In recent years the issue of climate change has been on everyone's lips. We hear about it on the news, we hear people talking about it on the streets and we know at least one person who is actively involved in fighting the negative effects of global warming. Every other concern seems to pale in comparison when we understand that the future of our planet is at stake.
But what's also disturbing is the fact that there's an alarming amount of misinformation surrounding the topic that is being spread through all communication channels. Therefore, it has become increasingly difficult to cut through the false information in order to get to the truth.
That's why it's important to get educated on the subject and understand how this phenomenon is affecting our lives and future. We can be certain of one thing though: climate change is real; it's happening right now while you are reading these lines and it can only be addressed if countries all over the world combine their efforts and take common action.
What is climate change?
There are numerous studies conducted by scientists across the planet showing that Earth's temperature is increasing. As a result, glaciers are starting to melt, sea level is rising and extreme weather phenomena are becoming more frequent.
So, climate change is driven by global warming, but how did we get here in the first place? Researchers believe that global warming is caused by the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a natural process in which energy from the Sun is captured and retained in the atmosphere, ensuring a temperature that makes life possible on Earth.
But humans have messed up the balance by adding emissions from industrial activities. The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and intensive agriculture are adding more carbon dioxide than ever before and at a rate that can't be supported by the planet, therefore increasing Earth's temperature even more.
When did it all start?
Scientists have come to the conclusion that this disastrous phenomenon has started with the Industrial Revolution, around 1760, which also marks the beginning of a new proposed geological era called Anthropocene, a period defined by the overwhelming human influence on the planet's geology and ecosystems.
The Industrial Revolution brought unprecedented innovations: the coal-powered steam engine, the automobiles, the mechanized factory systems that all required energy from fossil fuel combustion. The period is also marked by a dramatic increase in population. This led to massive urbanization, an intense use of resources and increased production in every industrial area.
With this picture in mind, it's easy to understand why the temperature has risen. The data provided by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) show that the temperature has increased by 1.1°C since the Industrial Revolution and it's expected to rise up to 2.7°C or more until 2100, if we continue on the same path and no measures will be taken to address the situation. The WMO also informs that the warmest years ever recorded all happened in the last 22 years and the sea level increases on average by 3.6mm per year.
What are the consequences?
An increase by 1.1°C might not seem like much, but it can have disastrous consequences at all levels. One change leads to another and just like in a domino effect life on Earth will suffer serious transformations. We are already beginning to feel some of the effects right now.
Looking at the unusual meteorological events in recent years, it's impossible to deny that climate change is actually happening. Let's take Florida for example, where storms and hurricanes have increased in intensity in the past 20 years. Infrastructure and homes are not prepared for the impact of the rising sea level and more violent storms. It's already a well-known fact that in Florida hurricane insurance is a must, if you want to protect your house and assets. And there are many more areas in the world facing similar challenges.
Researchers believe that intense storms and hurricanes are not the only weather-related problems that we should worry about. Other extreme meteorological events such as colder than usual winters, heat waves, lightning strikes, droughts and blizzards will occur more often than normal.
The melting of the ice mass at the poles is another noticeable effect of climate change. As the ice is rapidly melting, the sea level starts to rise. Those living in coastal regions or small islands are facing threats such as floods or isolation. And as if that wasn't enough, some of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the oceans and that causes seawater to become more acidic, putting sea life in danger.
Changes in ecosystems
Global warming has a powerful impact on the entire ecosystem as well. In search of more comfortable temperatures, animals and plants are beginning to migrate north. But since climate change is happening at such a fast rate, most organisms won't be able to keep up or adapt. Some species will inevitably go extinct, if this process continues. Even if they manage to find an environment that will suit their needs, they have other challenges to face. Warmer temperatures create a perfect breeding environment for many pathogens that were once limited to specific areas. They will be fatal for the plants and animals whose systems are not ready to protect them against new diseases.
Inevitably, agriculture will also be affected. Crops and livestock will be impacted by the extreme weather, frequent droughts, pests, leading to a food shortage. Concerns related to the availability and quality of water supplies add up to the complex issues that our society will have to deal with due to climate change.
What can be done?
While climate change can't be stopped, there are measures that countries worldwide can take to tackle the problem. Mitigation measures can help reduce the effects of climate change, avoiding further risks, and include actions such as using renewable energy sources, reducing energy waste, reducing gas emissions from transport etc. Adaptation measures represent the other approach, meant to address the consequences of climate change and adjust to the new circumstances. They include actions such as reforestation, investing in durable infrastructure and amenities, studying and understanding potential threats or creating effective emergency plans.