Effects of climate change

Since people started burning fossil fuels in earnest, during the Industrial Revolution, the Earth has warmed on average by 0.82 degrees Celsius. This effects of this warming include:

1-melting sea ice- causes higher ocean levels, which threaten infrastructure, including billions of homes. Melting ice also exacerbates warming, because where the Earth has no cover of white snow, the sun’s rays don’t get reflected back into space. Instead they’re absorbed by the land, and the inky-blue sea, adding to over-all temperature rise;

2- melting permafrost- tundra that historically remained frozen all year, permafrost contains massive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas which traps at least 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide (CO2). When it melts, that methane is released. This means more heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, thickening the climate change “blanket” around the Earth;

3- forest fires- trees and plants absorb CO2, and use the carbon to grow strong. (Anything that traps carbon is called a “carbon sink.”) So their destruction means a lot less CO2 taken out of the air. In addition, when they burn, forests release the carbon sequestered in their structures. That carbon re-combines with oxygen in the air and becomes CO2 again- yet more blanket thickening;

4- ocean acidification- the upper layer of the ocean absorbs CO2 from the air, forming Carbonic acid. This reaction increases Hydrogen ions in the water, making the sea more acidic. The reaction also reduces Carbonate ions in the water. Carbonate is absorbed by shellfish to make their shells. So CO2 in the air translates into the inability of shellfish to build healthy homes (shells) around themselves. Poorly-protected shellfish are easily consumed by predators. Shellfish is a source of food for billions of people around the globe.

5- changes in wind & sea patterns- this has the potential to drastically alter the climate all over the world, but perhaps especially for northern Europe, the U.S., and Canada on the Atlantic coast. That’s because it is ocean currents and wind streams moving warm water and air to these areas of that makes them temperate, and allows plants and animals to flourish there, providing food. The warming Arctic has weakened the jet stream, a wind pattern that, unbeknownst to most of us, has made western climate stable for thousands of years. And melting sea ice has weakened “a massive system of circulating seawater called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, or AMOC. The Gulf Stream is just one small part of that system.”

6- more intense storms & hurricanes- a consequence of rising seas and warmer air, because warmer air can hold more water vapor. That means heavier rainfall, while increased sea level means higher storm surges and flooding. In addition, a warmer ocean transfers more heat to the air, and warmer air creates everything a “super storm” needs: intense winds and tons of water vapor. To add to our problems, the winds steering hurricanes are not as effective in a warmer climate, so storms tend to “park.” This is what happened last year (2019) when Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas for two full days;

7- changes in precipitation causing droughts, heat waves, and weather extremes, including huge snow falls and cold waves in winter- the latter due to increased water vapor in the air and a weakened jet stream that directs and holds arctic vortexes over the U.S. and Canada. Drought and heat waves are a consequence of increased average temperatures that exacerbate evaporation from soil. Hotter days means increased humidity- warm air holds more water vapor- creating a recipe for human deaths in summer.

8- species/biodiversity loss- many plants and animals can’t evolve quickly enough to adapt to the instability- especially erratic precipitation and temperature events- of climate change. They were already declining due to habitat loss, caused by people clearing land for food and housing, as well as the use of chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, which can bio-accumulate, effecting whole food chains. Adding climate change may prove fatal for many species. Insects, an integral part of Earth ecosystems, are in massive decline. See this post on ways to help them.

In this post, I explain exactly why these effects of climate change spell trouble for us, and for all living things on Earth.

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