The planet is becoming warmer and warmer. Since 1906 the global average surface temperature has increased between 1.1 and 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius) even more in sensitive Polar Regions.
The effects of rising temperatures aren’t waiting for some far off future; signs of the effects of global warming are appearing right now. The heat is melting glaciers and sea ice, shifting precipitation patterns, and setting animals on the move. The planet is suffering from the impacts of global warming and there is much that can be done by all of us, to offset these environmental changes.
- Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earth’s poles. This includes mountain glaciers, ice sheets covering West Antarctic and Greenland, and Arctic sea ice.
- Many species have been impacted by rising temperatures. For instance, researcher Bill Fraser has tracked the decline of the Adélie penguins on Antarctica, where their numbers have fallen from 32,000 breeding pairs to 11,000 in 30 years.
- The sea level has been rising more quickly over the last century.
- Some butterflies, foxes, and alpine plants have moved farther north or to higher, cooler areas.
Precipitation (rain and snowfall) has increased across the globe, on average.
- Some invasive species are thriving. For example, spruce bark beetles have boomedin Alaska thanks to 20 years of warm summers. The insects have chewed up 4 million acres of spruce trees.
Other effects could take place later this century, if warming continues. Some of these include:
- Sea levelsare expected to rise between 7 and 23 inches (18 and 59 centimeters) by the end of the century, and continued melting at the poles could add between 4 and 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters).
- Hurricanes and other storms are likely to become stronger.
- Floods and droughts will become more common. Rainfall in Ethiopia, where droughts are already common, could decline by 10 percent over the next 50 years.
- Less fresh water will be available. If the Quelccaya ice capin Peru continues to melt at its current rate, it will be gone by 2100, leaving thousands of people who rely on it for drinking water and electricity without a source of either.
- Some diseases will spread, such as mosquito-borne malaria (and the 2016 resurgence of the Zika virus). Ecosystems will change: Some species will move farther north or become more successful; others won’t be able to move and could become extinct.
- Wildlife research scientist Martyn Obbard has found that since the mid-1980s, with less ice on which to live and fish for food, polar bears have gotten considerably skinnier. Polar bear biologist Ian Stirling has found a similar pattern in Hudson Bay. He fears that if sea ice disappears, the polar bears will as well.
If we all pitch in we can stop global warming. Some ideas we can all implement:
Reducing fossil fuel use: Burning fossil fuels increases the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There are two ways to reduce fossil fuel use: Use less energy, or use alternative, nonpolluting energy sources like solar and wind power. At home, this translates to saving electricity by using energy-efficient appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs, as well as reducing gasoline use and buying green power from your electricity provider, if available.
Plant trees: carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas, planting trees and other plants can slow or stop global warming. Plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They use carbon to build their own tissues and return some of it to the soil in a process called sequestration. Deforestation of rain forests is a large contributor to global warming and CO2 emissions, but planting new trees, even in your own backyard, can help to offset this.
Reduce waste: The production of garbage contributes to global warming both directly and indirectly. Decomposing waste in landfills produces methane and other greenhouse gases. Waste also requires energy to manufacture in the first place. Reducing your consumption patterns and reusing items whenever possible minimizes your carbon footprint, since fewer new items need to be made. Recycling metal, plastic, glass and paper lowers greenhouse gas emissions, since recycled items take far less energy to manufacture than items produced from scratch.
Conserve water: Cities consume significant amounts of energy when purifying and distributing water, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Saving water reduces the amount of energy used. At home, turn off water immediately whenever you’re not using it, and repair or replace leaky faucets and toilets. In your yard, landscape with plants and grasses that require less water, and capture rainwater in barrels for irrigating.