Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What is Global Warming?

You may think you understand what global warming is from several posts as you wandered through the big blue beautiful world of Facebook no so long ago. But then again, Facebook is almost always an unreliable source of information, so we should assume that your claim is also bogus. Just like most people, you would try to use many scientific terminologies and jargons that you hardly understand yourself to explain about global warming to a bunch of school kids, only to impress their teacher who indeed is quite attractive and apparently still single.

The shortest and simplest yet accurate definition of global warming is the increase of average global temperature to the point where the effects are potentially irreversible, and that’s it; there is no need to use beloved words like anthropogenic, infrared radiation, fluorinated gases, industrial revolution, and many other fun terms of similar kind. As long as the kids only ask for a definition, you are good to go. Unless the children start to ask questions about the little details, which they rarely do, you will not need to keep on reading.

Here are several of the most important global warming facts everybody should understand:

  • There is no universally accepted definition of how low or high Earth’s average temperature should be, so different organizations and groups all around the world may use different numbers. The 20th century average global temperature was around 57° Fahrenheit (13.9° Celsius).
  • What matters the most is the trend of the increase. Regardless of the numbers used, there has been steady trend of increase that has emerged from year to year indicating that Earth is indeed going to be hotter in the coming decades.
  • Annual temperature increase happens in small number from 0.01°C – 1.45°C, based on a chart by NOAA. It may not sound like much, but it does not seem if the increase will stop anytime soon, unless we do a lot of things to prevent that. Continuous increase will bring negative impacts to the climate and eventually make the Earth less habitable than it is today.

What is Climate Change?

When you talk about weather, you basically refer to everything that the forecaster on TV did not say; for example if the forecaster said it would be a rainy day, there is no need to bring an umbrella. In case a storm or hurricane was also predicted, call the TV station whether or not the forecaster was lying. Weather is related to humidity, temperature, rain, cloudiness, and umbrella. Also, the weather can change in matter of hours and it may not be the same somewhere else. It can be dreary rainy day in your house, but sunny comfortable day in your neighbor’s. Don’t ask to switch house just yet because everything can change within the next 30 minutes.

Climate is pretty much like weather, but in much bigger scale. Unlike weather, climate takes very long time to change; you need a geological time scale to make a note of its occurrence. It is the average weather condition in a place. Assuming everything is normal and people never drove cars or turned on the factory machinery, Earth’s climate would be as it was millions of years ago. Unfortunately that did not happen; human activities especially during the last couple of centuries have generated greenhouse gases of biblical amount. The result is global warming, which leads to un-recommended climate change hardly suitable for picnic, swimming, breathing, and living.

Global warming and climate change are only almost interchangeable. The former focuses only on the increase of temperature, while the latter is more accurate to emphasize pollution of atmosphere which could result in a variety of extreme weather events rather than just the warming problem.

The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) has a more specific definition. The convention defines it as a change of climate attributed either directly or indirectly to human activities. To be more specific, the activities are limited only to those that contribute to the alteration of global atmospheric composition. So if you’ve spent your entire life being a vegetarian and a cyclist at the same time, you have every right to plead not guilty although the effects of global warming will get to you anyway.

Causes of Global Warming

Global warming occurs because there are just too much greenhouse gases than the atmosphere can handle. Some popular names in the category include carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor. Greenhouse gases are components of the atmosphere that keep the Earth warm enough so you don’t have to wear sweater under jacket all year long. Naturally occurring gas such as ozone even doubles as a shield against harmful UV radiation. The tricky part is that there should be just the right amount of greenhouse gases to trap comfortable level of heat; it should keep the Earth warm but without overheating issues. This is known as the greenhouse effect.

Human activities which involve the burning of fossil fuels are the largest contributors to the increase of pollutants, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2). Some of the most common examples are coal-burning power plants to produce electricity and combustion engine emission. The combination of those releases a mindboggling amount of CO2 into the atmosphere: nearly 4 billion tons every year, and that’s in the US alone. You probably think that driving a Toyota Prius is cool – in literal sense, of course - but you still contribute to global warming anytime you charge the batteries using electricity produced by a coal-based power plant; well, at least a fully-charged Prius is more environment-friendly than a Volvo XC60 T8: turbocharged and supercharged.

What is Global Warming
Riding the bicycle is much better than taking pictures of it
CO2 is responsible for more than 60% of global warming. Taking the second place is methane (CH4) produced by various sources such as wastewater, garbage, rice crops, and gas from livestock. Land use and deforestation also indirectly increase the amount of greenhouse gas because trees help absorb CO2. There are many major potential effects of global warming, and some are in fact happening right now:
  • Relatively quick and sudden change of climate. This means living organisms do not have time to adapt to the new environment. In normal circumstances, climate takes millions of years to change.
  • Flooding, intense storms, prolonged drought, and heat waves happen more often. Sudden change in climate leads to extreme weather events. Regions or countries without adequate financial resources will find it hard to recover.
  • Animals will go extinct. Wild animals cannot adapt to the changing habitat – due to global warming – quickly enough to survive.
  • Melting ice at the poles increases heat even further. Polar ice helps deflect heat and reflect sunlight.
  • Sea levels are rising because the water is warm, and therefore expanding in volume.
The effects of global warming will then affect your life in many ways, but there are things you can do to slow down the increasing temperature. Reducing the release of greenhouse gas is the most effective such as by using clean renewable energy in your home, take a walk instead of a drive, and grow big trees outside obviously.