Climate change is among the most severe issues humans have faced. It is the long-term change in weather patterns and temperatures. It puts hundreds of millions of human lives, animal and plant species, the economy, and the planet’s future habitability at risk.
Scientists have pointed out that while there might be many causes, human activities are the number one climate change contributor.
Luckily, climate change is solvable, and everybody should take it as a personal assignment. However, it is critical to understand the causes and effects to help identify the best way to reverse it.
This is the number one cause of climate change. The most common greenhouse gases are methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)– This results from burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas. It is also released from industrial processes.
- Nitrous oxide (N20) – This mostly comes from industrial and agricultural activities, plus burning solid waste and fossil fuels.
- Methane (CH4) – The main agricultural activities contributing to methane concentration are rice cultivation and livestock digestion. It also results from landfills, producing and transporting oil, coal, and natural gas.
Their concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere has significantly increased over the decades, resulting in the greenhouse effect. That is a process where the gases trap heat like in a greenhouse, causing the Earth’s temperatures to rise significantly.
Trees play numerous roles in the environment. The main one is that they absorb excess atmospheric carbon dioxide, which can help minimize the greenhouse effect. They also play a significant role in bringing rain and preserving the soil from soil erosion.
In addition to the primary greenhouse gases, industrial processes release other harmful gases. These include nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). These result in acid rain, which affects the soil, water, and plants.
Changes in land use
Land use changes can impact the Earth’s surface reflectivity (albedo) and contribute to regional or local climate changes.
One of the significant activities causing this is urbanization. While it helps improve the quality of life, it contributes to deforestation and replaces dark trees with lighter, more reflective surfaces. Agriculture also contributes to this because crops and greenhouses are lighter surfaces.
These activities also produce aerosols, which reflect sunlight back into space, making the surface cooler.
Volcanoes play a huge role in shaping the landscape and providing rich agricultural soils and minerals. However, they release colossal carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide amounts.
They also release numerous particles into the upper atmosphere, reflecting sunlight and cooling the Earth’s surface. However, volcanic activities produce short-term effects because the particles and gases from eruptions only remain in the atmosphere for a short time.
Changes in the Earth’s rotation and orbit
Scientists have found that the Earth’s orbital changes, primarily attributed to gravitational forces, have hugely impacted the climate. For example, changes in its axis of rotation have resulted in a gradual summer sunshine increase in the Northern Hemisphere, causing faster ice melts.
This has been the most obvious impact experienced by people globally. There has been an increased intensity and frequency of heat waves. Summers have increasingly become hotter, resulting in extended periods of extreme heat.
The higher temperatures are felt even in the ocean, affecting marine life. Warming waters can result in coral bleaching when they expel the algae in their tissues, making them white. That impacts thousands of marine species and could result in some extinction.
The past few decades have experienced a gradual glacial retreat. That is the reduced volume and size of ice caps and glaciers. Sea ice in polar regions has also experienced a decline.
These occurrences have led to increased sea levels, threatening low-lying coastal areas. This phenomenon is visible in Venice, where its highest point is now three feet above sea level. Scientists say it is sinking. Most of it is below sea level, hence the increased flood occurrences.
Severe weather events
Warmer ocean temperatures can result in more destructive and intense tropical storms. The numerous greenhouse gases have made oceans warmer, resulting in more recurring and intense cyclones and hurricanes.
There has also been an increase in rainfall intensity, which has increased the frequency and strength of floods compared to the start of the 20th century.
Droughts have also become more common and severe, especially across the Western United States. That is primarily because of changes in precipitation. People also use more water, especially in agriculture, depleting natural sources.
Oceans absorb around 30% of carbon dioxide levels from the atmosphere. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means the oceans absorb more, leading to higher acidity in the water.
That has threatened marine life, especially those with calcium carbonate shells.
Different living things respond differently to climate change. Some plants might adopt and change their growth cycles, while others might expand their geographic range.
However, some animal and plant species might not adapt to changes. Temperature and precipitation changes could disrupt or destroy habitats and ecosystems.
That might cause some species to move to new places looking for more suitable climates. While that preserves them, it results in huge ecosystem changes. Other species might become extinct.
All farmers are used to growing and harvesting seasons for different plants. However, the temperature and precipitation changes gradually change them, resulting in lower yields.
Warmer temperatures have also resulted in an increased level of pests and diseases across different plant species.
Economic, social, and political events
As climate change affects agriculture and yield production, it affects many people’s sources of income. That, plus the competition for reducing resources like arable land and water, results in conflicts, migration, and displacement.
This eventually causes social and political tensions, sometimes beyond state or country borders.
Extreme weather events also contribute to huge impacts on infrastructure. Extreme heat requires more indoor cooling, putting stress on the energy grid. On the other hand, floods and hurricanes cause disruption and destruction of physical infrastructure like businesses and roads, causing the closure of business activities.
- Using more renewable energy (solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, geothermal, etc.)
- Planting more trees
- Reducing, reusing, and recycling
- Carbon capture and storage
- Sustainable transportation (walking, taking public transport, or using electric vehicles)
- Waste and water management