Recently, I did a research paper on global warming and while I understand this tends to be a very sensitive topic, it is something we need to pay more attention to. Environmental science is a holistic and multifaceted field, and many arguments have been made on whether climate change is, in fact, a concern for all humanity. My major requires me to be knowledgeable and focused on any and all subjects that are currently harming our planet, and may damage our world in the future.
If one is concerned for the future of our society, it is important to note that there are a variety of issues at hand that we as humans are contributing to, if not causing. Problems such as significant changes in our climate and weather patterns, decaying ecosystems, and the stress put on our atmosphere from the offshore drilling and fracking due to the high demand for fuel for transportation. These concerns are all tied to the most significant and touching topic of all – global warming. Global warming and climate change are by far the largest and perhaps most complex issues discussed today.
To understand how humans are impacting climate change, we need to shift our focus globally and know that the climate system is interconnected across the planet. For example, the climate in the United States and the climate in the Arctic are connected through weather patterns, and what affects the Arctic will eventually alter our weather here in the United States. Due to the exponential increase in human population, we are limiting our time on this Earth. Global warming is something our planet is going to experience with or without the intervention of humankind, but it seems that our actions and certain ways that we are choosing to live are speeding up the global warming process much quicker than expected.
Significant changes in weather patterns show a shift in the jet stream which leads to more aggressive storms and temperature changes, causes diseases and a risk for humans and animals. The rise in our temperature is causing massive changes to our environment. If the global temperature keeps increasing as projected, the sea levels will continue to rise due to the melting of ice caps, as well as the increase in precipitation from more intense storms. This type of issue is a significant concern because it will lead to flooding across the world. The average precipitation has seen increases higher than the national average in many areas of the U.S., and projections show that this trend will continue in the future.
In Florida, they have what is called a “sunny day flood.” They call it this because the sea levels rise at random times during the day and cause the streets to become flooded, leaving people stranded and causing major roadway problems. Droughts are also projected to become far more intense in many regions as temperatures continue to rise and reduce overall soil moisture. If we pay attention to the most recent storms, you will notice a shift towards more intense storms, which are destroying homes, crops and the unfortunate of all – taking lives. Hurricanes are worsening, and rainfall amounts are increasing in some areas while other areas are lacking, causing wildfires and other terrifying impacts. These dramatic effects are all because of the change in climate, and they are affecting our ecosystems.
Ecosystems include all the living things in a specific area and also the non-living things with which they interface, for example, soil, air, daylight, and water. We continue to destroy ecosystems, at times with no regard to the impact and cost of the plants and animals which are part of it. Due to the change in our climate, certain insects, disease pathogens, and invasive species have increased which causes direct harm to humans and other animals. This change gives these insects and pathogens time to flourish. The number of endangered species is also increasing at a much more rapid rate because of the change in habitats. Deforestation is an example of unnatural human activity causing a shift in habitat. The EPA explains that
“Climate change not only affects ecosystems and species directly, it also interacts with other human stressors such as development. Although some stressors cause only minor impacts when acting alone, their cumulative impact may lead to dramatic ecological changes”.
According to Gonzalez,
“Scientific evidence shows that emissions from automobiles, power plants, and deforestation are causing the Earth to warm and that the warming is damaging ecosystems and human well-being. Climate change has lifted the cloud deck in the montane forests of Costa Rica, causing a fungus infection that has driven 75 amphibian species to extinction”.
This type of damage to the environment decreases the oxygen in these areas and increases the carbon dioxide in the air. These changes are causing some species to adapt, but others are unable to survive which is ultimately leading them to extinction. Just like these species, if we continue to harm the ecosystem like we are now, eventually we will need to adapt, or we will also find ourselves on the verge of extinction.
Offshore drilling and fracking is another primary concern for certain species, but it is also causing a disturbance to our shorelines and surrounding environments. Fracking is a non-renewable energy source and is more costly, all the more contaminating, and more unsafe than clean, renewable energy. Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas states,
“the construction and land disturbance required for oil and gas drilling can alter land use and harm local ecosystems by causing erosion and fragmenting wildlife habitats and migration patterns.”
The high demand for fossil fuels and natural gas has become extremely harmful to our planet. As we continue to drill, we are also increasing the risk of earthquakes and the spread of oils and gases to our water supply. According to Horwitt & Formuzis,
“The US Geological Service has linked natural gas extraction to seismic instability and small earthquakes in regions where natural gas drilling is taking place. Researchers found that as the rate of drilling and the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids increased in an area, so did the frequency of earthquakes—sometimes dramatically”.
Drilling and fracking also have significant, and harmful results for the health of humans. According to Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas,
“unconventional oil and gas development may pose health risks to nearby communities through contamination of drinking water sources with hazardous chemicals used in drilling the wellbore, hydraulically fracturing the well, processing and refining the oil or gas, or disposing of wastewater.”
Burning coal releases poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere, and coal-created electricity places heavy demands on water supplies. In the end, this all adds up to a very costly impact on our planet. Although natural gas may only offer a small effort towards reducing emissions, these type of renewable energy supplies is the only way we can see a significant and positive change in our climate.
While I believe human activity is the cause, others feel that we are not the issue. Research states,
“The con side argues human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are too small to change the earth’s climate substantially and that the planet is capable of absorbing those increases. They contend that warming over the 20th century resulted primarily from natural processes such as fluctuations in the sun’s heat and ocean currents. They say the theory of human-caused global climate change is based on questionable measurements, faulty climate models, and misleading science”.
They also state that predictions of accelerating human-caused climate change are based upon computerized climate models that are inadequate and incorrect and argue that if models cannot replicate the past climate changes, then they should not be trusted to predict future climate changes.
This counter-argument makes its point; however, it states that emissions are too small, and while this may be true for that exact moment, it all adds up. Over time, the climate is affected by this adverse change. They mention that the warming is a result of natural processes, and while this is again true, we are speeding up the process with our high demand for fast production and industrial needs. The predictions of human-caused climate change may be based on computerized models for the future, but without models, we are unable to study the transitions, whether they are positive or negative changes. Regardless if we have past climate changes, if we can see what is currently happening then we can make sense of what could happen in the future. There is enough supporting evidence outside of the computerized models that support the difference in climate.
Global warming and climate change is yet another complex system of cause and effect which will have long-term consequences for our society and planet. Decaying ecosystems, which once flourished, giving life and refuge to all manner of organisms are now in jeopardy. Weather patterns, while under observation, are becoming extremely unstable and unpredictable, as we have seen with recent hurricanes and long-term storm systems. The added stresses of fracking and drilling have caused a real run on resources. These are all important and complex parts of the issue at hand. The longer that we continue to debate and argue the facts presented that prove global warming is real, the less time we will have to begin to accept it and move towards a universal solution.
I fear that one day the planet shall remain, and in some form, life will continue, but there may be no one left to witness it. Although we cannot avoid some level of warming that has already been caused by the heat-trapping emissions present in our atmosphere, the continually shifting weather patterns, and our previously harmed ecosystems, we have an opportunity to avoid it from worsening. We can help to reduce emissions and all by learning how to adapt to what damage we have already created and make a conscious effort to protect what is left. Moving forward, we need to teach our future generation to make better choices, in hopes that they will have a more sustainable planet to live on. If nothing else, I would like to instill the idea that if we do not take better care of our world, then nothing else that we do will matter.