2018 has proven to be an eye-opener when it comes to the impact climate change is having on the lives of the general public. Climate change is proving to be one of the defining international issues of this era, attracting attention from politicians, the media, the scientific community, and everyday Americans who fear that climate change could change their world forever. But what exactly is climate change, and why is it happening?
This phenomenon is best explained by something called the greenhouse effect. Fossil fuels, population growth, industrialization, and increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide are factors contributing to global warming and, consequently, climate change. Carbon dioxide being released traps heat in the atmosphere by absorbing radiation from the earth in the air when it would normally be released into space. This is often called the greenhouse effect because it mirrors the way that greenhouses trap heat. So, the phrase “climate change” refers to the changes in temperature and climate patterns caused by this greenhouse effect.
The global average temperature has been rising by roughly 0.07 degrees Celsius per decade since 1880, but the rate has increased substantially since 1980 as industrialization has proliferated. If Earth’s temperature ever increases to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature–which could happen as soon as 2030 if humanity doesn’t act fast–scientists fear that the repercussions could be devastating.
Climate change has already inflicted significant damage to our home planet. The weather has even become more erratic and severe; this is easily seen in the recent wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. Polar bears and penguins suffer from melting ice caps, and fish are affected by shifting currents and warming waters. Plant life, animal life, and the lives of countless ordinary people endure the effects of horrible natural disasters such as the California wildfires, which an increasing number of scientists are beginning to attribute to climate change. Climate change also affects oceans by warming the waters, and pollution has caused the ocean to acidify. Almost 30 percent of carbon released in the past 200 years has been absorbed by the ocean, preventing coral and other organisms from growing and functioning properly. Clearly, something must be done to combat this problem.
What can we do to reverse the effects? Though change will not come quickly and will not lead to immediate results, there are many things that can be done on the individual level as well as the international level. Even if all carbon emissions were completely stabilized, temperatures would continue to rise for decades to come. Because of this, the need for change is even direr. In 2019, turn off lights when they’re not needed and make sure you’re not using inordinate amounts of water. Start thinking about alternative methods of transportation: walk to school or carpool. Take the train into the city; learn the subway and bus routes. Recycle everything you can and compost instead of wasting food. These changes will hardly alter your daily routine and could reduce each individual’s impact on the earth. We all want the earth to be healthy. When it’s not, we are directly affected. In 2019, we would all do well to learn more about climate change and begin to take steps to prevent it from destroying life as we know it. To learn more, visit globalchange.gov or climate.nasa.gov.