Is climate change caused by human activities?

Written By: Laza Florina

It’s no surprise that climate change is still an intense topic of debate. But one thing is for sure, the planet is getting warmer. The Earth’s temperature has steadily gone up in the past half-Century. The heat in 2016 broke the record set in 2015 which broke the record from 2014. Scientists agree that there is no natural explanation for the half-century warming trend, so we must take into consideration the human conduct and its effects on the world.

            Climate change is a change in the statistical properties of the climate system regarding the distribution of temperatures when the change lasts for an extended period of time, larger than just a few decades, regardless of cause. However, in the media, the term “climate change” is used to refer specifically to anthropogenic climate change known as “global warming”. The anthropogenic climate change is caused by human activities, not by natural factors that are part of the Earth’s natural processes. Scientists use the term to emphasize global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas levels affect.

            Theoretically, factors that can affect the climate system are called climate forcing or forcing mechanisms. Those can be either internal or external. Internal forcing mechanisms are part of the natural process, as opposed to external forcing mechanisms that divide into natural and anthropogenic factors that are primarily caused by human interventions.

            More than 9 out of 10 climate scientists consider that our carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming and people have increased the amount pumped in the air nearly by half since the 1960s. Experts realized the repercussions and acknowledge them since the 1800s. 100 years ago, a Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius warned the world about the devastating effects of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and predicted that an increasing amount of carbon dioxide would cause the global temperature to go up, particularly in the Arctic. At the time, the topic was only a subject of debate mostly in the academic area, no one else really paid attention. Today, we can witness the effects of our own ignorance and lack of knowledge.

            Scientifically, carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and regulate our climate, thus being essential for the planet, but if you add too much of it, the process can create irreparable damages. Actually, burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas to generate energy has a greater impact on the atmosphere than any other human activities. Globally, power generation is responsible for about 23 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year – in excess of 700 tons every second. Thus, climate change caused by those factors has become an urgent threat that must be addressed.

            Another cause for increasing global carbon emissions is the current process of deforestation. Forests are vital for the planet because they absorb massive amounts of CO2 and sustain natural ecosystems for hundreds of species. They are homes for numerous animals and global saviors for human life. Unfortunately, forests are currently being destroyed or damaged at an alarming rate, thus steadily increasing the amount of CO2 in the air. In this context, a country like Bhutan passed a law many years ago concerning the problem of deforestation. Thus, if you cut a tree you are required to plant another one. And only a few years ago, the citizens of Bhutan celebrated the birth of their prince by planting 108,000 trees. I strongly believe that the whole world should take the Bhutanese actions as an admirable example.

            Therefore, there is no doubt: climate change is real and dangerous. And there is a large amount of evidence to support such a statement. What is really a topic of debate among scientists is how bad is it going to be?

            Sea levels are rising and oceans are becoming warmer. The Arctic has warmed more than the rest of the planet and glaciers are retreating. In September 2016, at the end of the summer melt season, the ice becoming 825.000 square miles smaller than the long-term average – a loss equal to the size of Alaska and California combined. This loss speeds the warming considering that ice reflected the sunlight into space and now it is absorbed by the dark ocean.

            Moreover, the number of catastrophes caused by climate change has more than tripled since the 1980s. The increase in global temperature leads to a more extreme and unpredictable weather. For example, the heat wave that killed some 70.000 people in Europe in 2003 should have been an event that occurs only once in 500 years, but now, considering the current level of global warming, it has become a once-in-40-years event. It’s also likely to see more intense and frequent hurricanes, experience record droughts followed by intense rainfalls and other tropical cyclones. On the other hand, animals and plants are already vanishing from parts of their natural ecosystems that are now too hot for their body resistance. And extinction is coming next.

            But how everything started? And what can we do about it? The truth is climate change isn’t new to the planet, but civilization is considering humans have been around for .004% of Earth’s history. Since the beginning of times, the planet has gone through immense climate changes, in some cases leading to mass extinction, but life persisted, species survived and evolution was inevitable. Only after 100.000 years, the real innovation began when the simple man took into his own hands the responsibility of producing food by farming the lands. Agriculture led to villages and then cities, and before they noticed a newly technologized society was formed. Inventors created machines to unleash growth and mobility, but they needed fuel to burn and so they used the newly discovered coal deposits, thus disrupting the climate that supported their lives for generations.

            Scientists tried to raise awareness, but nothing major changed in our behavior. So, we need to change the way we talk about climate change. Those sad and gloomy warnings are evidently not working, we seem to prefer to ignore them since we don’t really understand or believe much of it. Psychologists say this kind of message is not conducive to engagement, but the opposite. It makes people passive, makes them want to withdraw from the issue and try to think about something else that makes them feel better. It’s much easier to place the problem into someone else’s hands than to actually address it.

            Therefore, many people see climate change as a distant problem, distant in time and distant in space. First, they think that its impacts will be felt in a generation or more and second, some even imagine these problems concern only polar bears or would affect some undeveloped countries. Often, scientific findings simply don’t inspire people to take action. On one hand you have a very smart person who analyzes and presents real data, but on the other hand, you have an audience of mostly average people who are trying to relate first with the speaker and only after understand and absorb. So, if you switch the messenger from scientists to a religious figure, a famous person, a well-known politician, even a Hollywood actress or a world-recognized pop-singer, people will start to listen and this will make the data more credible and easier to accept.

            Humans and wild animals have to overcome new challenges every day to survive because of climate change. Some of the hottest and humid parts of the world are already getting closer to the point where humans will no longer be able to lose enough heat to stay alive outdoors. To survive I believe we must address those issues with our hearts and consciousness, the main parts that define our humanity. We need to see real change in the society and especially, in the way we seek, choose and use electricity in our lives. Because the right usage of electricity leads to lower money spending on electricity bills, a better environment and a more secure healthy system for children’s development.

            Right now, CO2 is everywhere, but the truth is you can’t really see it. So, the fundamental cause of this problem is invisible to most of us, meaning that if CO2 was black we would have resolved the issue sooner. But the Earth is our home and we need to protect it in order to preserve our lives, thus we have to make a change even if the problem doesn’t seem alarming enough.

            In December 2015, 195 countries united to fight the climate change. They all agreed to try keep the temperature rise to “well below 2 degree Celsius” (the level beyond which scientists say we will see the worst extremes of global warming) and “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degree Celsius” in order to significantly reduce the impacts of climate change.

            In this encouraging context, the international community remained stunned once again when the President of the USA, Donald Trump, announced in June 2017 that he would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. The fate of the world seems uncertain when business is placed before the survival of Earth, but the truth is even the smallest change matters and we must never forget our duties or ignore the horrific scenario presented by scientists.

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