What Causes Climate Change? An Introduction

Climate change is a grave threat to the environment, human health, and our economic well-being. 

If we don’t take massive action soon, we could find ourselves in the precarious position of watching our precious planet succumb to the ravages of this insidious problem.

In this article, we’ll go over the causes of climate change, whether humans are causing it, how greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, and more. 

What is the biggest cause of climate change? 

Contrary to what the Beatles might say, we don’t all live in a yellow submarine. Instead, human life exists inside a massive planetary-sized greenhouse. 

Every lifeform on the planet, from Nanoarchaeum equitans – a tiny microbe found in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean – to the honey mushroom – that takes up the equivalent of 1,350 soccer fields in the Malheur National Forest, Oregon, USA – uses the energy streaming from the sun to stay alive. 

Approximately 50% of this light reaches the surface, where it’s absorbed by things like ocean water, desert rock, and our sidewalks. Some of this light is reflected upwards as infrared heat, where it’s reabsorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases. 

Finally, 90% of this heat is radiated back down to the planet’s surface. This is a never-ending cycle known as the greenhouse effect. 

Burning fossil fuels significantly increases carbon emission concentrations in the atmosphere, intensifying the process. Climate scientists say that the disturbing warming trend seen since the 50s is due to this “enhanced greenhouse effect.” 

Are humans causing climate change?

There’s no question in climate scientists’ minds that humans cause climate change by pumping greenhouse gases into the air, which has been going on since the dawn of the industrial age. 

These scientists believe that the massive increase in heat-trapping carbon emissions is the primary reason for the 1.8°F (1.0°C) elevation in worldwide temperature since the late 1800s.

Where do greenhouse gases come from?

Greenhouse emissions are gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation. In the US, most carbon emissions come from fossil fuel combustion. This is all the natural gas, petroleum, and coal used to generate energy. 

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is responsible for most climate change and can remain in the atmosphere for more than 1,000 years. It causes more global warming than all the other gases combined. 

Its surprising longevity is part of the reason why it’s so harmful. Carbon dioxide is the byproduct of industrial processes such as fuel consumption, cement production, and deforestation. 

Methane is the second most significant source of greenhouse emissions. It’s emitted through livestock production, sewage treatment, agricultural processes, natural gas and oil distribution, and coal mining. 

Halogenated compounds such as CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, and NF3 are other significant contributors to carbon emissions. They’re produced by refrigeration and air conditioning technology, electronic equipment, metallurgy, and other processes.

How do greenhouse gases cause global warming?

Before human beings arrived on the scene, natural processes ensured that the amount of incoming and outgoing radiation was perfectly balanced, thus keeping the earth’s temperature stable. 

Unfortunately, greenhouse gas emissions don’t let heat escape. This heat is reflected down to the planet’s surface, where it’s reabsorbed. This significantly increases global temperatures. 

What effect is climate change having on our planet?

Catastrophic effects of human-caused climate change are happening at this very moment. This massive change to our long-term meteorological patterns won’t be easily reversed during the lifetime of any person alive today. 

These extreme weather events will cause misery for millions of people worldwide and trillions of dollars in damage. 

Scientists believe that global temperatures will continue to climb for decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts an unprecedented rise of between 2.5 to 10 ° F over the next 100 years.

Boundless human ingenuity can be a good thing. It led to the invention of the printing press, incandescent lightbulb, and the automobile, among other things. Unfortunately, unbridled technology and an overabundance of factories have also resulted in an enormous increase in atmospheric carbon emissions. 

Rising sea levels 

Rising sea levels are the inevitable result of a warming climate. When water gets hot, it expands. When ice melts, it raises the level of whatever body of water it’s next to. 

These two factors combine to elevate ocean levels to the point where they threaten to flood coastal cities and submerge island nations. For thousands of years, sea levels have remained consistent, and this has caused human beings to settle along coastlines. 

But all that started to change in the last couple of decades. Sea levels have risen approximately eight inches since 1900 and over two inches since the previous decade. This suggests that the rate is speeding up. 

Climatologists’ biggest worry is that the enormous ice sheets blanketing Antarctica and Greenland are becoming increasingly unstable. The paleoclimate record shows that oceans could rise as much as 10 feet within 100 years if the ice sheets start to disintegrate more rapidly.  

Worsening droughts 

Climate change is making droughts more frequent, more intense, and longer-lasting. The warmer the temperature is, the drier the soil becomes. Hot weather increases evaporation, which reduces groundwater. This makes periods when it doesn’t rain much drier than they would be in cooler conditions. 

Reduced snowpack 

Warmer winter temperatures are causing less precipitation to fall as snow in places like the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Reduced snowpack is problematic even if total annual precipitation doesn’t change. That’s because water management systems like dams depend on snowpack that melts slowly instead of all at once. 

Some fish species also depend on the colder stream temperatures that come with regular and consistent snowpack, like salmon.  

More intense heatwaves 

A series of intensely hot days are often called an extreme heat event, colloquially known as a heatwave. 

They can be deadly, especially among the elderly, children, and other vulnerable populations. Prolonged exposure to excessive heat levels can damage crops, kill livestock, and increase wildfire risk. 

Heatwaves are happening much more frequently than they used to because of climate change. In the 60s, there were only around two heatwaves a year. However, in the 2010s, that increased to six. 

To make matters worse, the average heatwave is 47 days longer now than it was in the 60s. Heatwaves occurring earlier or later in the year than expected can catch individuals by surprise, making them more dangerous. 

What can be done to address climate change? 

The European Union and the US launched the Global Methane Pledge during COP26. This is a commitment by over 100 countries to reduce 30% of all methane emissions in the fuel, agriculture, and waste sectors by 2030. 

By committing to taking bold action, governments and individuals can be part of the solution to the climate crisis. Here are some things ordinary citizens can do: 

Get a home energy audit

Many utility companies offer free energy audits. By putting their recommendations into practice, you’ll likely save hundreds of dollars on your utility bills every year while helping to ensure the planet has a bright and rosy future. 

Even simple strategies such as installing a programmable thermostat to replace an old dial unit can reduce your family’s carbon emissions by up to 5%. While you’re at it, replace your single-paned windows with dual-paned ones and install insulated doors to reduce home heat loss. 

Use renewable energy

Over 50% of all the electricity generated in the US originates from coal-fired power plants that foul the air with heat-trapping carbon emissions. That’s why it’s wonderful to hear that the use of alternative energy sources like solar, wind, hydro energy, and geothermal is starting to gain traction. 

For example, Denmark uses wind power to generate more than 10% of its energy needs. Experts predict that solar power could supply as much as 20% of the US’s total energy needs by 2050. 

Solar energy is more affordable than ever, thanks to state and federal governments offering generous tax incentives for those who choose to go with this method to generate home electricity. 

Purchase carbon offsets

Carbon offsets are certificates that help lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by offsetting the purchaser’s carbon emissions with equivalent CO2 reductions elsewhere.

Carbon offsets fund projects that either lower CO2 emissions or sequester carbon dioxide, which means taking some CO2 out of the air and storing it. Examples include sustainable energy installation, reforestation, and waste and landfill management. 

Stop fossil fuel projects dead in their tracks with Aspiration 

Aspiration makes it incredibly easy to make ecologically sound choices with your finances.

Our planet is grappling with the harsh realities of climate change, the most significant existential crisis in its 4.54-billion-year history. The power to triumphantly trounce this unprecedented emergency lies firmly in your hands. 

The colossal banking conglomerates use billions of their customers’ hard-earned cash to fund planet-killing fossil fuel projects. However, at Aspiration, we only finance environmentally friendly ventures. 

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