What is Climate Change?
Climate change is a term used to reflect the change in Earth’s average temperature and usual global climate conditions over time. While the Earth’s climate is always changing due to its positioning, or the amount of the sun’s energy it receives, the planet has been experiencing a steady temperature rise compared to pre-industrial levels.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humanity has until the year 2030 to limit climate change or dramatically increase the risk of extreme heat, floods, and droughts that will affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
What Causes Climate Change?
Greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes like deforestation and burning fossil fuels are the leading cause behind the change in Earth’s climate. These emissions consist primarily of harmful byproducts, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, which trap heat in the atmosphere, raising the global temperature and causing climate change.
These same toxic elements pollute Earth’s environment, seeping into the ground and lowering the water quality, or eating away at the ozone layer, affecting the air quality. While some of these elements occur from natural processes, human activity has been the catalyst for the intensity and proliferation of greenhouse gas emissions.
What Are the Impacts of Climate Change?
Climate change has many adverse effects on the environment, such as:
1. Global warming: The burning of fossil fuels creates heat-trapping greenhouse gases, leading to the gradual heating of the Earth’s climate and a rise in the global average temperature over time. Many ecosystems and species like polar bears and penguins depend on arctic climates to survive, and we need many of those ecosystems for balance. Prolonged and extreme heatwaves can have negative, long-term effects on the environment, causing famines and droughts that are harmful to the global population. The global temperature is on track to increase by five degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
2. Extreme weather patterns: Climate change interferes with the atmosphere in such a way that it can cause longer and more extreme weather events, like hurricanes and tornadoes. Oceans become more volatile due to storm surge, winds become more intense, heat stress can cause human health issues, and rainfall can increase or decrease dramatically, with disastrous effects like flooding or drought.
3. Sea level rise: A rise in the global temperature means more glaciers and ice sheets melting. The more sea ice and permafrost that melts, the more our sea levels rise. Rising sea levels can overflow onto land, which can flood coastal areas and push human inhabitants inland, reducing the amount of available space to inhabit. This rise can also force out native animal and insect populations, creating biological instability.
4. Habitat destruction: The changing climate can make habitats unstable and unsuitable for natural life. Deforestation and wildfires level forests, causing mass land devastation. Pollution can destroy freshwater habitats, killing off necessary species for the region. Warming alters the pH of the sea, causing ocean acidification that results in coral reef bleaching and the destruction of other marine habitats.
5. Famine: Extreme weather events can make it very difficult to grow crops, leading to a reduction in the available food supply and poor food security. Famine is one of just many effects that can impact human health, and cause widespread suffering and devastation.
6. Drought: Rising temperatures mean more water evaporation, but in hotter areas can mean less precipitation like snow and rainfall. Heightened evaporation can lead to a reduction in water resources, resulting in drier land and serious droughts, which can be devastating for both animal habitats and agricultural practices.
7. Infectious diseases: Mosquito populations are heavily influenced by changes in the environment, and climate change causes just the right combination of conditions for epidemic disease outbreaks. Pathogens and viruses like West Nile virus and dengue fever love hot, moist weather, and can spread more easily in regions that are prime for mosquito breeding and activity.
8. Loss of biodiversity: Global climate change can lead to mass extinctions. When whole species are wiped out, ecosystems become unstable. A loss of biodiversity means there is less variation of living organisms in the region, which can be devastating in the long-term. Even just slightly fewer diverse species in a region can upset the balance of the food chain and crop production, causing widespread imbalance to human and animal populations.