Climate Change

Climate Change

By Maryam Nazir Chaudhary

The Greenhouse Effect

The greenhouse effect describes the phenomenon of greenhouse gases trapping the sun’s heat from reflecting back into space. More specifically, the enveloping layer of greenhouse gases allows short-wave radiation such as sunlight to enter the earth’s atmosphere. However, once absorbed on the earth’s surface, it is emitted as long-wave radiation. Upon encountering a greenhouse gas molecule, it is absorbed and reradiated in all directions. Around 50% of this long-wave radiation is emitted back towards the earth’s surface, accounting for the earth’s warmer temperatures.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Notably, methane is nearly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide with regards to the greenhouse effect. This means that burning natural gas is far less disastrous than directly leaking it into the atmosphere.

Carbon Dioxide

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been directly measured yearly since 1958, at the Mauna Loa Observatory. These measurements show that CO2 levels in parts per million (ppm) have been steadily increasing. In fact, the current levels are said to be unprecedented since the last 800,000 years.

Figure 1. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations dating back to 400,000 years ago

Anthropogenic energy use is largely the reason behind this increase in CO2 levels. In fact, two-thirds of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to energy use and production. The Industrial Revolution, with its novel use of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil, completely revamped the world. However, all of these fossil fuels release carbon dioxide upon being burned. Humans have disrupted the earth’s natural carbon cycle, releasing greenhouse gases at a rate far faster than can be naturally absorbed.

Global Warming & Eminent Catastrophe

Similar to atmospheric CO2 levels, humans have been directly measuring global temperatures since 1880. Global temperatures have seen a rise since 1900, with an alarmingly steeper trend since 1980. Furthermore, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated that 19 of the hottest years in earth’s history occurred after the year 2000, with the sole exception of 1998. This reveals a clear correlation between mounting CO2 concentrations and global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, stated in 2013, “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time”. The effects of global warming include rising sea levels, intense heat waves, food shortages and others. Not only that, but marginalised communities and disadvantaged communities will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

Who’s to Blame?

Although climate change is a complex phenomenon, substantial evidence points towards humans being responsible for the earth’s escalating temperatures. According to peer-reviewed studies, approximately 97% of climate scientists have agreed that human activities are behind the recent and perilous trends of climate change. Unless and until we truly realise the cost of climate change AND make an active effort to mitigate global warming united, we will continue treading on an increasingly unsustainable and cataclysmic path.

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