The Industrial Revolution brought an increasing reliance on the burning of fossil fuels for heat, power, transportation and manufacturing. Today it is the general consensus within the scientific community that this, and other human activities, are contributing to the rise in our planet’s surface temperature.
Temperatures have risen one degree Fahrenheit in the past century with accelerated warming occurring over the past two decades. 10 of the past 15 years were the hottest on record. These rising temperatures disrupt weather patterns, bringing about severe storms. The increase in evaporation, in turn, increases precipitation. Melting ice sheets and glaciers raise sea levels which cause flooding. For example, Antarctica’s ice sheet holds 70% of the world’s fresh water supply. If it were to melt, the world’s oceans would rise approximately 70 meters or 230 feet.
Heavy usage of fossil fuels help dramatically increase greenhouse gases (so named for their heat-trapping properties) — far more than can be naturally absorbed. Over the past 250 years, CO2 concentrations rose nearly 30% and methane concentrations increased over 50%, enabling the atmosphere to retain more heat. Carbon dioxide concentration in the air is up to more than 385 parts per million (climate.gov); compare that to 150 years ago when it was 280 ppm.
Only half of the world’s original 6 million acres of rain forest currently remain while each second an area the size of a football field is cut down. The United Nations estimates that 3.1 billion cubic metres of wood were removed globally for timber and fuel and; we lose an area of forest the size of Greece each year (approx. 13 million hectares).
Between 1995 and 2004, disasters caused by extreme weather cost $570 billion (London School of Economics).
Recent admissions by the U.N. climate chiefs on Himalayan glacier melt; and updated satellite data suggesting that Alaskan glaciers are melting slower than previously reported, have fueled climate change deniers to try and dismiss all of the scientific evidence on global warming. It should be noted that in both of the above instances, there is no argument over whether or not the glaciers are melting, rather the degree to which they are melting.
Glacial retreat in Europe and South America as well as Greenland and Antarctica remain undisputed and represent a clear and present danger to the planet. Whether it’s sea level rise or lack of fresh water, there should be no doubts that climate change is affecting us all, and will have an even greater effect on future generations.