A look at the reality of Climate Change, also known as 'Global Warming', and what we all can expect as a result of our changing weather patterns. Climate Change affects everyone and we should all do our part to reduce our carbon footprint for the greater good of the planet in order to prevent, or at least reduce the number of, catastrophic weather events in our future.
The term 'global warming' is a bit misleading to some because they think that global warming means everyone will experience hotter summers and milder winters. Then, they look outside in the winter and see buckets of snow falling and ask, "Where’s this global warming I keep hearing about?" What they don't understand is that the overall average temperatures of the planet's atmosphere, land, and oceans are getting warmer and causing erratic weather patterns, including unusual snow storms. Some may experience mild winters in areas that are normally frigid, while others receive freak snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures that are very uncommon for that particular area.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains that despite the fact that February 2012 was the coldest February we've had in the past four years, it was still the 324th consecutive month where temperatures have exceeded the long-term average (2012). This is why we can’t go by what one or two seasons bring us. For instance, this winter in Missouri was not really like winter at all. Being the Midwest, it isn't unusual to have mild winters, anyway. While living in New York over the course of decade however, I was able to detect a significant difference in the amount of snow received and duration of cold weather from 1999 to 2010. Additionally, the summers gradually became less tolerable for me. In fact, my first few summers in New York were tolerable without air-conditioning. Towards the end of my stay there, I simply couldn't handle the summertime heat and humidity of the Northeast without air-conditioning nearly every day during the summer. I suppose many may not pay that much attention to the climate one way or the other but for those with health problems that are affected by extreme cold or heat and humidity, even a slight change is noticeable.
Record-breaking weather patterns continue to occur all over the world as NOAA reports snow cover, glaciers, and polar ice levels dropping. Meanwhile, sea level, humidity, and land, ocean & atmospheric temperatures continue to rise (2010). Climate change will affect all of us in some way; some, more than others. In fact, it already has, whether you realize it or not. Crops are failing due to drought or excessive flooding in the Midwest and in other areas around the world, for example (EPA, 2011). You can thank climate change, at least in part, for the increase in what you pay at the grocery store these days.
When I think of how devastating climate change will be for some, I think of the island nations, such as the Maldives, Fiji, and Bermuda disappearing under rising sea levels (Hearty, 2012). Our U.S. coastlines will definitely be affected and people will be forced to move further inland, but that seems to hardly compare to what island nations will face. Entire countries and cultures will be displaced because of irresponsible activities by mankind. I think of the impact on those who already suffer from food and water shortages and who depend most upon the availability of natural resources. They fish, hunt, and grow their own food to feed their families. Their lives literally depend upon having an environment that allows them to do what they’ve always done to survive (Cambata, 2012).
Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that we have likely passed the tipping point. It is doubtful that anything we do at this point will stop the sea levels and temperatures from rising. It’s going to happen. It’s already happening and has been occurring for decades. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act now to do everything we possibly can to lower our carbon footprint and stop destroying our planet. No matter how bad it is now and will be in the next few decades, it could always be worse! We must pursue cleaner energy and use our technological advances to save our environment from this train wreck. We may not be able to stop global warming catastrophes from occurring, but maybe we can decrease the severity and frequency with which they occur.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the main greenhouse gases that anthropogenic activities release to the atmosphere. The others are methane, nitrous oxide, and even water vapor. CO2 is our biggest concern however, simply because so many of our activities, such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, combined with natural releases of CO2, are resulting in more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere can handle. This build up of CO2 increases the greenhouse effect, resulting in overall global warming.
We can’t flip a switch and end our climate change crisis. We can however, all make small changes in our daily lives that could result in a huge overall reduction of CO2 in our atmosphere. Here are a few suggestions:
- Recycle as much as possible – it takes more energy to create goods from virgin materials in most cases.
- Reuse or repurpose containers whenever you can, just be sure to not use plastic products containing BPA for food heating or storage (most plastics are created from petroleum, by the way).
- Switch to energy efficient light bulbs and appliances whenever possible to help reduce the amount of energy you use. Also, remember to turn off the electronics when not in use. This, in turn, reduces the amount of carbon entering our atmosphere from coal-fired power plants because we will be using less electricity.
- Try to purchase products made from renewable resources that do not depend on deforestation. If you’re purchasing wood products, make sure they come from places that practice responsible tree harvesting and replanting. Trees are one of our biggest carbon dioxide filters.
- Urge your community to invest in clean energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, or geothermal.Or, a combination of these.
- Drive more energy-efficient vehicles and choose public transportation or cycling when possible in order to reduce the number of fossil-fuel-dependent vehicles are on the road.Car-pooling with co-workers is another great way to decrease CO2 emissions.
- If you live in the Midwest or other areas where farmers burn their harvested fields, urge your local officials to pursue a ban on this practice.
- Eat less meat. It actually requires more energy to farm cattle than to farm grains because the cattle actually consumes the grains you could be eating. By the time you consume a steak, you've significantly increased your carbon footprint.
If you would like to find out what your own carbon footprint is and what you can do to leave a smaller negative impact on our planet, visit The Nature Conservancy website or type ‘carbon footprint’ into your search engine.
Cambata, A. (2012, January 12). The Global impact of climate change. In Ecology Global Network. Retrieved March 28, 2012, from http://www.ecology.com/2012/01/12/global-impact-climate-change/
Hearty, P. (2012, March 1). Rising seas threaten low-lying coastlines of the world. In Ecology Global Network. Retrieved from http://www.ecology.com/2012/03/01/rising-seas-threaten-low-lying-coastlines/
National Geographic. (2012). Causes of Global Warming. Retrieved from http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/gw-causes/
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2010, July 28). NOAA: Past Decade Warmest on Record According to Scientists in 48 Countries. Retrieved from http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20100728_stateoftheclimate.html
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2012, February). State of the climate. In National Climatic Data Center. Retrieved from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/
The Nature Conservancy. (2012). Carbon Footprint Calculator: What's My Carbon Footprint?. Retrieved from http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011, April 14). Climate change - health and environmental effects: Agriculture and food supply. Retrieved from http://epa.gov/climatechange/effects/agriculture.html
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