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In recent decades a new threat to the health of our planet has emerged: global warming. Whether or not you believe in the phenomena, scientific fact has proven that global temperatures have risen roughly one degree Fahrenheit (.74 degrees Celsius) since 1950, and are projected to rise by much more than that in the future. So what if it gets warmer, right? We can all wear shorts and sip fruity drinks by the pool. Or, maybe not. With global warming comes a host of problems to plague or planet, from mass species extinction to rising sea levels. Global warming is a problem, and unless we act fast, the consequences could be permanent.
Causes of Global Warming
There are many sources of global warming, and not all of them stem from human causes. For example, both solar variation and volcanic activity have both played a role in global warming in the past history of our planet. But the sharp increases seen in the last few centuries have been linked by the vast majority of scientists to human behavior, specifically CO2 emissions.
These CO2 emissions contribute to the greenhouse gas effect, which was discovered in 1824 by Joseph Fourier. The Earth actually has greenhouse gas effects occurring naturally, mostly caused by evaporating water, without which our planet would be too cold to live on. However, the vast quantities of carbon dioxide and methane found in our atmosphere are far from natural. Consider this: the atmospheric levels of CO2 have risen 31% and methane 149% since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the mid-1700's. Obviously the increase in greenhouse gases is largely tied to human behavior.
These gasses are released through industrial production, burning of fossil fuels (ie:cars), and deforestation. Obviously if we want to lower our greenhouse gas emissions, we need to find new sources of energy and replant our forests.
Consequences of Global Warming
Obviously the warming of our planet is going to have global repercussions. Current climate projections estimate that by the end of the 21st century we could have global warming of 2 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius). With these warmer temperatures a variety of changes would happen. Glacier retreat (which is already happening) would speed up, and the Arctic landmass would also be subject to melting. This in turn would raise sea levels up to a foot and a half.
Global warming will also have an increasingly large effect on the patterns of extreme weather on our planet such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and drought. Hurricanes will become less frequent but far more intense, and areas currently experiencing drought will widen. Many locations that rely on a flow of summer streams will lose water during the warmer months as well.
Any species who cannot adapt to the climate change and resulting effects on locations around the world will become extinct. It is thought that this number could reach the hundreds of thousands, including both flora and fauna.
While plants and animals decline, certain diseases will thrive in the increasingly warmer climate. Both malaria and dengue fever will spread as new areas become warm enough to support the mosquitoes that carry the diseases. This will dramatically affect human life, especially in developing countries which lack basic health care.
What Can we Do?
Sadly many scientists think that global warming has not even leveled out yet, because of the massive temperature holding abilities of our oceans. That means that even if we were to halt our CO2 producing industries this second, global warming would still increase for a while before declining. However, we can still make a difference for the future. By supporting renewable sources of energy in our homes and vehicles each person can make a difference. For those of use fortunate enough to live in democratic countries, vote for leaders who truly care about our environment and are committed to making a difference. For more ideas on how you can fight global warming, visit some of the links below.