Mankind has felt the need to leave its mark on history since the dawn of human civilization. There is evidence of this close to home in the tallest skyscrapers of New York and as far-reaching as Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon. But how far is too far? As we have grown, so too has our knowledge of the world and the advancements in science and technology that come with it.
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So much so, that we are now faced with the power to control our very own climate. Although humans have literally moved mountains, survived the harshest of environments for thousands of years equipped only with an advanced intellect, sent men, women, and even animals to space, it seems we have finally met our match: global warming. The term global warming has been thrown around for only a few decades now, but it is something that has shaped our lives for much longer. In order to fully understand this, it is imperative to break down the subject into smaller components. As Sun Tzu states in The Art of War, If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. (The Art of War) By defining global warming and looking at its causes and effects, we can better judge what preventative measures to take not only on an individual level, but on a national and international one as well.
Global warming, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is an increase in the Earth’s atmospheric and oceanic temperatures widely predicted to occur due to an increase in the greenhouse effect resulting especially from pollution. (Merriam-Webster) For the past 50 years, temperatures have been rising more and more drastically, with 15 of the hottest years ever recorded occurring since 2000 (see Figure 1). Unless global warming emissions can be curbed, average US temperatures can increase by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit within the next century. (nrdc.org) This effect takes place due to carbon dioxide, along with other pollutants and greenhouse gases, being released into the atmosphere, where it absorbs sunlight and solar radiation. Instead of escaping into space, this radiation can stay trapped for years, slowly gathering more and more heat and causing the planet to rise in temperature. This is known as the greenhouse effect (see Figure 2). (national geographic) However, the effects of global warming reach farther than just increasing temperatures. Wildfires, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, as well as new pests and diseases are only a few factors that can destroy agriculture and fisheries, lead many plant and animal species to extinction, and even create more favorable conditions for pathogens and mosquitoes to spread. (nrdc.org)
There are many arguments that attempt to discredit the idea of global warming, but consistent scientific evidence always seems to have the last word. It is true that temperature fluctuations are normal, and the earth has even been able to stabilize itself quite well despite these fluctuations, but these solutions are only temporary and have no lasting effect beyond a few years. An example of this can be seen in the El Ni?±o Southern Oscillation, which is an irregularly occurring series of climate changes characterized by warmer water temperatures along the equatorial Pacific region. This cycle tends to be fairly short, aperiodic, and highly predictable. (climate.gov) Nevertheless, the amount of carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere has increased by a third since the industrial revolution, and changes that would normally occur over thousands of years have progressed to only a matter of decades. (national geographic) Continually, the planet’s inability to effectively compensate for such drastic changes can be seen in a very unlikely creature: frogs. Unlike humans and other mammals, frogs rely heavily on the environment around them to regulate their body temperature as well as maintain other major bodily functions. In 2016, UC Berkeley Ph.D. student David Kurz conducted 400 different surveys under a variety of environmental and climatic scenarios in order to determine how much suitable habitation would remain in 80 years for frogs with different thermal tendencies. According to Kurz, the findings show that frogs that are better able to withstand rising temperatures have a better chance of survival in a rapidly changing world. Furthermore, frog species living exclusively in forests were found to be the most sensitive to higher temperatures as a result of rapid climate change and deforestation. (phys.org)
Although discussing how weather patterns and frogs are affected by global warming is important to understanding the depth of seriousness to this issue, it may be more beneficial to look at the different ways humans are affected as well. One aspect of climate change that affects our species directly is the production of drier, hotter conditions, which contribute to more devastating wildfires and longer wildfire seasons. Fighting wildfires is no easy feat, and the expense has grown nearly four times greater in the past 30 years, exceeding $1 billion each season since 2000. (ucsusa.org) Aside from this, the impact on public health, livelihoods, property, and ecosystems as a result of wildfires far exceeds the costs to repair the damage. If temperatures continue to rise as they have been, the threat of this natural disaster, among others, will only worsen over time, becoming more and more expensive and deadly. (ucsusa.org) Another risk individuals face as a result of global warming is the impact on human health. Many diseases and conditions that are already dependent on climate and weather factors can increase in severity and frequency, and many unheard of or unanticipated health problems may arise when they did not originally occur. (globalchange.gov) For example, algal blooms and waterborne diseases can become more prominent as a result of warmer water temperatures because it creates an environment for these disease-causing organisms to thrive. Furthermore, since the body cannot effectively control its internal temperature under such extreme weather conditions, a cascade of illnesses can result, worsening chronic conditions related to the heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys. (globalchange.gov) Because of these reasons, the US Global Change Research Program is predicting a drastic increase in illness and death due to higher temperatures over the next century (see Figure 3). Lastly, another impact due to global warming is the concerning rise in sea levels. As temperatures increase, glaciers and ice sheets are melting more and more rapidly, adding to the ocean’s current volume. As a 2015 study shows, glacier mass loss has increased six-fold in the Greenland Ice Sheet and more than quadrupled in the Arctic since the early 90’s. (climate.gov) Per the request of the US Climate Change Science Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted a review in 2012 of the research gathered regarding this phenomenon and were able to conclude with 90% confidence that levels have the potential to rise by over 6 feet in less than a century. These numbers are unsettling because almost 40% of the United States population alone lives in a coastal area. This is not to mention that 8 out of the world’s 10 largest cities live near the coast as well. (climate.gov)
When faced with such strong evidence that global warming is a serious concern for today’s world and the future it holds, it can be hard to imagine any worthwhile solutions on an individual level. However, there are a number of steps a person can partake in that make all the difference. For one, start by looking at more fuel-efficient means of transportation. Hybrid and electric vehicles are one of the best ways to cut down on fuel and expenses. These cars average around 54.5 miles per gallon, so if every person in America participated, $80 billion could be saved at the pump, and fuel emissions could be reduced by half. (nrdc.org) Along with investing in more energy-efficient cars, looking at the appliances in one’s home is important as well. Since 1987, 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide have been produced as a result of household products, which is equivalent to the pollution created by nearly 440 million cars. (nrdc.org) When shopping for washing machines, refrigerators, or any other appliances, look for the Energy Star label. This company identifies the highest-performing and most cost-effective products and practices, and since launching in 2010, they have been able to help Americans save nearly $18 billion on utility bills. (energy.gov) Lastly, the single most important way someone can make a difference is by speaking out against the topic. Talking to friends and family about alternative energy sources and making sure elected officials are making the best environmental decisions is a great place to start. President Donald Trump may have withdrawn from the Paris Agreement to fight climate change, but millions of citizens across the country have taken the responsibility upon themselves, supporting the goal to reduce future temperatures well below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. (wearestillin.com) In doing so, steps toward limiting carbon emissions, stopping offshore drilling, and protecting public lands for future generations to come can progress in leaps and bounds.
After examining such strong evidence in favor of the global warming effect, it is safe to say that such a phenomenon is very real and could pose a significant threat to the survival of the human race. Although there is no way to conclude with 100% certainty that these scientific predictions will come true, there is also no justifiable reason as to why we should not be aware of our planet’s needs and take measures to protect it. People don’t wear their seatbelts in a car with the sole intention of getting into a wreck. It’s simply a preventive action that saves lives when accidents do happen, because the possible consequences far outweigh the risks. This is the same point of view society should be taking when discussing the issue of climate change due to global warming, regardless of whether or not such events will take place. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu states it best: The greatest victory is that which requires no battle. Instead of being so focused on how many different ways we can one-up each other through advancements in science and technology, we should be applying this knowledge toward actively seeking alternative sources of energy and being mindful of the earth around us, because when it comes down to it, we are facing a much bigger enemy than that of global warming: ourselves.
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