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Climate Change – A threat or a HOAX?

The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

Thousands of studies conducted by researchers around the world have documented increases in temperature at Earth’s surface, as well as in the atmosphere and oceans. Many other aspects of global climate are changing as well. Human activities, especially emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and land-use change, are the primary driver of the climate changes observed in the industrial era.

 

Is climate change real?

There is broad-based agreement within the scientific community that climate change is real. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concur that climate change is indeed occurring and is almost certainly due to human activity.

 

What are the causes of climate change?

The primary cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, which emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—primarily carbon dioxide. Other human activities, such as agriculture and deforestation, also contribute to the proliferation of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

While some quantities of these gases are a naturally occurring and critical part of Earth’s temperature control system, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 did not rise above 300 parts per million between the advent of human civilization roughly 10,000 years ago and 1900. Today it is at about 400 ppm, a level not reached in more than 400,000 years.

Climate change – Impact on society

Climate change affects human health and wellbeing through more extreme weather events and wildfires, decreased air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects, food, and water. Climate disruptions to agriculture have been increasing and are projected to become more severe over this century, a trend that would diminish the security of our food supply. Surface and groundwater supplies in some regions are already stressed, and water quality is diminishing in many areas, in part due to increasing sediment and contaminant concentrations after heavy downpours.

 

In some regions, prolonged periods of high temperatures associated with droughts contribute to conditions that lead to larger wildfires and longer fire seasons. For coastal communities, sea level rise, combined with coastal storms, has increased the risk of erosion, storm surge damage, and flooding. Extreme heat, sea level rise, and heavy downpours are affecting infrastructure like roads, rail lines, airports, port facilities, energy infrastructure, and military bases.

The capacity of ecosystems like forests, barrier beaches, and wetlands to buffer the impacts of extreme events like fires, floods, and severe storms is being overwhelmed. The rising temperature and changing chemistry of ocean water is combining with other stresses, such as overfishing and pollution, to alter marine-based food production and harm fishing communities.

Climate change – response actions

Actions to prepare for and adjust to changing climate conditions—thereby reducing negative impacts or taking advantage of new opportunities—are known as adaptation. The other major category of response options—known as mitigation—involves efforts to reduce the amount and speed of future climate change by limiting emissions or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Adaptation and mitigation actions are linked in multiple ways and can be considered complementary strategies—mitigation efforts can reduce future risks, while adaptation can minimize the consequences of changes that are already happening as a result of past and present emissions. 

In a report published in September 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists made their starkest warning so far: our current actions are not enough for us to meet our target of 1.5C of warming. We need to do more.

It’s settled science that climate change is real, and we’re starting to see some of the ways that it affects us. It increases the likelihood of flooding in Miami and elsewhere, threatens the millions of people living along the Brahmaputra River in north-eastern India and disrupts the sex life of plants and animals.

The road towards that transition includes daily decisions within your reach – like driving and flying less, switching to a ‘green’ energy provider and changing what you eat and buy.

Of course, it’s true that climate change won’t be solved by your buying or driving habits alone – although many experts agree these are important, and can influence others to make changes too (more on that later). Other changes are needed that can only be made on a bigger, system-wide basis – like revamping our subsidy system for the energy and food industries, which continue to reward fossil fuels, or setting new rules and incentives for sectors like farming, deforestation and waste management.

One good example of the importance of this regards refrigerants. An advocacy group of researchers, business-people and NGOs called Drawdown found that getting rid of HFCs (chemicals used in fridges and air conditioning)  was the number-one most effective policy to reduce emissions. That’s because they are up to 9,000 more warming for the atmosphere than CO2. The good news is that we have made global progress on this, and two years ago 170 countries agreed to start phasing out HFCs in 2019

Climate change: the debate

While consensus among nearly all scientists, scientific organizations, and governments is that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, a small minority of voices questions the validity of such assertions and prefers to cast doubt on the preponderance of evidence. Climate change deniers often claim that recent changes attributed to human activity can be seen as part of the natural variations in Earth’s climate and temperature, and that it is difficult or impossible to establish a direct connection between climate change and any single weather event, such as a hurricane. While the latter is generally true, decades of data and analysis support the reality of climate change—and the human factor in this process. In any case, economists agree that acting to reduce fossil fuel emissions would be far less expensive than dealing with the consequences of not doing so.

By J. Costa

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