The Causes Of Climate Change Environmental Sciences Essay
Like all environmental issues, climate change is a political issue. In fact there are two elements which are responsible for this change- the ‘overuse’ and the ‘skewed use’ of the greenhouse gases in proportion to the Earth’s atmosphere. Overuse and skewed use mean the excess dump of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which has recently increased in the past years. The overuse causes a general increase in the Earth’s temperature. This state is known as Global Warming. ‘Global warming is the term used to describe a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans, a change that is believed to be permanently changing the Earth’s climate forever.’ (Live science: All about global warming)1 Thus this general increase in the temperature refers to global warming. A general increase in the temperature has been seen in the recent years. There has been a gradual increase of 0.4 and 0.8 Â°C over the past 100 years. However in the past 50 years these changes have mainly been because of human activities, such as agriculture, deforestation, and industrialization. (Live science: All about global warming)
Climate change is one of the most crucial concerns in the world today. However this issue of climate change is not new; it has been of concern for more than fifty years or maybe more. In fact, it has been discovered that there were drastic changes in the climate some 52,00 years back which had a great effect on the Earth’s atmosphere. After a detailed study of climate changes, Glaciologist Lonnie Thompson found some plants preserved plants in the Quelccaya ice cap in the Peruvian Andes. He noted that these plants were 52,00 years old. (Holland, Earle. Major climate change occurred 52,00 years ago: Evidence suggests that history could repeat its self)2
There is an ongoing debate on this topic, whether climate change is a result of anthropogenic activities or whether it is a natural process. Most scientists believe that it is due to the increases human activities which lead to an increase of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However there is a very minute percentage of scientists who favor the idea that climate changes is natural process and is bound to occur whether humans contribute or not.
Is Climate Change manmade?
Eurobarometer has rated the climate change is one of the second most serious problems in the world today after poverty and hunger. (Eurobarometer: Climate the second most serious problem faced by the world by the world today)3. The immense use of natural gas, oil, coal and deforestation has led to an increase in the carbon dioxide concentration in the air. This dump of carbon dioxide has increased due to the ever increasing demand for goods and services. This leads to a change in Earth’s temperature, high or low. Now the question arises that how do human activities affect the climate? Human activities cause a change in the climate by influencing the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The five main greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), halocarbons (the group of gases containing fluorine, chlorine, and bromine) and water vapors. These gases are able to alter the energy balance of the earth by absorbing long wave radiation emitted by the earth’s surface. The re-emission of the long wave back to the earth’s surface increases the quantity of heat energy in the earth’s climate system. Most emissions of greenhouse gases are made through the use of fossil fuels. Bringing the underground gases to the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide gas in to the atmosphere which is one of the four principle greenhouse gases. About 80 to 85% of carbon dioxide is emitted in the atmosphere through the use of fossil fuel. (United Nation Environment Programme- World Meteorological Organization (1997). What human activities contribute to climate change?)4
Research has proved that increase concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes variation in the temperature. These variations can be either high or low. However an increasing trend has been seen. Land use, for example, logging, agriculture, deforestation, ranching, etc, also increases the carbon emission in the atmosphere. Also the amount of carbon concentration in the ocean is related to temperature. A rise in temperature means a release of carbon dioxide and a decrease in temperature causes the diffusion of carbon dioxide. Most scientists believe that the increase of carbon concentration leads to an increase in the greenhouse effect, which further enhances the destruction of the climate. "Most computer climate models suggest that the globe will warm up by 1.5 – 4.5Â° Celsius if carbon dioxide reaches the predicted level of 600 parts per million by the year 2050" (Pidwirny,Michel.(5.3.2010). Causes of climate change)5
Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas are shown for the period 1860 to 1992 for three groups of countries. (Pidwirny,Michel.(5.3.2010). Causes of climate change)
Methane natural gas is the second most important and destructive greenhouse gas. The increase in use of rice cultivation, coal mining, and oil drilling decaying material in the landfills contributes to the increase in methane concentration in the atmosphere. Research has shown that human activities have increased the methane deposition by 145% above what have been naturally done in the atmosphere. Similarly the concentration of Nitrous dioxide has been increased by 15% above what would have been done naturally. (US global change research information office.(1997). What human activities contribute to climate change?)6
Also water vapor is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. The amount of water vapor in the air is in direct relation with the atmosphere. As the temperature increases, more water evaporates, thus increasing the concentration of water vapors in the atmosphere. As it is a greenhouse gas, it further pushes the temperature up. (This is known as the positive feedback). Studies have shown that water vapor feedback doubles the amount of temperature change caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A 1Â°C change caused by CO2 means that water vapor will cause an additional 1Â°C change in temperature. ‘When other feedback loops are included, the total warming from a potential 1Â°C change caused by CO2 is, in reality, as much as 3Â°C.'(Water vapor the most powerful greenhouse gas)7
These figures show how destructive these gases can be and their impact on the atmosphere can be so intense that it can lead to the destruction of the entire human race. There has been an increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This further triggers the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. This overall increase in the amount of greenhouse gases leads to drastic changes in the temperature.
In recent years humans have also made efforts to control this affect. For example, the development of the Carbon Market after the Kyoto Protocol, where companies who are able to cut their carbon emissions easily sell the excess to the ones who have difficulties in doing so. The Kyoto Protocol also sets a limit on how much they can pollute. They believe that during 2008-2012 they will be able to reduce the carbon dump by 5 percent. (Lohmann,Larry (2002). The Kyoto Protocol: Neocolonialism and Fraud). However this market is not as effective as it sounds. Hidden behind this supposedly well organized market is the truth of its regulators. That is that only the ones who are rich and wealthy have the power to pollute. These are the companies mostly located in the developed part of the world, the Global North. The South has barely any say in this market as they have been given no pollution rights in the treaty. They are only exploited by the North, who not only exploit their resources but also built offset projects here and buy them on cheap rates. Thus this system has helped them to put a veil over their unethical activities and helped them to exploit the Earth’s atmosphere. This is one of the ways how they are increasing the carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Also after the Green Revolution there has been an increase in the use of Genetically Modified Seeds (GMO). These seed require a tremendous amount of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. These again have a drastic effect on the climate and lead to a tremendous amount of greenhouse gases. (Fertilizers and Climate Change.(5 may 2008))8
Humans are also engaged in cutting of trees and cleaning the entire piece of land for large scale agriculture, housing, and industrialization. 20 million hectors of rainforests are cut every year realizing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is as big as the size of England. Deforestation is one of the hidden cause of climate change. Trees and leaves trap the carbon dioxide from the air into their leaves, wood and soils. However when these trees are cut, the carbon dioxide in the leaves is released out into the air, contributing to global warming. This approximately contributes to 20 to 25 percent of the carbon dump into the atmosphere according to the latest report from the United Nation and estimations made in the Stern Report. (Howden,Daniel (Monday 14 may 2007), Deforestation the hidden cause of global warming)9 Thus trees and plants are very important for a stable climate. For these reasons offset projects have also been made by the World’s largest legally binding emission reduction agreement, the Kyoto Protocol. The first forest emission reductions project was the Neol Kempff Climate Action Project Bolivia, which is fully certified using Kyoto Protocol’s standards. (The Nature Conservancy: saving forests to fight climate change)10
"Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change," said Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP. (Howden,Daniel (Monday 14 may 2007), Deforestation the hidden cause of global warming)11 This means that tropic forests act as a building block or support for the world. Howden also says that these forests are like lungs of the Earth. It is very important to have these forests to purify our air and keep the climate stable.
Indonesia has become the third largest polluter of the greenhouse gases in the world, followed by Brazil. Now interestingly neither of these countries has heavy industries like India, Russia, or US and China. However both of these countries had dense tropical forests, which now, are being cut drastically. The reason for this is the extensive demand for agriculture, logging. Countries have become power hungry and fight to become the most developed. They also focus on aggressive production and massive production of food. This creates a demand driven market which is highly mechanized. (Howden,Daniel (2007))
It is also true that a lot of natural habitats are disturbed due to deforestation and climate change. ‘More than 50 per cent of the life on Earth is in tropical forests, which cover less than 7 per cent of the planet’s surface.’ (Howden,Daniel (2007)). Thus this means due to the cutting of trees and plants we destroy their natural habitat and leave many animals on the verge of extinction. Due to massive deforestation 85 percent of the world’s bird’s species are becoming extinct. Also simplified plantation- monoculture- is destroying many species of animals, insects and plants. (Blog:Animals going extinct (18 October 2007))12
Bird populations are plummeting while we speak. Global warming and habitat destruction are main causes for their extinction. Here is a list from Worldwatch Institute of why bird populations are declining (Blog:Animals going extinct(18 October 2007)
The impact of surface temperature is visible to everyone. But global warming also leads to a change in the sea levels. Warming influences the rainfall patterns, lengthens the prolong season in some regions, alters the ranges of some infectious diseases and amplifies costal erosion. Increased temperature leads to the melting of the glaciers which means that the sea levels rise, bringing a high risk of storms, hurricanes, and coastal flooding. Scientists believe due to rising sea levels some islands will disappear and make thousands of people homeless. Sea level has increased by 1.7 millimeters per year between 1870 and 2000. And since 1993 sea levels are rising more drastically, according to the NASA’s satellites there has been a 3 millimeter rise per year. (nasa.gov: global warming features)13
Sea levels crept up about 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) during the twentieth century. Sea levels are predicted to go up between 18 and 59 cm (7.1 and 23 inches) over the next century, though the increase could be greater if ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt more quickly than predicted. Higher sea levels will erode coastlines and cause more frequent flooding. (Graph Â©2007 Robert Rohde
It is true that climate change leads to drastic changes to the environment and habitats of animals, humans and plants. A little increase in temperature leads to drastic changes in human’s life and the lives of our next generations. However there is another side of this debate which argues whether this is a natural process.
Is Climate change a natural process?
Most scientists believe that climate change is man-made process. However some scientist, academics and environmentalists believes that climate change is natural process and is bound to occur with or without any interference from the humans. Although this number is quite small and can be easily influenced, the issue still remains in debate.
Scientists believe that there are certain changes in the Earth’s orbit and tilt: The Milanovitch Cycles- which have resulted in what we know as the ice age. These three cycles repeat themselves after every 23,000,41,000, and 1000,000 years. Also the Solar cycle of the earth leads to a change in the Earth’s temperature. This cycle occurs every 11 years and results in cold (sunspots) and hot (faculae) areas on the sun’s surface. The greenhouse effect can also lead to climate changes. It can change the amount of energy radiated back into the space. (Shepard,Kenton. Natural climate change)14
(Shepard,Kenton. Natural climate change)
It is obvious that there are natural processes which have an effect on the climate. Variation in the solar radiations, earth’s orbit and tilt, mountain building, continental drift and changes in the greenhouse effect can bring about drastic changes in the global temperature and climate. These changes can either amplify or diminish the some parts of the climate system. Such as oceans, sea, landscapes, ice caps. However water bodies react slowly because of their massive size. Thus this effect is rather a slow one.
Human factors however contribute to this effect and rather trigger this effect. Industrialization, deforestation and destruction of habitats and the natural environment has led to increase the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere.
Climate change is a very sensitive process and little changes can bring about a great effect to the overall climate. It is true that human actives trigger this effect, however it a very complex system and since we are not yet fully aware of it we should be extremely cautious before taking any steps. The different causes of climate changes have been mentioned above. These include both natural and due to human activities. Some major effects of this change have also been mentioned. However, how drastic this issue may seem right now and how right both sides maybe describing their point of views, this issue is still a complex one and needs to be fully analyzed before making any significant decisions. Thus till then humans should be highly cautious of their actions as human actions do trigger this affect and can bring about serious consequences.
Live science: All about global warming: http://www.livescience.com/globalwarming/
Holland, Earle. Major climate change occurred 52,00 years ago: Evidence suggests that history could repeat its self: http://www.s8int.com/noahsark13.html
Lonnie,Thompson. Ohio State University Research. Eurobarometer: Climate the second most serious problem faced by the world by the world today: http://azecology.az/eng/news/intheworld/1007-eurobarometer-climate-change-the-second.html
United Nation Environment Programme- World Meteorological Organization (1997). What human activities contribute to climate change?: http://www.gcrio.org/ipcc/qa/04.html
Pidwirny,Michel.(5.3.2010). Causes of climate change: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Causes_of_climate_change
4. US global change research information office, 1997; United Nations Environment Programme – World Meteorological Organization; "What human activities contribute to climate change?"
Water vapor the most powerful greenhouse gas: http://www.skepticalscience.com/water-vapor-greenhouse-gas.htm.
Fertilizers and Climate Change.(5 may 2008): http://naist.cpe.ku.ac.th/iknow/Know%20What/IFA%20-%20Fertilizers%20and%20Climate%20Change.htm
Howden,Daniel (Monday 14 may 2007), Deforestation the hidden cause of global warming: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/deforestation-the-hidden-cause-of-global-warming-448734.html
The Nature Conservancy: saving forests to fight climate change: http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/features/art19363.html
(Howden,Daniel (Monday 14 may 2007), Deforestation the hidden cause of global warming: http://www.livescience.com/globalwarming/
Blog:Animals going extinct (18 October 2007): http://www.animalsgoingextinct.blogspot.com/
nasa.gov: global warming features: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/GlobalWarming/page6.php
Shepard,Kenton. Natural climate change: http://www.peaktoprairie.com/?D=191