Why is global warming a problem?

When I first came up with the idea to create this blog, my thoughts were organized around creating content for people who already knew what I knew: global warming is real, and its dramatic acceleration is because of all the things that humans use that produce carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

What I didn’t consider at the time was that there are a lot of people who believe that global warming is a “thing” because they’ve heard it mentioned enough times, but they don’t actually really know why it’s a thing or what it means for the planet.

With that in mind, I think it’s important to try to explain the underpinning knowledge used in much of this blog’s future posts. Hopefully, by the time you finish this series of posts, you’ll have at least a generally better idea of what climate change / global warming is, why it’s a problem, and how you can have a small, but valuable, part in helping to try to remedy it.

 

Why is global warming a problem?

You might have read all the information from the previous post and thought, “okay, well, if the earth’s temperature is always in flux, why is the fact that the planet is getting warmer, even if it is at an abnormally faster rate, a big deal?”

If you are thinking something along those lines, it’s a really great question to have, since its answer is critical to understanding why global warming poses significant problems to us (humans, and the world as we currently know it).

The crux of the issue isn’t the fact that the world is getting warmer, per se, though the increase in global temperature does pose its own set of concerns. The real threat of global warming is that it’s causing dramatic climate changes across the world in a very short period of time, and these changes are happening too fast for all living things to keep up — and that likely includes us.

What does that mean in an overarching sense? In the most simplistic, reductionist answer possible: everything about our planet as we’ve understood it is about to change.

What it means in practical terms, however, varies according to the topic in question:

 

The Arctic

  • Ice caps at the north and south poles of our planet will continue to melt. This will introduce new, fresh (non-salty) water into our oceans, as well as direct exposure to the sun where there used to be little to none. Certain types of life forms will be able to flourish in these new conditions, but others will suffer severely and die out. There are theories that plant matter and bacteria will be able to thrive , thereby encouraging growing arctic fish populations, but there are theories that posit that many of the fish we like to eat will become extinct from the changes. Ultimately, a lot of the ideas on exactly what will happen to the marine life is conjecture, but what is certain is that those ecosystems will be permanently changed

The Ocean

  • The oceans are absorbing about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere annually and are becoming more acidic as a result, leading to alterations in, and in many cases wholly threatening, marine ecosystems. §
  • In addition to changing marine ecosystems in the arctic (and elsewhere), the continuous melting of the icecaps will affect sea levels and human habitats. If the caps were to melt completely, projections say sea levels could rise anywhere from 200-360 feet (~70-110 meters). Continental coasts would be flooded and uninhabitable: in the United States, major cities like New York, or entire states like Florida, would be completely submerged underwater. 

The Weather

Another thing that will change dramatically is the earth’s weather patterns. While the global temperature of the world overall will have increased, the changes in global temperature will cause global shifts in weather patterns so that weather will become more extreme in its variances.

  • While some places will get extraordinarily hot and suffer from severe heat waves, other places will experience extreme cold and more snow-ins
  • Some places will experience significantly more rainwater, flooding, and other forms of precipitation, while other parts of the world can expect extreme drought
  • Hurricanes in particular are projected to become increasingly more intense
  • Frost-free and growing seasons will lengthen
    • Agriculture and livestock farming may need to be adjusted, depending on the region, quite dramatically to accommodate shifting landscapes and new weather
.

United States projected regional weather changes 

  • Northeast: Heat waves, heavy downpours and sea level rise pose growing challenges to many aspects of life in the Northeast. Infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries and ecosystems will be increasingly compromised. Many states and cities are beginning to incorporate climate change into their planning.
  • Northwest: Changes in the timing of streamflow reduce water supplies for competing demands. Sea level rise, erosion, inundation, risks to infrastructure and increasing ocean acidity pose major threats. Increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks and tree diseases are causing widespread tree die-off.
  • Southeast: Sea level rise poses widespread and continuing threats to the region’s economy and environment. Extreme heat will affect health, energy, agriculture and more. Decreased water availability will have economic and environmental impacts.
  • Midwest: Extreme heat, heavy downpours and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.
  • Southwest: Increased heat, drought and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns.

Image credit: Nasa Earth Observator
* Source: Science Daily
 Source: Environmental Defense Fund
 Source: NASA
§ Source: National Climate Assessment (NCA)

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