Global Warming and Climate Change

Strictly speaking it is Global Warming that leads to changes in our climate giving us the term Climate Change. Global Warming at its simplest definition is a gradual increase in the temperature at the surface of the Earth. Such temperature changes may be more pronounced at the colder regions of the globe which are expected to see higher temperature rises more quickly than other parts of the world.

The Earth's atmosphere contains naturally occurring gases, such as carbon dioxide and water vapour, which help to ensure that the temperature at the surface of the planet (where we live!) is higher than it would be without them, enabling us to live on the Earth in a relatively comfortable environment. Without these gases the Earth would be a much colder planet so in this way the atmosphere acts as a kind of blanket over the Earth to stop too much heat escaping from it and this is sometimes termed 'the greenhouse effect'.So we do actually need these gases to some degree and they are ordinarily in some kind of dynamic (changing) natural balance, like many environments on our Earth.

After much research, which is continuously being updated, it is now credibly argued that the industrial revolution in the developed world during the past 200 years, and in particular in the past century has seen the incidence of these certain gases in the atmosphere rise in an unprecedented manner, particularly carbon dioxide. This is because industry has relied primarily on the burning of fossil fuels (substances containing carbon and hydrogen) such as coal, oil and gas, in order to produce energy for various industrial processes and also to produce the electricity that we use and meet out home and business heating needs. The situation is now being exacerbated as developing countries too now often rely on the burning of fossil fuels in order to meet their own energy demands and assist their own development. Further to this fossil fuels like oil are also used in transport - cars, trucks, aeroplanes, etc... This burning of fossil fuels has had a significant impact in the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Records and observations show that atmospheric carbon dioxide is rising in the atmosphere and that also the surface temperature of our Earth is slowly increasing and indeed levels have recently been recorded as rising at increasing rates.

As has been stated, fossil fuels contain carbon. When these fuels are burned with oxygen in oder to produce energy of some form, one of the by-products is carbon dioxide. There is now an important point to note here. Fossil fuels take millions of years to form. The carbon is taken from the atmosphere and geologically stored over very long periods of time. Common sense suggests that industrially extracting these fuels and burning them, releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere, is not a natural process. Indeed it is not, for these fuels would have remianed underground had we not actively removed them and burnt them. Whilst some of the extra carbon released is able to be taken up by plant life and the oceans, a significant proportion of it is not and this can only lead therefore to increased levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. As has already been described, carbon dioxide acts as a blanket over our world and higher levels in the atmosphere in effect mean a thicker blanket, which in turn means a warmer world. It is a simple analogy and certainly one we should take notice of as the affects of increaed temperatures could be devastating if they are allowed to continue unabated.

Of course industrialisation using fossil fuels has been a very important step in improving many aspects of human life on Earth and enabling some incredible technological developments, but now that new non-carbon dioxide producing technologies exist that can replace existing fossil fuel ones, there should be little excuse in carrying on a practice that is causing change to our environment which could have disastrous effects in years to come. This is especially important when one considers the fact that newly industrialising countries are doing so along the same path as nations which are already developed and thereby causing ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere. Developed nations should be taking an innovative lead in sourcing their energy needs from alternative areas that can help stem this rise and thereby enable a more sustainable future for us and our world.

So what are the possible effects of Global Warming? Higher surface temperatures can mean significant and catastrophic sea-level rises. Sea level rise would not just be caused by the melting of continental ice but more importantly by the thermal expansion of the sea (increased temperature will cause the sea to expand). Sea-level rise will cause potentially huge problems for all the low-lying areas of our world - both the developed and developing world - with increaed risk of flooding causing population displacements, loss of populated areas and low-lying cities, more problems with water-borne disease, and possibly the permanent loss of land should sea levels continue to rise unabated (through no remedial action on our part). Loss of ice caps and continental ice (which has already been scientifically observed at increasing rates) will also threaten the survival of species that use such environments as their habitats.

More heat energy in the atmosphere will also cause more catastrophic and dramatic weather events on a more frequent basis, which, arguably, we may have started to observe, with hotter summer extremes and stronger rainfall and storm events. It will not just be a case of warmer temperatures for all, but stronger, more violent, and more frequent storms will batter our Earth. Changes in climate patterns will cause problems for many rare and not so rare species in our world that we take for granted as they may not have the time to adapt to the changing temperatures and environments. Such changes will affect agricultural patterns, disease locations (for example malarial regions will shift), and patterns of wildlife migrations such as those of butterflies. As humans we are able to adapt to relatively rapid changes in our environments but many other species in our world do not have this luxury and will be threatened with extinction. In saying that even we may struggle with larger desert zones and encounter problems feeding an increasing world population.

It is possible too that global warming may affect global ocean circulations which themselves could have a dramatic and unpredictable knock-on effect on climates and weather around the world. It all sounds very dramatic and of course these are only some of the predicted consequences should temperatures increases continue through continued carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. We are fortunate to still be in a position to be able to make changes to those practices which are contributing to Global Warming, which are causing the unnatural carbon dioxide emissions.In the developed world we do have the technology available to develop successful alternative clean energy-producing industries. It is often argued though that these are too expensive and do not produce anough energy. I personally find this argument intolerable and insupportable, you may not, but you should certainly think about it the bigger picture. The technologies already exist and there is no doubt in my mind that human beings are more than capable of developing them into profitable and successful clean energy industries if only governments and certain businesses would support them better. It is possibly the profitable economic interests of a few at the end of the day that are destroying our Earth and the future of many. It probably goes a lot beyond that too if we would open our eyes. It can be easy to feed scepticism and mock the science of Global Warming but we have seen that done too many times in the past to our detriment. The climate system on Earth is very complex and incorporates a number of feedback mechanisms some of which are understood, others not so well understood. Then there is of course historical data which suggests that the Earth has had both warmer and colder periodas than today. This of course causes debate, argument and sometimes uncetaintly amonst the scientific community and can be mischieviously used by the less environmentally-conscious industries, businesses, people and politicians to justify continuing their practices and mocking some of the science of Global Warming. Really this is putting profit and ignorance before anything else, for surely one would have to accept that our aactions in burning such signifcant amounts of fossil fuels is not a natural course of events for the Earth.

We could wait for dramatic climate events and changes to pass, or even for our sea levels to begin rising, but if that were to happen it would most likely be too late to do anything about it then. And nobody can say that they hadn't been warned. And then how will future generations who are left to deal with the problems perceive our current one? We should be focusing on a new era of sustainable energy production technologies so that future generations can enjoy the kind of Earth that we are lucky to experience rather than have to deal with the difficult problems our current technologies and methods could create.

This is a simplified summary of global warming and partly contains my opinion, but I recommend all who read this to learn more about this topic because it is one that affects us all and one that will affect future generations. For ideas of some simple action you can take please check out our What you CAN do section.

The website, Prevent Climate Change, provides some excellent ideas and information on what you can do to slow down climate change:
PreventClimateChange.co.uk - further actions to help slow down climate change
Thankyou for your time.