September 23

Climate Change needs our attention

It’s one of those topics that has divided the world for years and probably will continue to do so for years to come. It is not easy to accept that change is here and your way of life is in danger. It is equally difficult to accept responsibility for something that you cannot see or touch or feel right in front of you. Even if you can, it is hard to correlate your acts of keep the air conditioning on to the freak hurricane that hits you.

So I can understand why people do not believe in climate change. I can also understand the situation where people believe in it but they feel they are too small and trivial to do anything about it. I think this is the real reason for a lot of climate change deniers. It is easy to deny something than accept it even though you think you can’t take action.

But let’s for a moment try to understand the things we know: Over the last century the world has become more mechanized and industrialized. This has been possible by consuming vast amounts of energy. This energy has been produced by burning fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas. This conversion of energy from fossil fuels to other forms which can be consumed by humans has produced the most amounts of greenhouse gases like Carbon dioxide (CO2) etc.

Interestingly we had a natural source which could convert CO2 into breathable air. Trees. One single tree can neutralize the greenhouse emissions from a car driven 40,000 KM. The world’s forests probably used to consume anywhere between 40-60% of all the carbon we produce. But with the growing deforestation this percentage is going down all the time while our carbon emissions are going up.

This means we have more carbon in our atmosphere every year. And here is the problem. Carbon traps heat from sun and reduces the amount of heat radiated out of atmosphere. So we have more carbon which means more heat trapped in our planet. This is called climate change. It is man-made because we have exceeded the carbon concentration in atmosphere ever recorded in last few hundred thousand years. In fact since start of industrial revolution we have gone from 280ppm to above 400ppm carbon concentration. An increase of 40% over a period of 150-200 years (a small blip in timescales of geologic activities).

So with all this carbon trapped and the world heating up, why do we see intense cold weather in certain areas? The answer to this is the atmosphere and weather. The weather of the whole planet is so intricately linked that a small fluctuation in one part of world can cause a storm in another. In fact the effects of climate change is not just hot weather. These are just some ways climate change has and will manifest itself:

  • Intense hot weather: This is self-explanatory
  • Severely cold weather: Cold weathers do not just go away due to warming of the globe. The temperatures still drop below 0 but with more moisture available in atmosphere with sub-o temperatures you see more snow and harsher winters. As global warming evaporates more water from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, the amount of atmospheric moisture available to fuel these winter storms has been increasing, thus elevating the risk of “apocalyptic” snowstorms.
  • Tropical Storms, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Cyclones and Typhoons: Hot water provide the energy for such storms. The hotter the water (or the larger the hot water area in oceans), the more energy these storms consume and the larger / more devastating they become.
  • Rainfall, Flooding & Flash floods: Hotter temperatures can increase the amount of moisture evaporated from water bodies, hence leading to severe precipitation causing floods.
  • Droughts: Hot weather, more evaporation in certain parts of world will lead to more droughts and much more severe ones.
  • Earthquakes & Volcanic activity: Most fault lines have pressures built up between the plates. Anything that can cause sudden jerk to that pressure can lead to earthquakes and volcanic activity. Huge amounts of rainfall can for example be one such trigger. Melting glaciers can also impact such faults. Storms with their immense energy over geologically sensitive areas might also dissipate fault or cause ruptures.

The truth is that with all our science and super-computes, predicting world’s weather and how it will play out in near future is way out of our league. Predicting weather over a decade or century is still not very easy to do. But what we do know is that the globe is heating up. We also know that weather is intricately balanced which means the imbalance caused by more heat and increased carbon will lead to more changes. This doesn’t mean that we will have more earthquakes or cyclones. What this means is that the probability of highly severe events will increase and so will their magnitudes. We have will 100 year storms every 10 years. And these storms would be bigger on average than what we have seen.

It’s like a spinning top delicately balanced on the floor and spinning fast. It’s in equilibrium. It’s like our weather finely balanced and playing out. Give it a small nudge and you know it will wobble before either collapsing or regaining it’s balance. Now imagine a huge spinning top. Provide it enough energy to be nudged. It will wobble. And anything caught in it’s path would face consequences. That’s what carbon is doing to our atmosphere.

To end it: 2014, 2015 and 2016 each was the hottest year on record before being surpassed by next year. 2017 is on track to be the 2nd hottest year behind only 2016. I personally do not think that’s a fluke. It is global warming in literal sense.

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Posted September 23, 2017 by pranay in category "World Issues

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