Climate change is, essentially, as simple as it sounds; it is a change in the overall climate for a period of time, demonstrated in things like changing weather patterns. The effects that these changes can have on the environment and on life as a whole are potentially drastic. This paper seeks to explain the beginnings of the field of climate change science, illustrate the potential effects of climate change as advanced by that field, and expand into what efforts may go into changing the possible outcomes.
Observations on climate change began in the 1800s with the identification of two environmental phenomena: the greenhouse effect and ice ages. These two concepts were used to illustrate the ideas that environments and their behaviors can change over time, and that the climate of the Earth (and its regions) was not a static, pre-determined thing. However, the science of climate change as we know it did not begin until the 1970s, when scientific observations lent credence to the notion that carbon dioxide could influence the environment in this manner. The field blossomed from this point of interest, and the 1990s saw rise of computer graphing and models offering predictions and proxy-histories of the climate. Since that decade (the 90s), the field has grown substantially and gradually developed a consensus viewpoint that climate change is real, that it has a warming effect, and that it is, in some capacity,anthropogenic. This word – anthropogenic – means that climate change in its current form is seen to stem from human action (namely, polution).
The effects of climate change are numerous. Weather is one area of change; heavy rainfall will increase even in areas where rain becomes more scarce. As a whole, dry areas will become even drier, and wet areas will become even wetter (NOAA 08). On average, hot days wil become more and more frequent, while cold weather will be fewer and farther between (Stocker 13).
Rising sea levels are also relevant. The sea levels rise as a result of ocean expansion – meaning that as the waters in the oceans warm, they expand – and the melting of solid ice (Bindoff et al. 07). The rise in sea levels is expected to continue for centuries, and will likely change the internal geography of coastal cities. Also affected will be small island nations in the Atlantic and Pacific. Flood defense against sea rise may eventually become unrealistic to impossible, and this has been so considered that the island nation of Tuvalu has already negotiated an agreement with New Zealand for phased relocation in the event of this occurring (Simms 03).
Also of note are the anticipated effects on global agriculture. Food security will worsen in that more people will likely be at risk of hunger, as increases in temperature and extreme weather events may disrupt patterns of global food production and distribution (Easterling et al. 07). This may also lead to decreased regional security where distributions of food become more uneven and imbalanced. It is noted that "...amplified rates of human conflict could represent a large and critical social impact of anthropogenic climate change in both low- and high-income countries." (Hsiang 13).
The question then arises: what is to be done?
Well, there are a number of hypothesized methods of dealing with the effects of climate change. One such method is the idea of climate engineering, where actions are taken to try and remove carbon dioxide or manage solar radiation, for example. This, however, is seen as risky at best (Keller et al. 14). Another suggestion has been the idea of changing the infrastructure of targeted areas to best work against the changes that are coming – this is called adaptation (US Global Change Research Program 09). However, this too has some inherent problems in that without serious mitigation the effects will only worsen: that is, whatever projected change is adapted for will only worsen with time if the source of that change is not dealt with, making the adaptations eventually obsolete from the get go. It is a Band-Aid solution to a problem that requires surgery. This leaves the most seriously considered route, which is straight-up mitigation. The techniques that go into mitigation are various – reforestation & the prevention of deforestation; energy conservation & energy efficiency; and the use of alternative energy sources, some examples of which include nuclear and renewable energy (IPCC 07). This is the "surgery" option: going straight to the source by limiting and decreasing the primary cause of anthropogenic climate change, which is carbon emissions.
However, none of the above actions have been pursued in any earnest capacities. The primary objection to these avenues is not the science behind it – in fact, there are virtually no scientific bodies (national or international) that expressly deny an anthropogenic element to climate change (Oreskes 07). When examining seven primary surveys noting the rates of agreement on anthropogenic climate change, the average rate of consensus was 96% (Cook et al. 16).
Instead, the opposition is founded in the political. The two biggest contributers to climate change, the US and China, both remain non-commital towards mitigation efforts (with the United States outright rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, a significant measure towards mitigation). This attitude is based in economic interests and goes against scientific consensus. Additionally, it is notable that oil companies, such as ExxonMobil, have funded think tanks and various other groups to spread misinformation with the intent of undermining the aforementioned consensus (Sandell 07). This is again a result of economic interest, as crude oil is the most widely used carbon-based energy source currently in use, and is one of the primary causes of current emission rates.
- Bindoff; et al., "Chapter 5: Observations: Oceanic Climate Change and Sea Level", FAQ 5.1 Is Sea Level Rising?. IPCC AR4 WG1 2007.
- Easterling; et al., "Chapter 5: Food, Fibre, and Forest Products", Sec. 5.6.5 Food security and vulnerability. IPCC AR4 WG2 2007.
- Hsiang SM, Burke M, Miguel E (September 2013). "Quantifying the influence of climate on human conflict". Science. 341 (6151): 1235367.
- IPCC, Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers, Section 4: Adaptation and mitigation options, in IPCC AR4 SYR 2007.
- IPCC, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis - Summary for Policymakers, Observed Changes in the Climate System, p. 15, in IPCC AR5 WG1 2013.
- Keller, David; Feng, Ellias Y.; Oschlies, Andreas. "Potential climate engineering effectiveness and side effects during a high carbon dioxide-emission scenario". Nature Communications. 5: 3304. Jan 2014.
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- Oreskes, Naomi. "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: How Do We Know We're Not Wrong?". In DiMento, Joseph F. C.; Doughman, Pamela M. Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren. MIT Press. pp. 65– 66. 2007.
- Sandell, Clayton. "Report: Big Money Confusing Public on Global Warming". ABC. 3 January 2007.
- Simms, Andrew. Unnatural disasters. The Guardian. October 2003.
- Stocker, T.F., et al. (2013), Temperature Extremes, Heat Waves and Warm Spells, in: TFE.9, in: Technical Summary, p. 111 (archived PDF), in IPCC AR5 WG1 2013
- U.S. Global Change Research Program. "New Report Provides Authoritative Assessment of National, Regional Impacts of Global Climate Change." 16 June 2009.