulations of the ocean current and atmosphere help distribute this energy through Earth, leaving tropics cooler as well. The excess heat in the tropics is also absorbed by the enormous ocean layer of the tropical oceans which serve as an energy reservoir. Therefore, the resulting climate change is not caused by the anthropogenic factors, rather it is a natural variation which Earth’s atmosphere is prone to. Kininmonth has argued that it is a flaw in the computer models of research that has led us to blame human activities as the causal factor.
Similarly, it is also asserted that deforestation actually leads to both negative and postive radiative forcing. If forests are replaced by grassland, it has a cooling effect which counters the heating effect discussed earlier. Thus, deforestation may or may not be a negative concern.
It has also been a finding that volcanic eruptions may be a natural factor contributing to climate change. Research models developed at the Max Planck Institute of Technology showed that while volcanoes have a cooling effect on global troposphere, they may lead to “a clear winter warming pattern of surface air temperature over Northern Hemisphere continents.”
Implications and Solutions: Yet, despite the debate on the real cause of climate change, it is evident that the change is in fact occurring and the threats it poses are very real. They have strong implications, and the future may be very tumultuous for many regions of the Earth.These particularly leave developing countries vulnerable to the problems of agriculture and population growth . In order to cope, it is necessary to adapt ourselves to the situation. This does not only require measures to prevent global warming, such as banning CFCs but also to become less vulnerable to its impacts by eliminating factors that aggravate the situations. Some of such measures proposed include improving agricultural management, development of efficient irrigation systems, access to sanitation and health facilities for everyone, and development of buffer systems against floods and rising sea levels. Preventive measures include development of greener technology, environment-friendly means of transportation and technology for efficient utilization and redistribution of energy .
In order to mitigate and solve the problems of global warming, it is essential to identify the realistic measures that can be taken. Given the current state and rate of industrialization in our globe, it ibis very difficult to curb the production of greenhouse gases and the process of deforestation. Population growth is another factor which needs to be plugged into the overall equation of sustainable growth. In addition, and more importantly, we should identify exactly where the problem lies, and if in fact some other factor aside of anthropogenic factors is responsible for climate change. Further research needs to be carried out to understand the natural causes of climate change, as promoted by the second school of thought.
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