Term Paper: Global Warming and Climate Change

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¶ … global warming and climate change, including the likely consequences of climate change. Global warming is a situation that could affect the entire planet in a few decades. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Web site, global warming can be defined as "an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth's surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns" (Editors). Today, many researchers and scientists prefer to refer to global warming as "climate change," because climate change refers to other changes taking place on Earth, while global warming only technically refers to the rising of the Earth's temperatures. The EPA defines climate change as "any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer)" (Editors). Many scientists cannot agree that the Earth is undergoing a much more rapid warming than ever before, or that man has caused this much more rapid rise. However, there is one thing they can agree on, and that is that the climate is changing, and that could have devastating affects on the planet and its' people if this change is not remedied soon.

Climate change has been a natural occurrence on Earth ever since its creation. There are well-known cooling and warming trends that have gradually led to ice ages, and warming again, and scientists have known about these trends for a great number of years. Climate change is a natural process, and because it has always happened so gradually, the Earth, which is extremely resilient, has always weathered these climate change storms. In the past, climate change has been a result of very gradual changes in the sun's intensity, the Earth's rotation around the sun, and even changes in the ocean's circulation (Editors). However, during the past 200 years, man's continuing reliance on industry and fossil fuels has sped up the process. Burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases, and these gases, which are essential to life on Earth, have been increasing, especially during the last 100 years. They trap heat on Earth, making it warmer, and making it warmer more rapidly than has ever occurred before. These greenhouse gases are building up at such a rate that they are creating problems on the Earth's surface, such as the melting of the polar ice caps, climate change in many areas around the world, and the warming of the planet's oceans. Heavy deforestation and urbanization adds to the problem by removing green growth that emits oxygen and helps maintain a healthier balance of greenhouse gases (caused by carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. Studies show that carbon dioxide can last in the atmosphere anywhere between 50 and 200 years (Editors), so waiting for it to disappear is simply not an option at this point.

What has scientists most worried about global warming is how rapidly it has changed during the 20th century. Before, climate change happened gradually, and the Earth was always able to slowly adapt to that change. Today, the climate is changing much more rapidly, due to man's continued reliance and development of technologies that rely essentially on fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and their by-products. Weather records clearly indicate the planet is warming up. The EPA site notes, "According to NOAA and NASA data, the Earth's average surface temperature has increased by about 1.2 to 1.4°F in the last 100 years. Eleven of the last twelve years rank among the 12 warmest years on record (since 1850), with the warmest two years being 1998 and 2005" (Editors). Other scientists note this is especially alarming, because for the past 10,000 years, the climate has remained relatively constant, with nature being able to balance the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the air to help keep the planet's natural climate swings in check (Johansen 33). This is the reason the recent spike in temperatures does not bode well for the planet, it has happened extremely rapidly, and the Earth does not have enough time to recover, and so, it is affecting many ecosystems on Earth.

There are numerous climate changes forecast for the future, and many of them are already occurring. Forecasts indicate, "[G]lobal warming will increase the probability of more severe droughts and floods in many parts of the world. Several climate models utilized by the IPCC indicate an increase in precipitation intensity, suggesting a possibility for flooding rains in one season and withering drought in another in the same locations" (Johansen 232). These predictions have already come true in the American Midwest, which has suffered torrential rains and drought in the same season. All this points to a heating of the Earth, and this could lead to climate changes that will affect everyone on the planet sooner or later.

Another change that is already occurring is the polar ice cap melt at both poles. Significant loss of polar ice caps is affecting the wildlife, some of which may disappear if the melt continues. Polar bears and seals are especially endangered as the ice caps diminish, and areas close to the ice caps, such as Alaska, are experiencing warming trends that are much more pronounced than other areas. For example, in Point Barrow, Alaska, in just 20 years their growing cycle has lengthened 15 days, and the ice around Point Barrow is melting much quicker, causing problems with their traditional seal hunting, which is now many of the Natives in the area subsist (Johansen 233). The melting of the polar ice caps is also contributing to a rise in the sea levels all over the planet. The EPA notes, "In the last century, sea level rose 5 to 6 inches more than the global average along the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, because coastal lands there are subsiding" (Editors). Ocean temperatures are also increasing, which is playing havoc with many kinds of ocean life who cannot survive in the warmer temperatures.

There are many economic consequences from climate change, as well. First, agriculture can be affected due to drought, intense storms, and general warming around the globe. Some areas will be able to increase their agricultural yields due to a warming of their area, but many others will experience a decline in agriculture, which could lead to more hunger in the world, and also higher prices for most foods. In addition, insurance costs are rising due to serious weather events. Writer Johansen continues, "Worldwide, during the world's warmest year on record [1998], $90 billion worth of damage was done by the weather, as much, in monetary terms, as during the entire decade of the 1980s" (Johansen 234). The extreme damage done by Hurricane Katrina and other recent weather events shows this trend is definitely continuing.

Greenhouse gases are a result of the way we live today. They come from automobile emissions and electric plant emissions, because most of these plants use non-renewable fossil fuels like coal for their operation. Thus, when we drive or use electricity, we are significantly adding to the greenhouse gases on the planet. There are numerous things we can do to help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, from driving less, to keeping our tires properly inflated to maximize fuel economy. Driving slower also helps increase fuel economy. At home, we can replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents, which use far less energy, we can turn our thermostat down in the winter, and up in the summer to use less heating and cooling, and wee can buy energy-efficient appliances when we replace appliances throughout the home (Editors). We can recycle, because reusing materials keeps them from filling our landfills, and it is a much more efficient use of energy, as well.

However, these are small measures, and around the world, much stronger measures need to be taken. The U.S. has fallen behind in auto emission standards and gas mileage, and it is time to really step up pressure on automakers to create much more fuel-efficient, low-emission cars for America and around the world. In addition, the country needs to support intense cleanup efforts in countries such as China and India, which are known for their growing economies and all the air and water pollution that go along with a rising economy. Automakers have agreed to increase fuel economy and emission standards in the next decade, but it is a minor effort, and much stricter standards could be adopted. The United States is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases. A researcher states, "In 1998, the United States produced approximately 24% of the world's emissions of CO2, more than any other country. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that between 1990 and 2001, the United States' GHG emissions grew by 12%, with between 81 and 84% of the total U.S. GHG emissions as CO2" (Mank 1). We must set the standard for other countries to meet, and we are not doing this at all. Another writer notes, "There is a broad consensus that the actions required to address global… [END OF PREVIEW]

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