The globe is warming. Climate change combined with global warming has brought 2019 on track to become the hottest year ever. Four of the warmest years ever recorded were the last four ones. This certainly shows an upward warming trend.
Why is it happening?
We live in a greenhouse. Life on our planet Earth depends on energy coming from the sun. The ‘greenhouse effect’ occurs when certain gases in the atmosphere block heat radiating from Earth towards space. This trapped heat warms up the Earth and increases the temperature. Some gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The problem that we are facing is – human activities such as burning of fossil fuels, mining, deforestation and tree-clearing, improper waste disposal, agriculture and farming increase the concentration of greenhouse gases, which in turn enhance the greenhouse effect, leading to rise in temperature.
Several factors, both natural and human, can result in changes in the energy balance of the Earth, encompassing natural causes such as variations in the Sun’s energy reaching the Earth’s surface and/or changes in the reflectivity of the Earth’s atmosphere and surface. However, models that account only for the outcomes of natural processes are not able to justify the warming observed over the past century. Instead, models that also account for greenhouse gases emitted by humans are certainly able to explain this warming.
The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there is a more than 95% probability that human-produced greenhouse gases have generated most of the observed increase in Earth’s temperature over the last 50 years. Moreover, if the trend continues, the warming is projected to occur at a 10 times faster rate than ever before.
What are the effects?
Not enough greenhouse effect leads to a frozen (cold) surface which cannot support life, such as that on Mars which has mostly carbon dioxide and little to no methane and water vapour. However, too much greenhouse effect can also not support life as it leads to a runaway situation similar to that on Venus which has a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.
Real and destructive changes are being observed due to higher temperatures. The Earth is continuing to get warmer. The oceans are having their warmest years on record – intensifying sea level rise increasing flood risk, coral bleaching and tropical cyclones such as hurricanes. The latest survey of the Climate Central shows that 93% of the Great Barrier Reef has suffered from bleaching and 35% of the corals have been killed. Moreover, the ocean has absorbed 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, resulting in ocean acidification and loss of marine life.
A stronger greenhouse effect will also melt glaciers and other ice. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing glaciers, and the Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease. The Arctic Ocean is expected to become ice-free before 2050.
In India alone, at least 600 million would be worse off by mid-century if greenhouse gases remain unchecked. Heat waves will negatively impact lives and livelihoods much more than they already do. There is an increasing probability of mortality due to heat waves. In India itself, 3500 people have died in just last year alone due to heat waves.
Some predicted long-term effects of global warming and climate change also include increase in the length of the frost-free season, negative repercussions for biodiversity, changes in precipitation patterns, more intense droughts and heat waves, dry winters, stronger hurricanes, severe effects on food supplies, increasing wildfires, declining water supplies, insect outbreaks and tree diseases.
What can be done to tackle the problem?
We need immediate, equitable, consequential and fruitful climate action. At the pace of current emissions, scientists expect an increase of 1.5°-5.3°C in average temperature by the year 2100 which would have harmful and devastating consequences for humanity, all other life forms and the Earth, if no action is taken. Unless we rapidly cut down our climate-warming emissions, costly and devastating climatic disasters will only get more likely and worse.
Firstly, we must move away from fossil fuels and use alternate renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass and geothermal. Though, just as generating clean energy is crucial, minimizing our consumption of energy and water by utilizing more efficient devices (e.g. LED light bulbs, innovative shower system) is less costly and equally necessary.
In order to lessen CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, it is important to build sustainable infrastructure – build new low energy buildings, and renovate the existing constructions; increase usage of public transportation and carpooling etc.
We should shop sustainably, prevent deforestation and increase afforestation. Encouraging better use of natural resources as well as making agriculture greener and cleaner can help restrain global warming. Adopting responsible consumption habits, recycling and reusing goods is of paramount importance; this leads to lesser waste generation.
We must call on our leaders to introduce stronger laws to stop excessive tree-cutting and to reinforce more stringent rules and emission standards.
Putting a limit on heat-trapping emissions and exhorting the use of healthier, cleaner and greener energy technologies and daily habits must be made an absolute priority if we want to avoid the worst potential consequences of global warming and climate change.
Most importantly, one must speak up, voice the concerns and spread the word about the need to save our planet; via social media, campaigns and petitions, or better, directly to the elected officials.
The choices we make today will determine what our climate will be like tomorrow, so let’s choose wisely.
Author Bio: Devanshi Yadav, 16 years old student from New Delhi, India.She is a participant of Monthly Essay Competition, June , 2019 , organized by Monomousumi Services.