Global Warming, the Biggest Threat to Humanity in the 21st Century
“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on.”
—Henry David Thoreau
Earth’s first global climate record dates back to approximately 140 years ago. Ever since then, there has been a rise in the annual average temperature of Earth. Why? Let us explain.
In the latter half of the 18th century, there was a global transition that revolutionized economies dependent on agriculture and physical labor into manufacturing industries. This revolution is better known as the Industrial Revolution, and the renewed methods of production and organization of work made output more efficient and productive. Economies thrived in this era, and the overall living standards of societies transformed substantially.
Nevertheless, along with the growth of economies grew the consumption of natural resources like coal and other fossil fuels, which were used to operate the machines, along with the toxic emissions being released into the air. Large revolutionized cities began pumping huge quantities of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere, polluting the environment. Thus began the chapter on Earth’s climate change. Numerous studies of recent times suggest that climate change began as early as the 19th century.
As per NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), since the ongoing record-keeping began, Earth has warmed up at a constant 0.14 ºF (0.08 ºC) on average per decade up until the late 20th century. However, since 1981, the rate has doubled — 0.32 ºF (0.18 ºC) per decade.
The outcome? Compared to the pre-Industrial period (1880–1900), Earth’s surface temperature has risen by nearly 1.87 ºF (1.04 ºC). This value might seem insignificant, but the increase is immense, considering the gigantic water bodies present on Earth.
Can you imagine how much heat energy it took to increase the global average temperature of the planet by almost 2 ºF (1 ºC)?
Who is to blame? Well, you already know the answer to that.
Climate change can be referred to as a shift in the temperatures and weather of a particular region spanning over several years or even decades. If you told us a couple of hundred years ago that Earth is getting warmer, we’d assume it to be natural — volcanic eruptions, melting of permafrost and wildfires. Sadly, that is not the case today.
Humans are the reason global temperatures have risen significantly over the past 140 years, and the temperatures continue to rise every day. Human activities involving the burning of fossil fuels on a large scale have had the most influence on rising global temperatures. When fossil fuels are burned, Co2 (carbon dioxide), methane, nitrous oxide and other harmful greenhouse gases are emitted. These pollutants trap the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, increasing temperatures and altering the climate, i.e., global warming.
According to the UN, coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas contribute on a massive scale to increasing global temperatures, accounting for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon-dioxide emissions.
Global warming is causing serious damage to our planet, the effects and consequences of which are already in front of us. Climate change is altering the temperature, atmosphere, terrains and water bodies of Earth and impacting several aspects of our lives as well as those of plants and wildlife species. A few effects and consequences of global warming have been listed below:
Increased Global Temperatures
Earth’s surface temperatures rise as a result of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As per recent studies, the previous decade was the warmest ever recorded, with 2019 marked as the hottest year.
As a result, heat waves are more common and severe, and wildfires spread over vast areas of land uncontrollably, burning acres of land and agriculture in a blink of an eye. All this can be linked to increased global temperatures.
What’s worse is that the temperatures in the Arctic regions have increased twice as fast as the global average due to climate change. Ultimately, this will result in ice melting at an alarming rate, causing an increase in global sea levels.
Increasing Global Sea Levels
Water covers nearly three-quarters of the planet’s surface and has a significant role in Earth’s environment. Earth’s increasing temperatures increase the rate by which glaciers and ice sheets melt, increasing global sea levels. This poses a serious threat for communities residing closer to the coast or on islands. Water also captures carbon dioxide from the air, but increased levels of Co2 make the water acidic, endangering marine life. As marine life gets affected, it poses a threat of starvation, as resources from the water bodies feed billions of people.
Severe Weather Events
As global temperatures rise, more water is evaporated from the oceans, causing heavy rainstorms and flooding. Warm ocean waters give way to stronger, more intense hurricanes, causing havoc and destruction. A category-3 hurricane is likely to transform into a category-4 due to increased temperatures of the oceans and atmosphere.
Global warming also impacts water availability. Regions that already face water shortages face further risks of droughts and famines with increasing global temperatures, as the temperatures in these regions magnify as more and more heat gets trapped in the air. The majority of the population in these areas faces the threat of water shortages for daily consumption.
As more regions get affected by droughts, this reduces the land for cultivating crops and grazing livestock. This further leads to food shortages and hunger, resulting in a global rise in starvation and famines, resulting in fatalities.
Endangered Wildlife and Plants
Many animal and plant species are on the brink of extinction. As temperatures climb all over the globe, the chances of their survival diminish. Scientists predict that many species might face extinction in the future decades, as wildfires, storms, pests and diseases all affect wildlife and plants.
Global warming is already harming the health of millions of people through diseases, pollution, extreme weather disasters and starvation. Millions of fatalities are recorded every year due to severe weather events all around the globe. As temperatures rise, new and unheard-of diseases are surfacing, making it difficult for healthcare systems to respond. As a result, further lives are lost.
More and more regions today are trying to tackle and overcome poverty, but climate change restricts this. Floods cause destruction and displace people from their homes, whereas increased temperatures make it difficult to work outdoors. Lack of fresh water affects the growth of crops, further enticing poverty. Most of these regions are the ones that are most vulnerable and unable to cope with the impacts of global warming.
Is it Too Little Too Late?
As the saying goes, time and tide wait for none. Unfortunately, the damages have been solidified, and it’s too late to turn back the tides. Even if all the carbon emissions magically vanished today, humanity would still face consequences in the years to come.
However, it isn’t too late for us to start rectifying our mistakes. Several steps have to be taken by those in authority, and numerous laws and regulations must be put into effect immediately if we want to make our planet a better place for us and future generations. Remember, there may be other inhabitable planets out there, but we haven’t figured out where they are.
As for now, we have this planet in our arsenal, Mother Earth, and we need to start making amends to fix our wrongs and perfect the place we call home.