Our story begins on a lush tranquil beach in the Caribbean. The locals have just finished their morning harvest and the children are preparing for school. However, this is not a typical morning because an out of season hurricane has suddenly appeared. For the next two and a half days, there are winds between 100 mph and 200 mph (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA) capable of tumbling shelters, uprooting trees standing for years and floodwaters capable of toppling cows and washing away fields. At the same time in the mid-eastern region of South America unprecedented wildfire is spreading and claiming forests as its prey. Near the polar regions, vegetation has begun to take root due to the melting of glacier ice. These types of scenarios are becoming more and more common around the world and people are struggling to understand that the changing climate is the main cause.
Climate change can be described as the changing of Earth’s natural weather patterns in an environment and/or ecosystem. This means that areas like the polar ice caps which are traditionally cold are either becoming colder or warmer, and areas that are commonly lush and full of life are becoming barren and lifeless. The earth goes through these changes naturally over centuries of time. However, recently these changes have been occurring routinely and at greater magnitudes. According to NASA, “the current … trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability), to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century…” Before this period there was a stable manageable amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) (NOAA) in the atmosphere. However, with global industrialization on the rise and the introduction of fossil fuel factories and machines, the once stable levels of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere are rising. This rise in CO2 and CH4 are causing the ozone, a layer of the atmosphere, to become thicker, thus preventing solar energy from leaving the atmosphere and resulting in a greenhouse effect which is causing the temperature on the surface of the earth to slowly rise.
The greenhouse effect is the climate change we are experiencing today. The effect is slowly increasing the average temperature of the earth year by year, similar to that of a traditional greenhouse used to grow plants in a warm stable environment. According to the continuous temperature analysis done at the Earth Observatory by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), “the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.” This variation in temperature is dangerous because it takes an enormous amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by one-degree in comparison to the amount of heat it would take to change the temperature of a living room or bedroom. “In the past, a one- to two-degree drop was all it took to plunge the earth into the Little Ice Age. A five-degree drop was enough to bury a large part of North America under a towering mass of ice 20,000 years ago” (Earth Observatory).
The consistent increase in temperature is detrimental to the ecosystems on the planet. The marine life that lives in the shallow regions of the sea will either be forced out or become endangered because most of the heat absorbed by the ocean occurs in the first couple of meters below the surface. Coral reefs are prone to “thermal stress that contributes to coral bleaching and infectious disease.” (NOAA) Ice in the polar regions is melting causing sea levels to rise. Wildfires are burning hotter and longer. Tropical storms are becoming more powerful, frequent, and longer lasting. The seasonal equilibrium shifts as well, result in colder winters in one area followed by warmer summers or by a warm winter in one area and a cold summer in another part of the globe. All these changes in the ecosystem not only affect the natural world but the man made one as well. These threats have caused a global outcry for change and reform in relation to global warming, because if natural occurrences are changing, then the natural disasters associated with them will change as well.
NASA, Earth Observatory. “World of Change: Global Temperatures.” NASA, NASA, 2019, earthobservatory.nasa.gov/world-of-change/DecadalTemp.
NASA. “Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?” NASA, NASA, 30 Sept. 2019, climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Climate.” Climate | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2019, www.noaa.gov/climate.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “DORIAN Graphics Archive: 5-Day Forecast Track, Initial Wind Field and Watch/Warning Graphic.” DORIAN Graphics Archive: 5-Day Forecast Track, Initial Wind Field and Watch/Warning Graphic, 2019, www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2019/DORIAN_graphics.php?product=5day_cone_no_line_and_wind.
US Department of Commerce, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “How Does Climate Change Affect Coral Reefs?” NOAA’s National Ocean Service, 3 Mar. 2015, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coralreef-climate.html.