Blog #13 Climate Change and Ozone Depletion and Ethical, Political & Communications/Media Dimensions of Climate Change

Climate Change and Ozone Depletion

Climate is not weather. Climate is determined by the average weather conditions of the earth or of a particular area, especially temperature and precipitation, over  a long period of time ranging from decades  and centuries to thousands of years. Past temperature changes are estimated through analysis of a number of types of evidence, including radioisotopes in rocks and fossils; plankton and radioisotopes in ocean sediments; tiny bubbles of ancient air found in ice cores from glaciers; pollen from the bottoms of lakes and bogs; tree rings; and temperature measurements taken regularly since 1861. Though these measurements have limitations, they still show general changes in temperature, which can affect the earth’s climate.For the past 1,000 years, the average temperature of the atmosphere has remained fairly stable but began to rise during the last century when more people began clearing more forests and burning more fossil fuels.Per the IPCC “The earth’s lower atmosphere is warming due primarily to increased concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases mostly due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.”

Along with solar energy, a natural process called the greenhouse effect warms the earth’s lower atmosphere and surface and thus affects the earth’s climate.Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities—mainly the burning of  fossil fuels in industry and for transportation, burning  coal to generate electricity, deforestation, and agriculture have led to significant increases in  the greenhouse gases CO2 and CH4, in the lower atmosphere. Rapid and significant climate disruption will likely  cause ecological, economic, and social disruption  by degrading food and water supplies and terrestrial  and aquatic ecosystems, flooding low-lying coastal  communities and cities, and eliminating many of  the earth’s species.

What plays a key role in CO2 emissions? There is considerable evidence that the burning of fossil fuels and forests, which adds CO2 to the atmosphere and the clearing of forests that help remove CO2 from the atmosphere are altering the natural carbon cycle.If emissions continue to increase at their current rate, levels in the atmosphere are likely to rise to 560 ppm by 2050 and could soar  to 1,390 ppm by 2100. Climate models project that  such dramatic increases would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate, which would likely cause  major ecological and economic disruption. Waste: Our use of carbon-containing fossil fuels, wood, and biofuels produces  greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and  adds waste heat directly to the atmosphere. Humans depend on a variety of very inefficient technologies such as the incandescent lightbulb, the internal combustion engine, nuclear fuel cycle, and coal burning power plants, all adding large amounts of waste heat to the environment.  The sun: Studies have shown most of the rise in global average atmospheric temperatures since 1980 could not be the result of increased solar output. Instead, they determined that the energy output of sun has decreased for several decades. Additionally, now data shows that the atmosphere is  heating from the bottom up, which indicates that inputs coming from the earth’s surface, likely from human activities, play an important role. The ocean: The world’s oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as part of the carbon cycle and thus help to moderate the earth’s average surface temperature and its climate, however we are now finding that much of the CO2 currently absorbed by the oceans never reaches the deep ocean. In 2009, the world’s oceans were the warmest in 130 years of record keeping. The ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 also decreases when water temperatures increase.  Increasing levels of CO2 in the ocean have increased the acidity of its surface, which threatens ocean food webs and global food supplies.

So what are the effects of a warmer atmosphere? We must remember that these changes are rapid global changes in climate not just a swing in local weather. Global climate change is a concern because we do not know how much the temperature will change or how rapidly it will occur. We are now faced with a rapid projected increase in the average temperature of the lower atmosphere during this century. With a global climate change we will witness severe droughts increasing due to decrease in rainfall from changes in weather patterns. Also, more ice and snow are likely to melt causing a rise in sea level that can affect the lives of many people living on coastal areas. Permafrost is likely to melt, causing more warming, then more permafrost melting, resulting in a dangerous loop.

From climate change we will see serve effects to biodiversity, agriculture could face an overall decline, and many people’s health could be threaten with a warmer climate. To slow the projected rate of atmospheric warming  and climate disruption we can increase energy efficiency, sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rely more on renewable energy resources, and slow population growth. Our priority is to avoid the climate tipping points — the threshold beyond which natural systems can change irreversibly. We need to remember that this is a global problem, that is a long-term political issue, the projected harmful and beneficial impacts of climate disruption are not spread evenly and many proposed solutions such as sharply reducing or phasing out the fossil fuels are controversial.

Ethical, Political & Communications/Media Dimensions of Climate Change

Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is one of my favorite documentaries. I remember buying it at Wal-Mart years ago in the $5 bin. That memory makes me a little sad to think back on after knowing how important the film is and how many people no longer take Al Gore seriously. Regardless, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ opened my eyes to the world of climate change – much of the information now yet being taught to me in school.

Gore’s film documents his journey against his fight to combat climate change and his keynote presentation that explores what climate change is, how it affects us, and how we can solve it. Gore presents the scientific opinion on climate change with the present and future effects of global warming. He claims, “climate change is not a political issue, more that it is an moral one” — Gore’s claims is that if we do not commit to this fighting global climate change we are doing an injustice to generations to come.

Before seeing the documentary I was unaware of the bubbles in the ice caps used to analyze pass global temperature. Additionally, Gore’s slides chart the rise in CO2 emissions with the rise in temperature — showing a clear depiction of how climate change is real and a problem due to human activities.

Gore mentions the global tipping point that we covered in Chapter 19. His documentary ends by claiming that we can stop ourselves before reaching this tipping point if we take the appropriate action very soon. He claims that the effect we’ve seen from climate change can be successfully reversed by releasing less CO2. He points out that each of us are the cause of climate change/global warming, so it is each of our responsibility to change what we have caused.

Two Blog Questions:

  1. Climate change is a serious issue that MUST be diminished before we hit the global tipping point — I think the best way to stop and reserve climate change is with carbon tax and cap and trade. What other ways could we enforce regulation of climate change?

  2. The work that Gore put into this documentary and his book is a great educational tool in and outside of the classroom — how can we understand why I found the documentary in the $5 bin at wal-mart? Why is his work not more acclaimed?

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