Climate change in general refers to any long term change in local or global weather pattern when measured over a number of years. Climate also includes temperature, precipitation, days of sunlight, and other indicators. When climate change is used in an environmentalist sense it is usually meant to indicate negative changes in the climate such as global warming.
The Difference Between Climate and Weather
To many people the words climate and weather seem interchangeable, but in truth they are two distinct terms. When we refer to weather we mean the day to day changes in temperature, precipitation, and winds that is chaotic and generally unpredictable. We may have weather forecasts, but we can never truly pin down the exact weather pattern for any given day or week. Climate on the other hand refers to the long term trends in weather patterns globally. While weather changes from day to day, climate change takes place over thousands or millions of years, and helps shape the environment around us.
Factors Influencing Climate Change: The Natural
Many factors, both manmade and natural influence climate change. Natural factors include volcanic activity, solar variations, orbital variations, and plate tectonics. Volcanic activity can contribute to the CO2 buildup in the atmosphere, but also cause cooling trends. CO2 emitted by volcanoes is actually very little when compared to that emitted by human beings. Variations in the sun's rays can also cause warming or cooling trends, as can slight deviations in the orbit of the Earth around the sun. Climate change is also a very interdependent process, meaning that one small climate change, such as glacier retreat, affects many other aspects of the global climate as well.
Factors Influencing Climate Change: The Man-Made
Though our planet has seen warm periods and ice ages before the Industrial Age, it was nothing compared to the rapid climate change we are seeing now. This is mostly due to the greenhouse gas effect, a phenomena where the CO2 released into the air helps trap heat on the Earth's surface, warming the planet up. Without some CO2 in the atmosphere the Earth would be uninhabitable, but too much creates a steamy situation. According to research that tests CO2 levels by studying fossils and glaciers, the CO2 levels in our atmosphere are higher now than at any other point in the last 750,000 years. As more heat becomes trapped on the Earth's surface glaciers melt, sea levels rise, and weather patterns become more extreme.
But it's not only industry that creates so much CO2 in the atmosphere. Deforestation and land use may have begun human influenced climate change thousands of years ago. As more and more trees are cut down and cleared for farming the Earth's capacity to turn CO2 into oxygen through plant life is diminished. Halting global warming and climate change not only relies on clean manufacturing, but also respect for the vital role of flora in our global ecosystem.
Methane and aerosols in the atmosphere are also byproducts of human activity. Aerosols cause ozone depletion, but also block some of the sun's rays, while methane contributes to the greenhouse gas effect.
Effects of Climate Change
Climate change has a huge impact on the flora and fauna of the planet. Take the example of the polar bear. As arctic regions melt and shrink the polar bear has less territory and prey, and thus teeters on the brink of endangerment. As temperate areas become warmer local organisms may no longer be able to survive, and will become extinct.
The warming of the global climate will also result in intense weather events, like hurricanes and tornadoes, which will become increasingly more devastating. Desertification and flooding will also result. In truth, it is actually underdeveloped nations like Africa, who have not contributed to the massive emissions of greenhouse gases, who will pay the most.
What Can you Do About Climate Change?
Climate change is a problem we can all band together to fix. We need to call for greater accountability in our leaders, and support environmentally conscious companies and countries with our purchasing decisions. If you would like to do more, please visit some of the links below to find out how you can help.