Smog over downtown Los Angeles. (Lawrence K. H / Los Angeles Times)
The Literacy Guild

Opinion: The realities of climate change

Climate change is an extremely controversial topic in today’s modern society. It’s defined by NASA as “a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates” and the changes in earth’s climate “are primarily driven by human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning.”

Global warming and climate change will be the eventual downfall of the human race and the world, yet it’s also an issue heavily neglected and avoided by us humans as well. 

The fact of the matter is that climate change is a problem that can’t be taken lightly. When dealing with a problem that affects and harms the human species as a whole, the only sensible mindset to have is concern and to think of what could be done to prevent such a collapse from happening or lessen its effects.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication estimates that 72% of adults in the United States believe that climate change, or global warming, is in effect currently, with the least percentages of people taking the threat seriously in states including Texas, Wyoming, Utah, and Alabama.

From the same survey, only a shocking 55% of adults in America believe that most scientists think global warming is happening, and even worse, the percentages of adults that believe global warming is caused by human activities is at a staggeringly low 57%. 

According to a NASA article titled “Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate is Warming”, 97% or more of climate scientists agree that climate change is affecting the human race negatively.

This NASA page includes a 2009 statement on climate change from 18 scientific associations that reads “Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.”

From this extremely critical information, it is clear that climate change is a threat, according to the experts in the field. However, the previous discussion of the survey of adult knowledge of climate change  indicates that a huge percentage of the adult population in America is likely misinformed as to the severity of the situation.

Information nowadays is effortless to gather with the access of an electronic device, and an example of this easy-to-access information is the kind that NASA provides on their website. In truth, all of us, even you, the reader, are misinformed in some aspects of climate change. Some are more misinformed than others, and people may not even realize it. It’s essential that all humans educate themselves even more about the topic, and everyone will learn something new regardless of their prior knowledge on climate change.

Why is climate change such a big problem to humanity? The answer is simple. It is changing the world environment that sustains us and thus directly threatens every person on the planet.  Changes such as a warming ocean, a global temperature rise, and shrinking ice sheets are transforming the planet in ways that can harm people.

On global temperature rise, NASA states in “Climate Change: How Do We Know?” that “The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.05 degrees Fahrenheit (1.14 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century”, and it’s been “a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.”

The same article by NASA reports on ocean warming, explaining that the “ocean has absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 100 meters (about 328 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.33 degrees Celsius) since 1969.”

This fact holds more importance than meets the eye, as “Scientists estimate that 50-80% of the oxygen production on Earth comes from the ocean,” as stated by the National Ocean Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

One example given by the National Ocean Service is the fact that a large portion of the ocean’s oxygen output comes from the prochlorococcus, or the “smallest photosynthetic organism on Earth”, which roams oceans all around the world, and they provide a majority of the world’s oxygen, “20% of the oxygen in our entire biosphere”.

As we all know, oxygen is perhaps the most essential part of our daily lives as humans, and the fact that the majority of our supply in the world is being threatened by climate change and global warming is severely critical to the human race and restricts our ability to stay alive. This overwhelming evidence should have any normal human being worried about their future on Earth and realize that their life will be affected if not threatened by the changes. 

Much of climate change is anthropogenic, caused by human activity. According to NASA’s article “The Causes of Climate Change, water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are the main gasses that “block heat from escaping” and “[don’t] respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature”, which “are described as ‘forcing’ climate change.”

These greenhouse gasses are constantly being generated through factories and manufacturing purposes as well as from other human activities, and they, in turn, trap the heat that has been emitted by the sun into our biosphere, which is causing global warming. Though most harmful gasses are natural, our excessive dependence on these fumes makes the surplus flow harmful to our environment and the atmosphere.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations organized worldwide scientific group, concluded that “industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 414 parts per million in the last 150 years.” Though manufacturing and industrial activities don’t count for all of climate change’s factors, a significant portion does, and it should not go unnoticed.

Co2census states that the industrial sector accounts “for 22% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.,” which in this field includes “manufacturing, refining, food production, etc.”

The surprising side of this statistic is that it does not include indirect emissions by these processes, and if these factors, such as electric emissions, were counted, “the figure would rise to 29%, making this sector the second biggest contributor to climate change.” Our reliance on manufacturing and industrial goods makes the spread of these gasses extremely likely, and unless we can develop safe, eco-friendly, and affordable alternatives with incentives for companies to use them, this spread isn’t going to slow down any time soon.

Solutions can be thought of when responding to these problems and the overall issue of climate change, but most are controversial, expensive, or both. Still, the outcomes of using these methods are critical in slowing global warming. NASA’s main suggested solutions are mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation, which “involves reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere”, either reduces fossil fuel use or increasing the natural systems that gather and store these harmful gases, such as bodies of water or plants.

As NASA puts it in their article titled “Responding to Climate Change, “The goal of mitigation is to avoid significant human interference with the climate system” and to “stabilize greenhouse gas levels in a timeframe sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change.”

The other suggested solution by NASA, adaption, is the act of “adapting to life in a changing climate” and “adjusting to actual or expected future climate”. This sounds counterproductive, making humans seem like sitting ducks for the world to collapse, but the approach is inevitably necessary.

The method of adapting to the changing weather is a tactic critical for our species’ survival, and as NASA states in their above article, when it comes to adaptation, the “faster the climate changes, the harder it could be.”

NASA’s suggested solutions would be effective in limiting the onslaught of climate change and make the human race better equipped for the future.

Climate change is real and very much a risk to our planet. This threat is confirmed by a consensus of scientists, and it shouldn’t be brushed off as another hoax. Climate change should be taken extremely seriously as threatening the downfall of our species, and the first step should be a simple browser search on climate change to be informed about the problem.

The effects will be devastating, causing rising global temperatures and sea levels, shrinking ice sheets, and a warming ocean, all to devastating effect. Solutions need to be funded and implemented as soon as possible.