Climate Change: A science



Climate change protesters march in Paris.

Alanna LaDeaux, Howler Staff Writer

What is climate change?

Climate change, better known as global warming, is a widely agreed on topic scientifically. However, in the political stance, disinformation makes it extremely hard to differentiate fact from fiction. 

“Climate change is just the fact that average weather over time or regions across the earth has changed,” said Brady Bieri, AP Environmental and Environmental teacher. 

Climate change refers to the shift in temperature and change in weather patterns. Climate change is usually a prediction made by model computers, but for scientists, the idea of climate change is much broader than a prediction made by a piece of metal. In fact, the models are just a small part but, for what it’s worth, they’re surprisingly very accurate. 

A greenhouse gas is a gas that stores heat energy, also known as infrared radiation. This causes the infamous” greenhouse effect”. The primary greenhouse gasses in the earth’s atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide. This effect is also the reason that a planet so far away from the sun can hold qualities like water and life.

The idea that emission gasses or greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide cause the warming of the earth isn’t a new idea to scientists, in fact, they’ve been aware of this for centuries. These gases make up a very small part of the earth’s atmosphere but have drastically changed its climate by trapping tiny bits of gas right before it escapes the atmosphere and enters space. 

Why is climate change happening?

We have a natural way of removing CO² from the atmosphere, photosynthesis. Because of human-made technologies like burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation, we are releasing extra carbon dioxide which is being held in the infrared range. Because we are burning carbon that isn’t a part of earth’s natural system it just remains in the atmosphere. Therefore, making the planet hotter. 

“It’s like a funnel,” Bieri said.  “You can pour a liquid into it and it will drain out of the bottom as long as you don’t pour too fast, but we are pouring way too fast and the liquid is spilling over the top of the funnel because it can’t drain from the bottom fast enough.”

The planet wasn’t always like this. In fact, the majority of it began around 1760, and if you know anything about history you would know that this is around the time of the British Industrial Revolution, so this time is no coincidence. How do we know that this is around the time the earth drastically changed? There is a lot of evidence made by weather stations and ships from around the mid-1800s that proves that there was a drastic change in the climate. Things like fossil fuels, steam engines and major factories began to add more and more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, therefore, trapping more and more heat. And since then, the earth has become hotter and hotter.

How do we know climate change is happening? What are the effects?

Since around the 1880s, the earth has gotten an average of 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, or 1.2 degrees Celsius, seeing the most drastic changes in the 20th century. The Arctic has warmed the most at about four degrees Fahrenheit since the 1960s. Record highs are beginning to outnumber record lows.

“The vast majority of scientific research and data points to the fact that climate change is a thing that is happening,” Bieri said. “Climate change itself can’t be denied. There is empirical data showing that it’s happening.”

We see the effects of climate change everywhere. Glaciers and ice sheets are melting, plant and animal geographic ranges are changing and plants and trees are beginning to bloom sooner. Droughts, floods and wildfires have also all gotten more extreme. Due to animals being forced to move to find cooler climates, many species are seeming to die out. These global temperatures are going to continue to rise due to greenhouse gases. 

Ice drawn from Greenland, Antarctica and tropical mountain glaciers prove that the earth’s climate is responding to the greenhouse effect. Ancient evidence also shows climate change in tree rings, coral reefs and layers of sedimentary rocks. Carbon dioxide from human activities is warming the earth 10 times faster than it would after an ice age. 

What can we do to stop climate change?

On average Americans produce about 21 tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is four times the global average. Choosing to make small changes like creating less food and water waste can lead to drastic improvements to our environment. If you’re feeling extra earth-friendly, maybe even do your grocery shopping at a local farmers market. Of course, you can always go above and beyond by purchasing fuel-efficient cars or utilizing solar energy instead of natural gas energy.

“Small changes can make big differences,” Bieri said. “Doing things like making sure lights are shut off when you leave the room, or making sure you have paperless billing option for things you’re signed up for, small things like that can make big differences.”

All in all, the investment to reduce emissions would cost a lot of money but there was an analysis made that found reaching net zero (this term defines business leaders’ clarity and confidence that their long-term goals are aligned with climate science which will help the planet) by 2050 would cost the U.S. almost twice as much if we waited until 2030 instead of acting now. Each time the earth gets warmer it will cost us more — in dollars and lives.