Global Warming: An Escalating Problem
(New York Times; Policy makers that aren’t convinced of global warming as a problem or if it even exists; Assert that global warming is a problem to be considered)
Global warming is defined as the rise in average temperature of the Earth’s surface. Climate change is any significant change in measures of climate that lasts for several decades or longer. While few would argue against the presence of climate change, global warming is doubted. Global warming is an aspect of climate change that is mainly due to the increased concentration of greenhouse gases caused by human activity. The Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.4°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 2 to 11.5°F over the next hundred years (EPA). While these changes in temperature seem miniscule, the impact can be quite the opposite. The climate will experience extremes of common weather, such as rainfall that causes floods or more droughts and severe heat waves. Not only will these warmed conditions affect human life, but the conditions will also affect the rest of the biological species inhabiting the Earth. The arguments made against global warming question the existence of global warming itself and why it should be considered an alarming issue. Some may not believe in global warming because temperature trends may not be what they seem or that a warming climate may have its benefits. While these arguments are plausible, inhabitants of cold environments would be more than inclined to disagree. Global warming is a real problem that needs to be addressed before it escalates into an irreversible situation that we as a world cannot handle.
One of the most used topics for and against global warming is the temperature trend. The arguments that claim temperature trend has not been increasing assert that global temperature has declined since 1998 (Contoski). While this may be true, 1998 was less than a decade ago. Looking at the bigger picture, the global temperature has been rising steadily. Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims that this rise is to be expected since the Earth has just emerged from a little ice age from the 15th century to the 19th century. As it has only been a century since the little ice age ended, EPA has presented a line graph backed by research that the current warming trend cannot be explained by natural causes alone. The observed temperature trend is plotted (based on a positive correlation with years and temperature) against another line that represents the temperature increase with added human effects—the greenhouse gases humans have emitted. These two lines fit worryingly well. Global temperatures have increased over the past few centuries and they are most noticeable at high latitudes (Bova).
Another argument that is made against global warming is that the increasing temperature trend may be due to human activity, but is not related to carbon dioxide. Many individuals that argue against the existence of global warming usually only focus on carbon dioxide as the only greenhouse gas that contributes to the increasing temperature. Facts such as “termites alone emit ten times more carbon dioxide than all the factories and automobiles in the world” (Contoski) and “the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions is the equatorial Pacific Ocean. It produces 72% of the earth’s emissions of carbon dioxide” (Contoski) are daunting as they are true, but carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas. In fact, it is one of the weaker ones (Lindzen) that has little effect even if the amount is doubled. However, the disapproval of one greenhouse gas does not prove the nonexistence of global warming. Water vapor and methane gas are major greenhouse gases to be considered as well. While both of these gases are natural, human activities can cause an increased concentration of both of these gases, which in turn contributes to the well-known greenhouse effect. If each greenhouse gas is isolated as a contributor to global warming, the impact will seem miniscule. It is the impact that all gases combined that makes global warming a matter that is very real.
Global warming presents problems for naturally cold environments even though warm environments are generally preferred. Contoski states that there are benefits to the warming. “A warmer climate would mean longer growing seasons and would make agriculture possible in areas in where it isn’t today” (Contoski). While he is right about agriculture and being able to expand, there are several civilizations that would be destroyed if the world warmed too much. Permafrost is an undersurface layer of soil that is constantly frozen throughout the years. With the rise in temperature, villages in Canada and Siberia have begun sinking into the ground (Bova). Not only will the melting of this frozen layer affect human life, but the melting will also affect the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Permafrost has trapped a lot of carbon due to the frozen soil and organic material. Once it thaws, there is no stopping it. The release of carbon also causes some bacteria to transform some carbon into methane. These greenhouse gases combine to create a “potent feedback mechanism” (Plumer) that causes the heat cycle to worsen as more gases are added to the cycle as a result from the warming produced by the cycle.
While the thawing permafrost is a growing issue, the thinning arctic caps remain a big problem. “The Arctic is global warming’s canary in the coal mine” (NRDC). Because the ice caps show the most apparent change due to global warming, whatever happens in the Arctic will eventually reach the rest of the world. “Average temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world… the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, had been around for 3,000 years before it started cracking in 2000. Within two years it had split all the way through and is now breaking into pieces” (NRDC). The miniscule increase in temperature has caused an ice shelf of 3,000 years to break into pieces with just two years. This thinning has already disrupted the Arctic community, including humans, wildlife, and plant life. After the shelf had fragmented, the freshwater that it enclosed and its own ecosystem mixed into the ocean. All the ecological niches have shifted to adapt to the splintered ice, causing an upset in the previously established ecosystem. Villages will have to be moved to accommodate for the lack of ice and lack of resources as all their prior hunting patterns are no longer effective. Not only are native peoples’ lifestyles affected, but modern society is also affected. The glaciers and ice sheets that are melting add to the rising sea levels that threatens low sea level areas such as Shanghai, Lagos, and Gulf coast states of the U.S. (i.e. Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, etc). These areas are particularly susceptible to flooding, contamination of freshwater supplies, and beach erosion (NRDC). The warming Arctic will also affect agriculture through weather patterns, but not in the way Contoski thought. Wheat farming depends on the weather in the winter and summer. Due to the temperature increase, Kansas’ wheat farming may decline because they may not be able to grow wheat in either the winter or the summer. Winter wheat requires freezing temperatures (NRDC). For the next few years, freezing temperatures are not unlikely, but what about in a few more? Summer weather is already dry, but with a higher temperature, the soil’s moisture will dry up and the previously valuable cropland will be useless.
Beyond the biological disasters, the melting ice in the Arctic also has further effects. The ice caps are a form of protective, cooling layer (NRDC), reflecting the sunlight. Once the cover has melted, the ocean underneath absorbs the sunlight and becomes warmer, allowing the ocean to take in more carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide the ocean dissolves, the more acidic it becomes. The warming Artic also has the underlying concern of methane in frozen hydrates within the ocean’s sediment. The possible methane bubbling up from the ocean will also contribute to the ocean’s atmosphere and the acidity of the body of water. The more acidic the ocean becomes, the more changes we will see in marine life. As humans are at the top of the food chain, the affects organisms below us will receive, will multiply tenfold by the time it reaches us.
Many of the effects of global warming are irreversible. If its existence or the problematic situations it can cause are constantly denied, we have reached a state that we can no longer prevent or try to fix. Global warming is not just about one greenhouse gas; it’s about all of them. Increasing temperature trends have been shown to be related to human activity. While human activity seems to be related to just one greenhouse gas, only one is needed to create a feedback with the others. Once the irrevocable starts, it will be very difficult to stop. Thawing permafrost will cause a collapse in the ecosystems that were in equilibrium and thinning Arctic ice will do the same. While we live in modern, urban cities, the effects of global warming are not very noticeable, but how long should we wait until we can see its devastating affects? There is more to lose than there is to gain from global warming.
Bova, Ben. “Facts Show Global Warming Is Real.” NaplesNews.com. 2008. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.
Contoski, Edmund. “Global Warming, Global Myth.” Liberty 22 (Sept. 2008). Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.
EPA. “Basics.” EPA.gov. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/>.
— “Causes of Climate Change.” EPA.gov. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html>.
Lindzen, Richard S. “The Climate Science Isn’t Settled.” Online.wsj.com. Wall Street Journal, 30 Nov. 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703939404574567423917025400.html#articleTabs%3Darticle>.
NRDC. “Global Warming Puts the Arctic on Thin Ice.” Nrdc.org. National Resources Defense Council, 22 Nov. 2005. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/qthinice.asp>.
Plumer, Brad. “Permafrost Thaw — Just How Scary Is It?” Washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 19 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/just-how-scary-is-permafrost-thaw/2011/12/19/gIQAUE4j4O_blog.html>.