Global Warming & Climate Change:
One of the most significant things that the scientific model does, no matter what subject you are studying, is that it breaks things down into their parts. By breaking things down into small pieces, and putting them under the microscope figuratively speaking, science makes things easier for us to study and understand. And then we try to put the pieces together.
But one of the main points of this overview, something that’s going to come up over and over again, is just how inter-related things are. To the bigger picture. Everything from what we do as a society, to what we do as individuals. Especially in the case of global warming. Global warming is intimately connected to and inter-related with a host of environmental issues and lifestyle choices.
But first, just to clarify,- what do we really mean when we use the phrase ‘global warming?’ What is the actual definition?
The term global warming is a reference to a gradually increasing trend in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. The roots of the global warming problem can be said to begin with the industrial revolution, around the mid to late 1700’s, when humanity first began using fossil fuels for large-scale industry.
The term ‘climate change‘ is more of a reference to it’s after effects,- representing the extremes in climate: the draughts, the forest fires, the hurricanes, the floods, the rising sea levels.. It is generally accepted that during the time period following the industrial revolution, the progress of global warming began to grow at a historically unprecedented rate. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that it is ‘extremely likely’ that human activity, in the form of the burning of fossil fuels, is the predominant cause of global warming.
Some of the specific human activities that have an influence on climate change? Our means of transportation, (the gasoline and oil that we burn in our automobiles), the cutting down of our forests, as well as some of our agricultural practices, just to name a few. In order to understand how these factors effect climate change, let’s start the conversation by discussing a basic concept referred to by scientists as the greenhouse effect.
What are greenhouse gases?
The gases ammonia, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane gas, and a class of gases collectively known as the chlorofluorocarbons, are all referred to as the greenhouse gases. These are the damaging gases that are contained in the pollution coming out of our factories, and the exhaust coming out of our automobiles. These gases together are primarily responsible for producing the effect referred to by scientists as the greenhouse effect.
To state it in its most simplest terms, the greenhouse effect can be described as somewhat like a blanket. The way I like to describe it, is that in the same way that you might cover yourself up with a blanket to stay warm, the greenhouse gases are like a blanket for the Earth. They wrap around the planet and retain the sun’s energy in our atmosphere, holding in, and trapping in, the heat.
In this important way, the greenhouse effect is actually a natural part of our environment. It is critical for making life possible. Without the greenhouse effect, the warmth provided by the sun would just bounce off the surface of the planet, and radiate away into outer space leaving our world behind far too cold for life to exist. We depend on the greenhouse effect for our very lives.
“Global warming has many effects on climate change, including the melting of ice caps, glaciers, as well as rising sea levels, just to name a few.”
The greenhouse effect and global warming.
On the other hand, when human activities add additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, such as carbon monoxide and methane, the natural greenhouse effect is increased beyond its normal range… All of this leads to the result science describes as global warming. The statement from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that it is extremely likely that human activity became the dominant cause of global warming in the time period following the industrial revolution.
Of the human activities contributing to global warming, the extracting and burning of fossil fuels is considered to be the principal cause. Our own NASA estimates that humans have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began, mostly as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. A global effort and initiative towards low-carbon renewable energy is the most critical aspect in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Deforestation is what occurs when large strands of trees are cut down to make room for urban development, industrial development, or to make room for agricultural needs, such as the grazing of cattle or the growing of crops. How does deforestation, and the loss of trees, contribute to global warming? The answer is that trees absorb carbon dioxide, mitigating and partially offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions produced by burning fossil fuels.
Scientists refer to this process as “carbon sequestration,” and it is defined as the capture and storage of excess carbon dioxide. Since trees play an important role in carbon sequestration, we refer to our forests as “carbon sinks” because they remove and store harmful carbon dioxide.
Of all trees around the world, tropical trees alone are estimated to provide a large share of the climate mitigation that’s needed to offset climate change. But the process of deforestation not only removes the vegetation we need, but sometimes instead of being clear-cut, forest land is cleared by controlled burning. During this process, the act of clearing forests by burning them actually has the opposite effect of storing carbon,- by releasing stored carbon. That’s right,- the smoke from burning trees contains all of the carbon that has been stored inside the trees for all of the years that they’ve been growing. As a result of these combined effects, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tells us that deforestation is the overall second-leading cause of climate change.
“Global warming contributes to the drying out of vegetation, resulting in forest fires, desertification, and loss of habitat and biodiversity.”
The causes of deforestation are many, but agriculture is the primary incentive to cut down trees, with the most significant drivers being soy beans, palm oil, and cattle ranching. While this deforestation is occurring on a ongoing basis to make room for crops, and to make room for animals to graze, beyond that, there are a number of additional ways that modern agricultural practices contribute to the global warming equation.
For example, the fertilizers used on crops emit the greenhouse gas, methane. Furthermore, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector, which includes the production of feed crops for animals, the manufacturing of fertilizer, as well as the shipment of meat, eggs, and milk, is a primary contributor of green house gas emissions.
Green house gas emissions come from a broad range of sources related to animal agriculture, including methane emissions directly from the livestock, carbon emissions resulting from their transport, as well as the decay of their organic waste, including manure used as fertilizer on crops.
As you may be noticing by now, the issues involved with global warming are intertwined and very complex,- forever linked with the challenges of providing transportation for, and feeding, an ever-growing human population. Global warming has a multi-faceted relationship with our actions and our environment, beginning with each of us as individuals, and extending to our cities and states, our nations, and the world.
The end result of the problem is a multitude of different symptoms and effects on climate change. They include an impact on both rainfall and weather patterns, including extreme weather events ranging from heat waves, to droughts, to forest fires, to hurricanes, the melting of ice caps and glaciers, and the rising of sea levels,- and that’s just to name a few.
Solving the global warming problem by replacing fossil fuels with clean energy, and improving our agricultural practices are arguably some of the most daunting challenges the human race has ever faced. But yet, what are the answers? Are they all here, right before our eyes?
“The Food and Agriculture Organization tells us that deforestation is a leading cause of climate change, with some of the most significant drivers being soy plantations, palm oil, and cattle ranching.”
References & Resources:
Established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to assess available scientific, technical, and socio-economic information in the field of climate change. Links to full-text papers, meeting schedule, speeches and press releases, and an information center offering data viewed as statistics, graphically, and by map.
Vital Signs of the Planet: Global Climate Change and Global Warming. Current news and data streams about global warming and climate change. This NASA website is based on the evidence, causes, effects, and solutions of climate change.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security.
The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. This process makes Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is one of the things that makes Earth a comfortable place to live.
Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. This section provides information on emissions and removals of the main greenhouse gases to and from the atmosphere.
Key points, articles, pros and cons, and resources regarding climate change.
Reports on the science of climate change, its impacts and possible mitigation strategies. Collection of indicators, reports, links, data sets and targets on climate change.
Discover how researchers study climate change; examine the latest scientific data on this global problem. From the US National Science Foundation.
A directory of descriptions of data sets of relevance to global change research. The GCMD database covers climate change, agriculture, the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and oceans, geology, geography, and human dimensions of global change.
Online newsletter concerning issues on and about the UN’s convention on long term weather change. Page includes list of meetings and the background behind the Kyoto Protocol.
Scientific research, links, educational resources, U.S. national assessment of the potential consequences of climate variability and change.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is an American animal rights organization based in Norfolk, Virginia, and led by Ingrid Newkirk, its international president. The nonprofit corporation claims 6.5 million supporters.
Exposing the dark underbelly of modern animal agriculture through drones, hidden & handheld cameras, the feature-length film explores the morality and validity of our dominion over the animal kingdom. Available to watch online for free.
A groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. This documentary discusses animal agriculture in terms of a leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, greenhouse gases, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean “dead zones,” and other environmental problems.
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