As we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The effects are extensive and far-reaching. Depending on where you are on the planet, the effects may be different though. Despite these differences, climate change is happening now, and it is affecting both our daily lives and neighborhoods. Signs of a changing planet are all around us, but we can take action to prevent future changes.
The Earth's global average temperature increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit during the 20th century. This may not sound like much, but the Earth's global average temperature has stayed within one degree for the past few thousand years! Similar to our own bodies, a 1.4 degree shift is beginning to feel like a fever, and it is no different for our planet. Global warming drives many of the other effects we are seeing from climate change, including melting polar ice and severe storms. In turn, animals that depend on sea ice are losing their homes, while others might need to change environments to escape the warming temperatures. Some ecosystems that support a myraid of life, like coral reefs, may disappear entirely if the planet continues to warm at its current rate.
Extreme Weather Events
Severe weather events are some of the most visible effects of global warming. Warm water and air have the ability to hold more energy, resulting in hurricanes and storms becoming more internse and destructive. Combined with sea level rise, intense storms also mean higher storm surges and frequent flooding, particularly in low lying regions like Miami and New Orleans. The effects of precipitation are also changing rapidly in different regions of the world, with some regions experiencing heavy rainfall, while others suffer from devastating droughts. Warmer air holds more moisture, leading to increase rainfall and flooding in some regions, although other areas that are already dry may become drier as moisture in the ground quickly evaporates. In drought-striken areas, like California, we have seen and continue to see dramatic effects on agriculture, fresh water supplies, and increases in deadly and destructive wildfires.
Rising Sea Level
In the past century, California has seen an approximate 7 inch increase in sea level. Sea level rise is due to both the melting of land ice and thermal expansion, the process in which warm water expands. As sea level rises, coastal habitats and developments around the world are at risk. Shorelines can become eroded, ecosystems become inundated, and water supplies and aquifers become contaminated with salt water.
When we burn fossil fuels, the ocean absorbs approximately 30-40% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The increased carbon dioxide in the ocean breaks down into carbonic acid and is causing the ocean to become more acidic. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have seen a 30% increase in the acidity of the ocean! Some animals have been shown to face neurological complications in the presence of acidic water, while others experience difficulty building their shells. Shelled organisms, from microscopic plankton to large clams and corals, use calcium carbonate to build their shells, but in more acidic water, the shells become brittle and deteriote. Large animals, like marine mammals, depend on these shelled organisms, and so do people! When plankton and shelled organisms are at risk, the entire food web is too.