Updated: Jan 4, 2021
The issue of climate change is well-known, but the severity of it is still so underestimated. It’s crucial we understand the consequences we face if we continue to face the problem with indifference. NASA reports there was a total of 7 cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago. That marked the beginning of the modern climate era – and of human civilization. It is from then on that we began to see wavering amounts of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Climate change experiments then began in the 1800s, suggesting that human-produced CO2 could collect and stay in the atmosphere, specifically the greenhouse effect. The theory of global warming was later established in the late 1950s, where CO2 readings offered some of the first data that supported the theory. From there, it became clear that not only was global warming real, there were many consequences that would accompany it if humans continued on the path they were on. However, CO2 levels only continued to rise from there as we began to see a rapid and frightening increase in the mid-20th century, caused by post-war industrialization. It is imperative that people today recognize the extreme severity and dire consequences the human race will confront if we don’t take action now.
The evidence for climate change is overwhelming. Since the 19th century, Earth’s surface temperature has climbed 1.62 degrees Farenheit, the cause being human industrialization and innovation. The last decade, 2010-2019, was the hottest decade ever reported with 2019 being one of the top 3 hottest years on record. However, climate change is neither just a rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere nor just a rise in global temperature. There are many more factors that play into the crucial issue that have caused irreversible damage to Earth’s climate.
Glaciers may just seem like random floating ice masses, but they have provided invaluable information about climate change for scientists and are vital in keeping the planet cooler. The ice serves as a protective cover for our oceans and reflects excess heat back into space. That is why the north and south poles are significantly cooler than areas near the equator. However, in the early 1900s, we began to see rapid melting of glaciers around the world. World Wildlife explains that we are definitely already too behind in taking action to prevent irreversible damage. “Even if we significantly curb emissions in the coming decades, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before the year 2100. When it comes to sea ice, 95% of the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic is already gone.” By summer of the year 2040, scientists predict a completely ice-free Arctic. Melting glaciers also contribute to another problem. When glaciers, land blocks that store water, start melting, the water returns to the ocean and we begin to see global sea level rise. Ice in Greenland is already melting rapidly, disappearing 4 times faster than in 2003 and already contributes 20% of current sea level rise. If carbon emission rates continue as they are right now, the melting of the entire Greenland ice sheet would further raise sea levels by 20 feet. The melting of sea ice and glaciers along with rising sea levels caused by climate change is a huge problem.
Climate change has also contributed to an increase in severe weather today such as wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes. A new field of climate research known as “extreme event attribution” emerged in the early 2000s and has become a widely-discussed topic in the media world as well. A map published by Carbon Brief showcases every extreme-weather attribution study published to date. In this study, it was found that 69% of the 355 recorded extreme weather events were found to be made either more likely or more severe by human actions. Out of the 125 attribution studies that looked at extreme heat, 93% found that climate change made the event more likely or more severe. The findings were the same in both rainfall/flooding with 54% of 68 events and droughts with 61% of 61 events. Heat waves have also proved to be rampant and grave problems, especially in areas like California that are much closer to the equator than much of the US. California wildfires have become a widespread issue throughout the state with usually a dozen occurring at the same time. After a record heatwave in early September, firefighters have worked tirelessly to control the fires that have been exacerbated by gusty winds and low humidity. The heat waves aren’t just weather being weather, but rather part of a noticeable trend. “Heatwaves are becoming more frequent, lasting longer, and increasing in night-time temperature and humidity, particularly in urban regions such as the Los Angeles basin,” reported Glynn Hulley, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a study this year on increasingly intense heat waves. Troubling weather caused by climate change has made researchers hesitant to say if there will ever be a time where California is fire-free.
With the US having ceased participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement, an agreement between close to 190 parties to work together to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, it is imperative that policymakers recognize the severity of the climate crisis and pass substantial environmental legislation. Reactions to such a decision made by the president have been overwhelmingly negative as the reasons presented for the withdrawal centered around the US economy with seemingly no mind to climate change. In a recent briefing about the wildfires growing on the West Coast, California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot urged the president to “recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests.” The president, who has had a habit of downplaying climate change, said, “It will start getting cooler. Just you watch.” “I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot said. “I don’t think science knows,” Trump retorted. In the meantime, climate change is rapidly worsening as global temperatures continue to rise, glaciers continue to melt, sea levels continue to rise, and more severe weather heads our way. With elections coming in November, we can only hope to elect a president that recognizes the severity of the climate situation and takes real action now.