Climate change is a huge global debate turning a spotlight at the United Nations’ (UN) climate conference in Scotland, and it seems new climate policies and their impact on global warning isn’t going to stop climate activists any time soon. So it would be very useful to understand the science behind the rising global phenomenon (pun intended). According to climate scientist Betsy Weatherhead (and that’s the coolest name for such a profession), here are things you should know about global climate science, in six charts.
Related media: Climate Change Explained Simply
#1. What Drives Climate Change?
The emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) was the primary focus at the conference. CO2 is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. And since the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, there’s been an increase in the use of fossil fuel — coal, oil, and natural gas — which was welcomed as it powered industries like never seen before. During that same century, scientist discovered the potential of CO2 as a greenhouse gas that could increase the global temperature. This was thought of as a benefit to the planet.
And during the mid-1900s, we realized that the majority of CO2 emissions was directly traced to the combustion of fossil fuels. CO2 decays at a slow pace, and hence it tends to stay in the atmosphere for a very long time. A great portion of human activity that releases CO2 is absorbed by plants and the ocean, but almost all of that builds up there. This is what’s resulting in the change of the global climate of the century — and it more likely than not going to stay there, for another hundred years, or even more to come.
However, the COVID pandemic came along with the closure of most industries, and fewer people driving — human activity of CO2 emissions fell by rough 6 percent. But unfortunately, this didn’t reduce the concentration of CO2; the rate at which humans emitted CO2 had far exceeded what nature could contain. Let’s say we stopped emissions today, the carbon concentrations in the atmosphere will still take several hundreds of years before the planet’s carbon cycle returned back to normal as it was centuries ago. That’s chart #1.
#2. Are Greenhouse Gases Changing The Climate?
Over the centuries, there’s been several scientific evidence that prove the increase in greenhouse gas emission as the potential driving force of the long-term climate change. For instance, since the 1800s, several laboratory experiments have repeatedly proven that CO2 has absorptive properties that trap heat in the atmosphere. With simple models often based on the impact of CO2 in the atmosphere, they match most historical changes in global temperature.
However, the complexity of climate models has been recently included in the Nobel Prize for Physics, which offers an in-depth into areas of the greatest warming in the atmosphere. There’s also records from ice cores, tree rings, and coral reefs that indicate that when CO2 levels are high, temperatures are, too. And our interplanetary neighbors too offer evidence. The atmosphere of Venus is said to be having high concentrations of CO2, which makes it the hottest planet in the solar system, even though Mercury is much closer to the sun.
#3. Are Global Temperatures Rising Everywhere?
Rising temperatures are evidence enough, which is happening on almost all continents and ocean. However, temperatures aren’t rising at the same rate though. This is due to several factors that affect local temperatures — the influence of how solar energy is absorbed, or reflected. For instance, the Arctic and Antarctic regions are warming about three times faster than the average rate in other regions on Earth. This is partly due to how snow and ice melt. Glaciers are more likely to absorb the solar radiation than to reflect it off it surface, and as a result, glaciers are receding more rapidly.
#4. What’s Climate Change Doing To The Planet?
The climate system here on Earth is pretty complex, even small subtle changes in temperature can have a huge impact on us. And this is what’s happening right now. Research shows that these changes are already affecting precipitation, glaciers, weather patterns, and tropical storms. For instance, the increase and severity in these frequencies affects the ecosystem, and human livelihood. And there’s been records of rising sea levels over the past 150 years that’s a result of melting glaciers and rising temperatures. This has drastically led to the sinking and submerging of land all around the world.
This has drastically led to the sinking and submerging of land all around the world. Other extreme events like coastal flooding can be attributed to rising sea levels, and heat waves are even more damaging with the rise of global temperatures. Climate scientists estimate that these changes together with the increasing levels of CO2 emissions could affect world population. For now, it is pretty clear that temperatures will increase and precipitation will change, but as to the exact magnitude of that change depends on a whole lot of factors.
#5. Is Temperature And Precipitation Changing, Too?
Obviously! And it seems this is even the most noticeable effect of climate change as we speak. According to sources, if the world doesn’t take strong actions sooner than later to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, several models indicate temperatures will continue to rise by an average of 2 degrees by 2050. It seems like a small number, but it has devastating consequences if nothing is done about it.
#6. Is There Any Hope?
Of course, there is. New scientific research is helping to shape our understanding about climate change, and the complexity of Earth’s system. This is to identify the most vulnerable areas, and help reduce the factors that lead to climate change. Another key area is renewable energy and alternative energy resources. Harnessing these resources will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, people should be educated on the need to reduce their own impact.
New technologies such as electric vehicles, solar and wind powered engines are growing at an accelerated rate than previously anticipated. And it seems more people are increasingly ready to adapt to these sustainable eco-friendly forms of renewable energy. According to scientists, shifting away from fossil fuels has additional benefits like improving air quality for both humanity and the ecosystem. So the time is now, let’s all help fight climate change before it changes our livelihood.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Fri, Nov 26, 2021.