Hello, and welcome Voices 4 Change’s second blog. This blog is a companion piece to the podcast, as it goes more in-depth into each discussion and provides further resources for those who are interested. Today, we will cover: What is climate change, and why should I care?
Climate change has become a popular conversation globally; however, the concept is still continuously misunderstood. The first mistake is the interchanging use of climate and weather. Weather is the atmospheric condition at a specific location and time. It occurs over a short period ranging from hours to days. Climate is the average state of the atmosphere, regionally or globally, across an extended period, typically thirty years. Fluctuations of the Earth’s atmosphere are normal year to year, so scientists analyze climate through averages to smooth out these fluctuations and extreme outliers to project a general trend. Using weather to describe the climate, and vice versa can confuse, misinform, or invalidate your message.
NASA defines climate change as “a long-term change in the average weather patterns that come to define Earth’s local, regional, and global climates.” Climate change covers a wide range of observed effects that are synonymous with the term. Global warming is one aspect of climate change, and it is the rise in global temperature from greenhouse gas emissions. Changes in the climate are an immediate threat to the global community as the effects are and will be broad, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible. Human activity is the catalyst for climate change. The large-scale emissions of greenhouse gases are the leading contributor. These gases are mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N20), ozone (O3) and even water vapor (H20). We see greenhouse gas emissions through fossil fuel combustion, agriculture, industrial factories, electricity production, and transportation, especially in urban areas with a high volume of traffic and air travel.
Greenhouse gases are dangerous to the climate system as they are a one-way filter for energy between the sun and Earth. The sun emits energy in the form of UV radiation, or shortwave radiation, that is very powerful. The molecular structure of greenhouse gases allows for the sun’s immense energy to pass through the Earth’s atmosphere and reach its surface. When the Earth absorbs the incoming energy, it re-radiates it back towards space in the form of heat to maintain an energy balance. However, greenhouse gases absorb the Earth’s energy and reflects it back down to its surface, which leads to warming. In other words, greenhouse gases act like insulation and trap the Earth’s heat. In moderation, these gases keep the Earth habitable. But in excess, these gases lead to harmful global warming, which is what we are experiencing today. This shift in the energy balance, thus changes the climate system.
Ozone and water vapor are unique from the other greenhouse gases and should be further explained. The impact of ozone (O3) depends on which layer of the atmosphere it is found. Ozone emissions at the Earth’s surface, or the troposphere, are harmful and act like greenhouse gases. Naturally occurring ozone in the stratosphere is known as the “ozone layer” and is beneficial in many ways. This layer protects the climate and organisms from the sun’s harmful UV radiation. In fact, too much exposure can destroy DNA in living cells. Water vapor is also a greenhouse gas, but it stays in the atmosphere for a shorter amount of time compared to other gases.
We feel the effects of climate change in many ways. One of the biggest impacts of the change in the climate system is the increase in extreme weather patterns. Scientists predict there to be more droughts, heatwaves, storms and hurricanes, floods and downpours, and wildfires across the globe. While extreme weather will vary on location, we have seen these implications already. For instance, researchers confirm global warming amplified the risk of the 2019-2020 Australia bushfires by 30 percent, due to the increasingly hot and dry weather. Alterations in climate can reduce agricultural production and increase food insecurity. Sea levels are also expected to rise, which threaten coastal populations, marine ecosystems, and the seafood industry. Freshwater resources are also expected to deplete with rapid snow and glacier melt. There will be an increase in disease prevalence as vectors can migrate to areas that they couldn’t survive before. These effects may also increase displaced populations and refugees who cannot survive where they live. Changes in climate also severely impact biodiversity and the habitats in which organisms can survive. We are currently undergoing Earth’s sixth mass extinction. This phenomenon threatens the natural food web of an environment and economies that depend on ecotourism. Everyone has something to lose from climate change, so it is in our best interest to address the crisis with urgency.
Although the impact is global, developing countries will be impacted disproportionately more than the rest of the world. The lack of infrastructure, technology, and financial safety nets makes them particularly vulnerable, health-wise and economically. Many of these countries’ economies concentrate on agriculture, which relies on consistent weather and suitable climate to grow. The disparities to adapt to climate change indicate that climate change is a profound socio-economic challenge.
Stay tuned for next week’s podcast/blog on the impact of climate change in Kenya.