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Climate Change: The Global Killer

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Amanda Danielson

Professor Austin

English 102-5502

Climate Change: The Global Killer

        “For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh have argued over control of a tiny rock island in the Bay of Bengal. Now rising sea levels have resolved the dispute for them: the island's gone”, writes the Toronto Star (Nirmala). Rising sea levels are just one symptom of Climate Change. Climate Change can also be held responsible for the decline in coral reefs and the increase of super storms, such as Sandy, Katrina, and Haiyan. Climate Change is occurring in our lifetime and with increasing severity. The consequences will be devastating if no action is taken to mitigate its’ effects.  

        The words “weather” and “climate” are not interchangeable. Weather is defined as the day-to-day atmospheric conditions, whereas climate is defined as the cumulative sum of the weather over time. For example, in 2012, “More than 650 people died during Europe’s worst cold snap in 25 years”; however, “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any decade since 1850”, according to the IPCC (Intercontinental Panel for Climate Change) (Lyons). The Greenhouse Effect is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and is essential to developing a suitable environment for sustaining life.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) gasses are naturally found in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the presence of these gasses help keep the planet warm. Carbon Dioxide traps infrared radiation from the sun and acts as natural insulation for the planet. However, when excess levels of CO2 and methane are released from fossil fuels, the resulting effect is intensified, which leads to an unstable climate. Once greenhouse gases are released, these gasses will remain in the atmosphere until they are either absorbed by plants, animals or dissolved into the ocean. Molecules of CO2 can remain in the atmosphere for approximately 100 years, thus increasing the difficulty of Climate Change mitigation (The basics: a brief).

According to Suzanne Goldenberg, from the Guardian, “The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just ninety companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age […]”(Goldenberg). Natural gas, coal, and oil energy producers compose all but seven of those ninety companies (Goldenberg).  Since 1963, the rate at which carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere has continued to increase every decade and doubled in recent years. From 1964 - 1973, the annual increase of carbon dioxide release was 1.07 ppm (parts per million) per year (Co2Now). From 2004 - 2013, that number has doubled to 2.07 ppm per year (Co2Now). Currently, China and the United States are responsible for 40 percent of all greenhouses gasses emitted (Lyons). The IPCC expects direct CO2 emissions from the energy-supply sector to almost double or even triple by 2050[...]” (Lyons).   From 1880 to 2012, averaged over all land and ocean surfaces, temperatures increased by 1.53°F (0.85ºC), according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UCAR). 

Although 1.53 degrees does not sound devastating, the effects are quite severe ecologically, socially, and economically. March 2013, CQ press informs, “Scientists report that a glacier in the Peruvian Andes that took at least 1,600 years to form has melted in the past 25 years” (Lyons). If sea levels continue to rise, the loss of New Moore Island, in the Bay of Bengal, will be minor compared to the 20 million people in Bangladesh that will be displaced by the projected submergence of 18 percent of the country’s coastline by 2050 (Nirmala). Coral reefs are another casualty of the 1.53 degree rise in temperature. Currently, 25 percent of world’s coral reefs have been destroyed by the temperature increase and pollution (Cooney). Cooney explains, “In some of the worst-hit areas, such as the Maldives and Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, up to 90 percent of coral reefs have been killed over the past two years by an increase in water temperature” (Cooney).  If Earth loses its’ coral reefs, the result will not only be an ecological disaster, but also an economical disaster, affecting half a billion people around the world who rely on coral reefs for food and tourism revenue (Cooney). Super Storms are another product of the temperature increase. Hurricane Sandy is the most expensive hurricane to date, which caused approximately 50 billion in damages (Lyons). According to Jeff Nesbit, “ In Sandy's case, the climate impact was three-fold: a record 13-foot storm surge that swept across lower Manhattan and caused massive damage was exacerbated by the elevated sea levels near the city, and the super storm’s fury was likely fueled offshore by warmer waters […]” (Nesbit). Earth’s temperature has only increased by 1.53 F degrees; however, the 2014 IPCC report predicts that the average global surface temperatures will increase by an additional 2 to 8.6 degrees by 2100 (The basics: a brief).

For every degree Earth’s temperature rises, the consequences become increasingly severe. Mark Lynas, author of 6 Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, has outlined what the Earth’s future could look like in one degree increments based on recent scientific reports. At a one-degree increase, the Unites States will experience a devastating incarnation of the American Midwest dust bowl of the 1930's (27-31). Africa's three highest peaks have lost half their glacial area and will continue to lose the rest (35-40). The loss of ice and snow on mountain peaks worldwide will affect the downstream freshwater supply, wildlife, and bio-diversity (33-35). An extra 10,000 square kilometers of ocean will be added every year from the melting Arctic Ice Sheet (46-51). At a one degree increase, Earth is currently experiencing the slow death of 70 percent of its’ coral reefs, including The Great Barrier Reef, which is home to 1,500 species of fish, and six of the seven most endangered species of sea turtle (54-60).

        In addition to the effects of a one-degree rise in temperature, a two-degree escalation will increase the oceans acidity due to the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (75-78). Phytoplankton, which not only absorbs carbon from the oceans, but is also the basis for marine ecosystems, will begin to die off. The loss of phytoplankton would be a catalyst for the death of most sea life in the ocean, turning it into Earth’s largest desert (75-78). At a two-degree increase, seasonal heat waves, more devastating than the record breaking 2003 European heat wave that killed 22,000 to 35,000 individuals, will become the norm along with wildfires and water shortages (79-85). With shrinking territory due to a loss of sea ice, the collapse of the Arctic ecosystem, including the extinction of the polar bear, is eminent (94-102).  The last time the world experienced a three-degree temperature increase was 3 million years ago when Earth’s CO2 levels were between 360- 440 ppm (130-133). Currently, Earth’s CO2 levels are approximately 396 ppm (Co2now.org). At 3 degrees, 80 percent of the Arctic’s sea ice will be gone; wind speeds of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico will exceed 180 miles per hour, the Mediterranean will change to desert, and the Amazonian rain forest basin will dry out completely (127-181). Three degrees may be the point of no return, where humanity is powerless to influence Climate Change at all. This theory is based on a Carbon Feedback Cycle developing in the Amazon forest, where it no longer absorbs carbon, but releases up to 250 ppm of CO2 by 2100, catapulting Earth into a 4-degree world (137-143).

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