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What is Climate Change and What Causes Global Warming?

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Climate change – why it affects all of us

In the middle of the night, if you prefer watching Al Gore’s current movie on climate change than sleeping, it’s likely to fall into either the crazy or the passion category. Both would suit me pretty well. 🙂 The attentive readers among you know that I have dealt with the issue of climate change for more than 10 years. Already my term-paper for my high-school diploma dealt with the topic: “An Inconvenient Truth” – The Reinvention of Al Gore. The focal point of my work was, of course, Al Gore and, above all, his film “An Inconvenient Truth”. I remember it as if it had been yesterday, because the topic has occupied me almost daily since then. At that time, I had the study of environmental technology as an alternative to nutrition science on my wish list. And indeed, now that I have my Master of Science (Economics) in my pocket, I am considering studying again. I never claimed to be normal! O:)

Sounds odd but the word “climate change” means that the climate is changing. But what is the climate? The climate describes all weather conditions in one place over a longer period of time. Not only the weather of today and tomorrow, of course, but also many other factors are covered by the term “climate”. For example, sunshine duration, precipitation amount and frequency, typical sequences of seasons, temperatures, etc. are included.

What is the climate change? Here’s a definition

But what is the climate change? The climate is constantly changing and has always changed. Ice ages formed today’s canyons and where we can now walk in mountain valleys, were formerly huge layers of ice and glaciers. This change has dragged on for millions of years and has been very slow. That’s how nature gradually adapted to it. For example, in the 10,000 years after the Ice Age, the earth warmed by about 4-5 degrees. If we do not change anything at present, the earth warms by 4-5 degrees in 100 years! 100x as fast!

Scientists define climate change as a change in average temperature by a few degrees Celsius. Many factors depend on the average temperature and at the same time many aspects influence the average temperature. Therefore, it can be used as a good guideline for climatic changes. All we have to do is think about ourselves: when the temperature drops by a few degrees Celsius, we feel very different from when it rises by a few degrees. It is the same with all other living organisms and plants in the world. The faster this temperature change takes place, the harder it is to adapt.

What is the greenhouse effect?

Closely related to climate change is the greenhouse effect. Our earth is protected by a layer of air which is not visible to us. This layer – also called atmosphere – allows life here compared to other planets. For example, our earth’s atmosphere stores vital heat and gases such as oxygen. It consists of different gases, as well as the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4). Although less known than carbon dioxide, methane is 40 times more harmful to the climate than its colleague. Nowadays, our atmosphere acts as a landfill of these redundant greenhouse gases.

This gas layer of the atmosphere protects us from dangerous solar radiation and reflects many of these rays like a mirror back into space. The non-reflected, short-wave rays penetrate through this protective layer. They are converted into long-wave rays, they reach our earth’s surface, which heats up and then they are reflected back. If there are too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it can happen that these rays can no longer be reflected back into space and the earth keeps warming up. Like in a greenhouse. Otherwise you could imagine it with a fly protection on the balcony door. Sometimes one or the other fly comes in, but then just can not get out.

Here's a chart I already used in my term paper in 2009 but still is up to date

Here’s a chart I already used in my term paper in 2009 but still is up to date

What causes the climate change?

Researchers agree that we humans have a very large share of climate change. The technical term for this is “anthropogenic climate change”. “Anthropogen” comes from the Greek and means something like “caused by man”. The extent of today’s noticeable change in our climate is clearly relatable to our human activities.

HERE IS A SMALL LIST OF THE CAUSES

– Consumption and our way of life need more natural resources than the world makes available to us. To cover our consumption, we would actually need 1.7 Earths – see Earth Overshoot Day. This is at the expense of the environment and future generations and is just the opposite of the word “sustainability”.

– This consumption creates many greenhouse gases in factories in the production and by the transport with tankers/ships, trucks and airplanes. The best known greenhouse gas is the climate killer CO2 (carbon dioxide). In addition, there are more and more people in the world, which of course consume more and more.

– Deforestation of rainforests make it decreasingly possible to filter this CO2 out of the air and convert it into oxygen. Trees and plants are the best filters for greenhouse gases, e.g. carbon dioxide. That’s why basically trees and forests are called the “Earth’s Lungs”. We are producing more and more polluting gases while reducing the possibility of filtering them out of the air. A bit of common sense is enough to see that this calculation can not work.

– Conventional factory farming is a massive problem. Not only does it have to be grown extra feed to be able to feed all the cattle, etc., but animals emit a lot of climate-damaging gases, especially methane. In addition to CO2, methane is one of the gases that most fuels the greenhouse effect. Plus, conventional agriculture is causing massive over-fertilization and the use of pesticides. To be able to filter these out of the drinking water, a lot of energy has to be expended. Here is a little insight into the water needs.

– The use of fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil and gas catapulted the emission of climate-damaging exhaust gases. This is a big problem, especially in emerging markets. All we have to do is think of images of people wearing respirators that may never have seen a clear blue sky because the factories’ blanket of smog does not let in a ray of sunshine.

What are the consequences of climate change?

The consequences of climate change are already evident. Natural disasters such as extreme weather conditions, droughts, heavy downpours, floods and heavy storms are becoming more and more likely. This year, the extreme drought in Berlin and in many parts of Germany are a good example of what we will face in the coming years. Some people call it “record-braking summer” without knowing that the record is updated almost each year. It’s almost the tenth record-braking summer in a row.

There are different consequences that cause climatic changes. Among them are e.g. the faster spread of diseases and the increase of hurricanes that are rising above the sea and causing torrential rain bombs. As temperatures rise, there will be more and more evaporation. This means that the air needs to absorb more and more water, which will also change future hurricanes that hit the mainland.

For example, India’s fourth-largest city, Chennai, was completely shut down in 2015. Here more than 300 liters of rain dropped in 18 hours. These were the strongest downpours in 100 years. So much rain falls in Munich on average in 4 months. In Tacloban City and the surrounding region in the Philippines, there were 4.1 million (!) Climate refugees caused by the Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. In 2015, there were not only catastrophes in Chile, but also in Spain. But we do not have to look so far away and take a closer look at the pictures from flooded Venice or burning California in the last few days.

Above all, coastal regions and islands will face the consequences of climate change

Above all, coastal regions and islands will face the consequences of climate change

Rising sea levels

Impacts are not only increasing wildfires, increasingly heavy rainfall, landslides and floods, but also crop failures. Not only is less and less land habitable, at the same time the population is increasing rapidly. Each of us who had maths at school, sees that it could soon be pretty tight. Experts estimate the sea level rise to 1.8 meters to 2100 if we do not change our way of life. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) dates the climate refugees to more than 190 million people. Other estimates even go from an increase of sea levels to over 3 meters to 2100. The problem is, however, water expands when it heats up. This fuels the vicious circle additionally.

8 of the 10 largest cities in the world are located near the sea. Even the famous Moai statues on the Easter Island are threatened by rising sea levels. Other islands in the Pacific are already starting to notice the effects of climate change. In 2014, the former president of Kiribati, a small island nation, bought land to relocate its population when the islands became uninhabitable due to rising sea levels. That’s just one of many examples.

Here are a few more examples of how certain regions would look like with a rise in sea level, such as New York City.

What effects, for example, have 4 degrees of global warming?

A warming of 4 degrees Celsius may sound little at first, but has fatal consequences for humans, animals and nature. A rise of 4 degrees would mean that the glaciers and icebergs would melt at the poles. All we have to do is think of the images we’ve probably all seen before: polar bears clinging helplessly to the last ice floes. It’s not just the water that is released, flooding many areas and annihilating them. In this century-old ice, called permafrost soil, many atoms and thus gases (such as methane) are stored and their release would additionally accelerate the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Many animals are therefore threatened with extinction because their habitat is extremely reduced. Coral reefs, as we know them today, will become extinct.

In addition, many islands will disappear without trace, as if they had never existed. Coastal cities and entire areas at the sea will become uninhabitable due to the higher sea level. Unless immense dams are built, about one billion people will have to be relocated. That would be the biggest migration that ever happened.

On the one hand, people would be displaced by masses of water. On the other hand, entire stretches of land in Africa would become uninhabitable during periods of extreme heat. Some have to flee because of the unbearable heat, the others because of the flooded coastal regions.

Here is a chart supplied by NASA showing the rise of the sea levels

Here is a chart supplied by NASA showing the rise of the sea levels

Evidence of climate change

As our climate has always been changing, there are many who deny that there is such a thing as “man-made climate change”. First and foremost are not serious presidents and big lobbyists who benefit from our endless consumption. A big farmer who makes his money through factory farming and milk production would never support veganism. It is similar with the oil industry. It is interested in people continuing to consume oil, even if it is harmful to the climate and accelerates global warming. The only realistic conclusion is that climate change is being denied. Once an untruth has been widely spread, the vicious circle has taken its course. Few question such “alternative facts” and assertions and simply accept them as given.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” (Upton Sinclair)

Of course, scientists have been dealing with climate change for decades and, for example, use ice core drilling. Through these Antarctic ice core drillings, they can determine what the concentrations of greenhouse gases were when it was formed. The concentration of greenhouse gases has never been so high as it is today, and therefore the greenhouse effect. Approximately since the beginning of industrialization, the concentration of greenhouse gases has greatly increased.

But you do not have to trust any ice drilling. It is enough to take a look at the average temperatures of the last 500 years. At the same time, average temperatures are rising worldwide and more and more ice is melting in the Arctic and there is hardly any glacier ice in the Alps. Researchers assume that in the west and south of Germany heavy rainfalls and precipitation will increase massively in winter and in the summer heat waves are to be expected especially in the east and southwest. However, if climate change is so severe that the Gulf Stream suffers from it, it can lead to a very high temperature drop in Europe. Here is the Climate Atlas of the German Weather Service, which is very informative.

„Fight like your world depends on it. Because your world depends on it.“ – An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (Film)

In the next blog posts, I will show you that each of us can do something about climate change and the final chapter has not yet been written.

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