What is Global Climate Change?

There is still much confusion caused by willful or unwitting ignorance in regard to what we are going to refer to here as global climate change. In this introduction we distinguish between climate change and global warming and correlate the phenomena, real or imagined, and conclude with our own statement on what global climate change essentially means in today’s context. In doing that, it is also necessary to outline why the world’s climate has been changing drastically over the last number of years. We leave you with our own sense of urgency by listing some of the causes and effects of climate change and, in particular, the consequences if we collectively continue to drag our feet in reacting positively to reducing the chances of worse-case scenarios.

The Earth is getting hotter due to an increase in the number of greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere. These heat trapping gases i.e. greenhouse gases are mainly caused due to burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). This makes the temperature warm and warmer temperatures are causing other changes like melting of glaciers, increase in sea level and stronger storms. It is not wrong to say that humans produce much more greenhouse gases than ever before.

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While climate change refers to general changes in climate patterns, including temperature, precipitation, winds, and other factors, global warming (as well as global cooling) refers specifically to any change in the global average surface temperature.

Global climate change has become entangled with the problem of invasive species. A warmer climate could allow some invaders to spread farther, while causing native organisms to go extinct in their traditional habitats and making room for invaders.
~ Richard Preston

Breaking down the term global climate change

Popular explanations, scientific or organic, prefer to separate global warming and climate change as two entities. Here, we tie up some loose ends and help you identify the relatedness between warming and change and substantiate your own summation of what global climate change is all about.

  • Global warming – The earth’s temperature (per average) is increasing. Over the last hundred years or so, earth’s surface temperature has been climbing more rapidly, and in recent years, these increases have become drastic, resulting in the hottest temperatures since recordings were first taken.
  • Climate change – Since earth was first formed, its climate has been changing naturally for thousands of years. Closer to a scientific definition, it is a change in climate over a long term. In recent years, changes to the globe’s climate have become more rapid and are clearly felt and seen.
  • A contextual definition – Global climate change is basically a change in the entire world’s climate, mainly precipitated by rising temperatures.

Why is the Climate Changing so Drastically Today?

As to why the climate is changing so drastically today, we would have to visit and address the root cause; humankind. Previously, scientists always believed that inherently natural processes were influencing climate change. They now know that this is no longer the case. Here, we give a brief historical overview on why our climate is changing so rapidly today.

  • Industrial Revolution – It was not noticed then, but weather patterns began to be altered slowly but surely after the Industrial Revolution was in full swing from the middle of the nineteenth century until well into the next century.
  • Before and after both World Wars – At the turn of the century, rapid and large-scale migration took place from Europe to the United States. At the same time, industry on both continents was stepped up drastically to meet new economic demands and war imperatives.
  • Modern industry remains unchecked – After the Second World War finally ended, industrial activity continued to rise. The caveat was that massive re-building was required and new economic priorities came to the fore to address a rapidly recovering and growing middle class along with large increases in the population.
  • Coal and gas – Consequently, coal and gas are needed to power these industries, but they are also the largest emitters of artificial greenhouse gasses and the rise in temperatures.
  • The rise in sea levels – The rise in sea temperatures has clearly been felt and seen today. This has caused sea levels to rise and ice caps in the arctic areas to melt (also causing a rise in sea levels). All of this has drastically altered the flow of sea currents which in turn have had a direct impact on global weather patterns.

Causes of Global Climate Change

Some of those causes have already been alluded to above, but in the present context, what would be the main causes today? Here we will briefly highlight the current ongoing trends (and culprits) in spite of warnings to curb or radically reduce these processes and habits. Let’s start with the main culprit.

  • Humans – In spite of the many green initiatives put in place by many non-governmental organizations, think tanks and some progressive national regimes, human lifestyles haven’t changed much over the years. In the process, excessive wasting of consumed products (mainly in the form of plastics) continues. Domestically, energy consumption, relying on mainly coal-powered electricity generation, remains alarmingly high.
  • Transport – New rapid bus transport networks have been constructed in different areas of the world while rail transport networks continue to be utilized. Bicycle lanes have been built to purpose, but in spite of encouragement to go the green route, people still prefer to use their own vehicles, particularly during the busiest hours and under the false notion that public transport remains unreliable.
  • Urbanization – Mainly due to economics and demographic shifts, more and more people are migrating to the cities each year. In the process, consumer demands increase, putting a strain on infrastructures and encouraging the building of new industrial hubs.
  • Industrialization – Driven mainly by profit motives, the world’s leading industrial companies continue to increase their rates of production. New methods of consumer advertising also drives demand (where previously there was little or none).
  • Mining – For all industrial processes to continue functioning profitably and effectively, mineral resources are still required, in spite of the recent rapid decline in commodity resource prices due to perceived low demand.
  • Energy production – Not enough is being done to promote and implement the green energy sectors. For the foreseeable future, coal and gas use will continue.

Two Ongoing Effects of Global Climate Change

Scientists and other climate experts had been warning humankind for years about the potential effects that global climate change, brought on mainly by mankind and if allowed to continue unchecked (as has been the case). But because these events remained unseen then, human nature weakly chose to ignore these warnings. Today, the effects can clearly be seen and felt. Let’s look at two of those effects for now.

  • Rising sea levels – We mentioned earlier that sea levels are rising due to increasing temperatures. To elevate how serious this problem is, let’s look at this another way. Today, over fifty percent of the world’s population live near the sea. Current statistics show that the number of migrants to coastal areas continue to grow each year. Low-lying areas and the people living in it remain highly vulnerable. Evacuation and contingency plans are already underway to bring people from smaller islands under threat to Fiji.
  • Changes in plant and animal migration and growth – Human activities have contributed gravely to the destruction of large tracts of valuable wetlands and forests. Previously, these areas acted as protection against rising sea levels, erosion and storm surges. Also, while ice caps continue to melt, plant and animal species are moving towards earlier breeding and birth/flowering.

If we don’t act now, this is what the future holds for us

It is as ominous as that. In spite of all the belated drives to bind nations to committing to checks and balances in order to reduce the negative trend of global climate change, qualified scientists still believe that enough damage has been done to ensure that temperatures will continue to rise until well into the next century. We close this introduction on what global climate change is all about by listing some of the future scenarios predicted by scientists.

  • Global climate change will continue.
  • Temperatures will continue to rise.
  • Frost-free seasons will be longer.
  • More rain in winter and spring in the North.
  • Longer and heavier droughts in the South.
  • More heat waves in summer.
  • Hurricanes will grow stronger.
  • Sea levels will continue to rise and the Arctic Ocean will be ice free.

We hope that this guide has provided you with enough insight to take more interest in the phenomenon and consequences of global climate change that will prompt you to make a difference and ensure that life is sustainable and well-worth living for future generations. This is a high time that we all should take a close look at our activities and make necessary changes in our daily lifestyle so as to reduce our carbon footprint on our environment. If we do not change ourselves, we and our coming generations may face some catastrophic effects of global climate change that could prove disastrous for us.

Photo by: The Weekly Bull

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