Source: Composite image by G_Marius
Many scientists claim that climate change is the worst challenge that humanity faces. Do you think they are exaggerating? Find out more about what climate change is and the main effects of global warming on the environment. Join our debate on climate change and skepticism and vote in our poll (below)
What is climate change? Is global warming real?
Wildfires, hurricanes, floods and unusual long summers are bringing the debate of climate change back. Catastrophes seem to validate the hypothesis that climate is changing due to human action. However, sceptics continue to deny this to be a long trend or the result of our emissions.
Climate change is a significant variation in weather patterns occurring over time periods. Scientists consider humans to be contributing to global warming by producing CO2 and other green-house gases (GHGs) due mainly to population growth, new patterns of consumption, and a slow development of alternative energy sources. Higher concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, due to the greenhouse effect, produces an increase in the temperatures of the surface of the Earth. There is a widespread scientific consensus that the temperature of the surface of Earth has significantly increased over the last few decades and that we are witnessing anthropogenic climate change. That is, human-induced emissions of GHGs are to blame for the increase in temperatures.
Although much scientific evidence has been produced on the current process of climate change there is still great controversy about the extent and potential impact of anthropogenic global warming. Scientists have observed changing upward trends in the temperature on the sea surface and over the continents. They have also registered sea level rises, increases in humidity, and the partial melting of polar ice caps and glaciers. The big question is whether these changes are part of the normal cyclical variations in climate on Earth, or if humanity's footprint is abnormally altering climate cycles and seriously endangering the future of life on the planet.
Effects of global warming and climate change
How does global warming affect the environment? These are some of the most important effects of a sustained increase in average temperatures and change in climate patterns:
- Extreme weather will likely negatively impact agriculture in many developing countries. Global warming could increase the frequency of floods and droughts, and contribute to other natural disasters.
- The retreat of glaciers may create problems of water supply, as one-sixth of the world's population relies on snowpack and glaciers for their water supply.
- Arctic sea ice is disappearing at record speed, according to historical documents. The melting of the polar ice cap may easily produce ripple effects throughout Earth's climate system.
- Sea level rise could significantly impact human population, since a great proportion of humanity lives near the shores, with potential migrations and conflicts.
- Ocean acidification and global warming have compounding effects and are likely going to affect a wide range of planktonic and other marine organisms that use aragonite to make their shells or skeletons.
- Many species of could see their habitat damaged and disappear due to climate change. 25% of animal species are heading towards extinction by 2050 due to the effects of global warming and climate change.
- The rise of temperature can increase the frequency of some diseases, especially tropical ones. Insects transmitting diseases could inhabit areas the were previously too cold for their subsistence.
Watch Professor Lord Nicholas Stern giving a TedTalk on climate change and some skeptic scientists arguing against anthropogenic climate change:
Doubts and skeptics
All the problems above are very serious and there is scientific consensus on climate change (at least among the mainstream academic community). Although most scientists would argue that climate change is real, there are many doubts on the magnitude of the change in climate patterns and on the extent of the damage that climate change may produce. Among those thinking that scientists exaggerate, some argue that global warming can be beneficial for many countries. Others accept the negative consequences but disagree on the magnitude of the impact, or on the time horizons considered. Could scientists be exaggerating on purpose to mobilize the public opinion to undertake action and reduce emissions? Finally, another group of skeptics simply reject that climate is changing, for them anthropogenic global warming is not real. They tend to refer to natural climate cycles or other abrupt changes in climate the Earth has experienced in the past, such as the Ice Age. Or simply they claim that there is a conspiracy to justify certain policy and lifestyle changes.
What do you think? Is climate change real? Are the problems humanity will be facing as a result of climate change as severe as scientists want us to belive?
- Lovejoy, S. Clim Dyn (2014). "Scaling fluctuation analysis and statistical hypothesis testing of anthropogenic warming," Climate Dynamics, Volume 42, Issue 9, pp. 2339-2351 (article here)
- Stern, Nicholas (2007). The Economics of Climate Change: the Stern Review. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Urban, Mark C. (2015) "Accelerating extinction risk from climate change," Science, Vol. 348, Issue 6234, pp. 571-573 (article here)
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Effects of global warming: are scientists exaggerating about climate change? Is it real?
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