Did you know that many people still think climate change is over-exaggerated and not that serious of an environmental threat? This realization shocked us too! That’s why we decided it’s time to take a deeper look into climate change and the predicted effects it will have on the environment and on humans if we don’t change how we live.
What is Climate Change?
Is the Greenhouse Effect Something to Worry About?
The greenhouse effect is the planet’s natural process for keeping the Earth at a temperature that can sustain life. You can think of it like a huge greenhouse. Greenhouses are warm inside because when sunlight shines through the glass some of its energy gets trapped inside. The same thing happens with the Earth’s atmosphere. When the sunlight reaches the Earth, some of the energy is trapped by naturally occurring greenhouse gases in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Since this trapped energy keeps the Earth’s animals and plants warm, it makes the greenhouse effect a good thing!
The problem is that humans have released way too much carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. These excess gases have become stuck in our atmosphere, increasing the intensity of the Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. As a result, global air and ocean temperatures are rising more than they should, causing some major issues for the Earth and its environment. This warming caused by human actions is what scientists call “climate change” (or more recently “climate warming”).
The majority of scientists agree that there is strong evidence that Earth’s climate is warming and that climate change is a very serious environmental threat.
From 1906-2005, global surface air temperature rose an average of 0.74°C (range 0.56-0.92°C). The temperature has increased even more in the Arctic, up to 1.5°C (range 0.2-3.5°C) higher over the past 40 years. Eleven of the last 12 years rank among the warmest on record. Now, there are some places where the temperature isn’t increasing, but overall, our planet is warming more than normal – making it hard for animals and plants to survive in the wild.
In the oceans, water temperature has gone up an average of 0.33°C over the past 135 years from the surface to a depth of 700m. There have even been increases in water temperature recorded 3km below the ocean’s surface. That’s almost the length of 6 CN Towers stacked on top of each other. Think about that for a moment – a lot of extra heat was needed to cause the enormous oceans to warm up at a depth of 3km!
On average, the amount of ice in the Arctic Ocean in the summer has plummeted by over half the amount recorded in the late 1970s (in just 34 years). Record high levels of melting ice have been documented in Greenland, and the Arctic Ocean may become largely ice-free by summer 2020. In Earth Rangers’ Bring Back the Wild project on polar bears in Western Hudson Bay last year, we learned that climate change is also impacting the Arctic through earlier sea ice break-up. This type of record-setting is something humans should not be doing.
The Effects of Climate Change
Climate change isn’t just causing temperatures to rise and the amount of Arctic sea ice to fall, it is also contributing to extreme weather and significant changes in rainfall and snowfall. Let’s take a look at some of the effects climate change may have on the environment and people if we don’t work together to slow its impact.
- Polar bears risk extinction in the coming years as Arctic sea ice continues to melt
- Species like mosquitos, American robins, and Pacific salmon are moving northward into Canada’s Arctic
- Karner blue butterfly habitat in the United States may become uninhabitable within the next few decades
- Further declines may be seen in Belding’s ground squirrel populations in mountainous areas
- Increases in the spread of invasive species, including some invasive plant species releasing greenhouse gases to help them outcompete native plants
- Possible increased spread of the Chytrid fungus that is devastating frog populations around the world
- Earlier flowering of bee-pollinated plants and pollinator emergence (phenology effects)
- Many species of songbirds are laying their eggs earlier in the breeding season due to warmer spring temperatures; this trend is likely to continue, which can make it harder for birds to have enough food to feed their nestlings
- Snowy owls may lose their habitat
- Increased spread of parasites in birds
On Weather and Sea Level
- Increase in extreme weather
- Erosion and flooding of Arctic communities with increased frequency
- Global rising sea levels might threaten major coastal cities and wetland habitats
On Human Activities and Health
- Threats to traditional ways of life of native peoples, such as hunters falling through thinning ice or no longer being able to access traditional hunting areas
- Increase in human disease such as Malaria and West Nile Virus
Yes, it’s true that climate change is a real issue and it has already done some major damage to the planet. However, it’s important to not let this discourage us. We can still make a difference — walking or taking a bike instead of a car, reusing items instead of buying new, turning off lights that are not in use, unplugging our electronic devices. These are all things you can do to help reduce the impacts of climate change. Climate change is a global issue – it needs global solutions. The more we work together to make changes in how we live our daily lives, the more global the solutions become.
Thinking about our daily choices and activities is a HUGE part of bringing back the wild.
- Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Roemmich et al. 2012 http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n6/full/nclimate1461.html
- Barnosky et al. 2012, Warren et al. 2011, Lovejoy and Hannah 2005
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2012. Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) 5-Year Review Summary and Evaluation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ecological Services Field Office, New Franken, Wisconsin. 64 pp. + Appendices.
- Kwok 2012
- Booker et al. 2009
- Bosch et al. 2007
- Borrell 2009
- Torti and Dunn 2005
- Bartomeus et al. 2011
- D’Amico and Baker 2010
- Kutz et al. 2004, 2005
- Gillis and Foster 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/29/science/earth/arctic-sea-ice-eyed-for-clues-to-weather-extremes.html?pagewanted=all
- Meehl et al. 2012, http://www.care2.com/causes/sea-level-rise-from-global-warming-is-unstoppable-say-scientists.html