Definition of Climate Change

What Is Climate Change?

Climate change is the long-term shift in weather patterns in a specific region or globally. Unlike global warming, which refers to just one aspect of climate change - a rise in the surface temperature of the earth’s surface – climate change refers to changes in a regions overall weather patterns, including precipitation, temperatures, cloud cover, and so on.

According to the scientific experts in the field of climatology, climate change is caused by human activities that have resulted in an increased concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide.

Before the Industrial Revolution, levels of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) were approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) but have now risen to 386 ppm and are rising by about 2-3 ppm more every year. When combined into what is known as the carbon dioxide equivalent with other greenhouse gases such as methane, current levels are actually around 440 ppm. These levels are higher than any other level that can be accurately measured in the earth’s history.

Some have argued that climate change is actually caused by natural occurrences. However, the earth’s average surface temperatures have risen by 0.4C since the 1970s, which is an irregular increase that is extremely difficult to explain by natural causes. Certain changes do occur in the sun’s activity, volcanic eruptions, and other natural events which all contribute to changes in the earth’s temperatures, but only an increase in greenhouse gasses can explain the abnormal increases. Human activities that result in the release of these greenhouse gases well beyond natural levels include things like deforestation, burning of fossil fuels, changes in wetland construction, and so forth.

Leading scientists believe that climate change on this scale could produce results such as the following:

  • Increased surface temperatures
  • Rises in sea levels
  • Retreat of glaciers and melting of sea ice
  • Changes in precipitation
  • Increases in intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes, and heavy rainfall
  • Longer, more severe droughts
  • Expansion of subtropical deserts
  • Species endangerment and extinction and loss of biodiversity
  • Melting of permafrost (which speeds global warming)
  • Drops in agricultural yields
  • Spread of vector-borne diseases because of increased range of insects
  • Acidification of oceans creating drops in fishing yields and death of coral reefs

These problems are serious and will likely have severe impacts on the more vulnerable developing nations. Though global warming (i.e. a rise in earth’s surface temperatures) will have an impact on human societies, this will be much less disruptive and destructive than the other changes mentioned above.

The only solution to climate change is to slow the flow, to stop altogether, and re-absorb greenhouse gas emissions. Many solutions have been suggested, such as cap and trade systems, carbon capture and storage, renewable energy, and geo-engineering. Likely a combination of all of these solutions must be tried if we are to protect our planet from the most severe predicted effects of climate change.

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