Global warming has led to climate disruptions around the world, threatening ecological stability of natural ecosystem. Hence, in order to curb this problem, it is necessary to eradicate a greenhouse gas emissions associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, which has been used largely over the past decade as a major source of energy. According to the Fourth Assessment Report done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the current global warming is caused by human activities. The current global temperature is increasing by 0.7 percent above the pre-industrial level, with an increase of 2 degrees, considering the threshold through which irreversible changes will be noted. Most of the species will become extinct due to this change, as there will be more floods and other extreme weather conditions. This would consequently lead to a large-scale social upheaval due to starvation and even deaths. To avoid such dire impacts, global average temperatures have to be maintained above pre-industrial levels. If nothing is done, global energy demands will increase to more than 90 percent by 2050.
Causes of global warming
Global warming is a problem directly associated with high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This phenomenon is caused by such human activities as combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation, which have led to carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere. Other human activities, such as poor waste management and agricultural practices, have also worsened the problem as they lead to the emission of other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane. Considering the fact that carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time, it poses the greatest risk as it continues to accumulate due to the use of fossil fuels to meet ever-increasing energy demands. Previously collected scientific evidence strongly indicates that temperature increase by 2 degrees Celsius has a potential impact on ecosystem, affecting general human wellbeing. Over the last ten years, the global temperature has risen, with nine warmest years recorded during this century. Global warming is also accompanied by the reduction in cold days and increase in warm nights. The record also shows that various parts of the world respond differently to global warming. The changes in the land and ocean temperature affect precipitation patterns, which have led to drought risk increase in certain areas, as well as sea level rise in some other regions. Deforestation contributes to over 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, to fight global warming, it is essential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation and make agricultural systems more sustainable. Other options that could be explored include the use of nuclear energy, which leads to lower greenhouse gas emissions. However, nuclear energy has its own risks, which could have huge implications.
The historical patterns of global warming
The history of global warming traces back to 1896, when Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius discovered that combustion of fossil fuels would result in global warming. Using his research findings, he came up with a theory that there was a direct relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide saturation levels and the Earth’s surface temperature. Not much attention was paid to these research results until 1987, when Arrhenius hypothesis was revisited. During this time, it was considered that the impact of human activities on climate change was insignificant comparable to such influences as solar activity and oceanic circulation. The then investigators also believed that oceans were great carbon sinks, which cancelled out pollution caused by human activity. However, the research done in 1950 indicated that the atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide molecule was over 10 years. Thus, in the late 1960s, modern technologies started to be used in order to determine carbon dioxide concentrations in Antarctica and at the Mauna Loa. In 1980s, annual global mean temperatures began to rise, with a steep increase in the late 1980s. As a result, non-governmental organizations and environmental bodies began to raise awareness on ways of preventing further global warming. Of course, it was not enough to raise awareness; thus, measures have been taken to start coping with global warming. The Kyoto Protocol negotiation in Japan highlighted the key need for the countries to adopt mechanisms that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Figure 1: A graph showing historical carbon dioxide levels retrieved from NASA; global climate change vital signs
Impacts of global warming
Global warming effects and consequences need to be addressed to mitigate changing processes of the Earth’s climate. It is paramount to estimate the effects and the urgency of the need to mitigate climate change since it affects the natural environment and society. From the previous research, it is evident that glaciers are shrinking; temperatures are rising, high levels of precipitation are recorded in certain areas, while extreme famine is documented in other areas. The changes in rainfall and temperature patterns have strong effects on plants, animals, and humans.
Thousands of trees in the Rocky Mountains have perished in the past fifteen years as victims of climate change. It has negatively affected ecosystems of these regions. The increasing temperatures have had negative impacts on some species, pushing them to the point of extinction. For the past twenty-five years, the population of some species of Antarctic penguins has shrunk by a margin of 33% due to reducing winter cycles in their sea habitat. This has negatively affected their breeding cycles.
Figure 2: Picture of polar bears that are almost extinct due to the current global warming. Retrieved from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Global warming increases such risks as wildfires and intense storms that have negative impacts on people. Extreme heat combined with high levels of humidity can result in heat waves. If average temperatures do not reduce, the extreme heat can kill living organisms.
Figure 3: Potential effects of climate change that includes increased forest fires, longer periods of drought and storms. Credit; Mellimage/Shutterstock.com, center - Montree Hanlue/Shutterstock.com.
In addition, the oceans are also negatively affected. It is evident from increasing levels of ocean acidification. Increasing levels of carbon emissions have affected species with hard calcium carbonate shells, such as coral reefs, which are extremely vital to marine ecological systems. The global warming also leads to an increased precipitation, which affects people living in coastal regions because of flooding. The warming of the ocean has also led to dangerous and powerful typhoons and hurricanes. The hydrologic cycle over lands and oceans as well as mountains determines weather patterns of a peculiar region. Due to the currently increasing temperatures, warmer areas are becoming warmer, while colder areas are becoming colder. The level of precipitation has reduced since the 1970s. However, some regions, such as South Africa, the United States, the Mediterranean region and southern part of Asia, have remained wet.
Climate change also has negative impacts on food production and other agricultural products. Both climate change and global warming have led to lower yields in certain areas because of the increasing temperatures and other drought-related issues. Moreover, it has increased the amount of water use since most of the regions started to require more irrigation due to the shifting weather patterns with increased precipitation levels. Planting and harvesting seasons have also changed due to the altering weather patterns. Climate change has negatively affected arable land since higher temperatures have shifted to higher latitudes where the soil is not suitable for producing crops. Meanwhile, more suitable lower areas, which could be more productive, are used less frequently. People do not bear the effects of climate change equally because the climate trends around the globe vary. Therefore, people living along coastlines are likely to experience more severe flooding. Alternatively, some people are more vulnerable to diseases; for instance, the young and elderly are far more likely to succumb to illnesses compared to the healthy young individuals. Wealthy nations are also likely to adapt faster to the effects of climate change compared to the poor nations such as the third world countries. Therefore, better planning through establishing infrastructures and public health strategies can help different communities to become resilient to the warming climate.
The global climate change has caused an emergence of a group of insect pests that are adaptable to increased temperatures. It has brought about changing reproductive cycles of these insects. It is also important to note that warmer climate has the potential of changing disease vectors since the insects that spread some of the diseases during cold seasons move to higher altitudes. Warmer oceans could also lead to severe cholera outbreak due to consumption of seafood with harmful bacteria. Climate change has also brought about extreme weather conditions with increased levels of precipitation in particular areas. Extreme levels of precipitation are highly likely to occur in the event of warm air passing through a warmer atmosphere, which leads to torrential rainfalls experienced in these regions. The regions with usual annual snowfalls have shorter winters and fewer cold records. The melting snow has negative impacts on both social and economic progress of these regions as it increases the risks associated with flooding the communities might not be prepared to cope with.
Probable solutions to global warming
Although there is no single solution to global warming, all existing solutions aim at reducing concentrations and emissions of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere. Some of solutions include improvement of energy efficiency. The energy needed for heating and cooling of homes and industries is one of the largest contributors to global warming. Therefore, efficient energy technologies that help to use less energy should be quickly adopted. In addition, if a transport sector uses more efficient clean energy, it will significantly reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide. For the past decade, the major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the transportation sector due to its increase in the automobile use and fossil fuels. Switching to low carbon fuels and vehicles mileage could reduce the impacts of global warming. Furthermore, adopting the use of renewable energy resources such as solar and wind power, as well as other resources such as geothermal energy can be used effectively. It is evident from the previous research that most of the countries have the potential of meeting global energy demands.
Renewable energy resources can be deployed within a short time, as they are not only cost-effective, but also act as sources of employment and reduced pollution. Phasing out the use of fossil fuel for generation of electricity, especially utilization of carbon-intensive fuel, is vital in handling the issues of climate change. This process will entail not only constructing new coal-fired power plants, but also shutting down the existing coal plants. Despite the fact that the technology has not been deployed on a large scale, the research clearly demonstrates the projects that have shown promising results. The policies put in place have proven effective in the United States and other parts of the world, which allows the use of the new technologies to meet the challenges of climate change. Operationalized facilities are strongly affected by the level of availability of resources. It is evident that the magnitude of impacts depends mostly on socio-economic status, natural environment and human population of the next generations to come. In 1997, the Parties to the UNFCCC adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which acted as a vital step towards stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations. The protocol provides flexibility, making it possible for the third world countries with limited resources to participate. These policies encouraged the increment of forest cover and other carbon sinks in the developing countries.
The development of the nuclear energy proliferation and disarmament policy has ensured the use of nuclear energy only for peaceful and safe purposes. The Nuclear Program developed by the NRDC works in order to provide cleaner resources of energy. However, it is paramount to protect ground water from the impacts that arise from accidental discharge of nuclear waste because of the high risks associated with the nuclear reactors. Urbanization has major impacts on climate change as majority of people around the globe are currently living around the cities. Since it increases the level of carbon dioxide emissions, the cities need to quickly plan the ways of reducing their harmful spread. Construction of buildings generate half of carbon pollution in the majority of cities. Formation of city energy projects have assisted in cutting down wastes in the large buildings, hence making them more efficient. Energy-efficient policies have helped to take such necessary measures as raising awareness on the efficient use of energy.
Future predictions of greenhouse gas emissions
There are several reports assessing the possibilities of climate change mitigation. The Stern Review of the economics of climate change demonstrates a cost-effective mitigating insurance against the potentially disastrous consequences of the greenhouse effect. Exceeding the levels of 450-550 ppm of carbon dioxide equivalents is likely to cost more damage to the GDP. All the major sectors of the economy solutions have been sought to determine various ways of emissions reduction. Bellona has developed a model that can be effectively used to predict future carbon dioxide trends based on the standard reduction potential. The bottom line is that there is a need for development of global deals in order to reduce 85 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 2050. Political leaders have to take forceful measures in order to develop policy frameworks ensuring that solutions are implemented. Several years of research by the scientific community help to indicate that there is a need to address the issues associated with abundant carbon dioxide emissions. The initial assessment of global warming indicates that over 1 million species are at risk of extinction if the average global temperature increases by the year 2050. For example, findings of a recent study indicate that over 200 species of both animals and plants are moving rapidly at speed of 3.8 miles per decade vertically towards the poles. The plants and animals are at a higher risk of extinction if the global temperature increases to 4.5 degrees Celsius. Assessment done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that 20 to 30 percent of wildlife species have been affected by global warming. For instance, the scientific evidence shows that some of the polar bears have drown as they tried to swim long distances looking for the ice floes. The United States Geological Survey demonstrates that approximately two-thirds of the polar bear population will be at risk of extinction by 2050.
A survey was done to establish the different perceptions that people had about global warming. From those given the survey, 31 people were able to complete it. Approximately 96.7% people had knowledge on global warming, with 90% agreeing that global warming is dangerous. From the survey, 77.4% people agreed that global warming has negative impacts, with 96% according the responsibility to the humanity. Furthermore, 32.26% of the surveyed people admitted that if global warming becomes serious, global temperatures will rise, 16.13% agreed that it will lead to rising sea level while 77.42% agreed that it will have impacts on temperature, oceans and species. 83.87% agreed to exploring information about global warming, 22.58% attributing to human activity, 12.9% pollution, and 16.13% on carbon dioxide while the majority 70% agreed that it is caused by all of the above. Finally, 70.97% would like to know more information about global warming, with only 3% not interested in the topic.
Global warming is changing the climate in a significant way. It has transformed the ways of living with respect to both socioeconomic status and general health of different communities. It is highly important to adopt any of the mentioned actions that have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emission. It is also essential to consider discrepancies in the global warming causes in different parts of the world. Some countries do not have a choice but to rely on the set global agreements intended to help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Over-exploitation of fossil fuels aimed at meeting global energy demands results in considerable increase in carbon dioxide emissions.