What Is Climate Change?
Climate change is generally defined as a significant variation of average weather conditions, with these weather conditions becoming warmer, wetter, or drier—over several decades or more. It is the longer-term trend that differentiates climate change from natural weather variability.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed record floods, very intense storms and deadly heat waves. Each individual on earth is feeling climate change today. However the economically disadvantaged populations, who have contributed the very least to the root causes of climate change, are the worst victims of climate change.
What causes climate change, how it is affecting the planet and its people, and what can we do about it? These are some of the questions that arise in our minds and for which we will explore the answers and solutions to the worst climate crisis humankind is experiencing today. We at Petropath are also actively engaged in finding the solutions to these pressing Climate Change issues through our Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestering endeavors.
How do we measure climate change over a period of time?
Climate refers to the general weather conditions of a place as measured over many years. For example, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir are cold in winter and experience snowfall while the southern parts of India have a tropical climate the year round.
Present day climatic and weather conditons can be monitored by Earth-orbiting satellites, remote meteorological stations and ocean buoys. But how do we infer of the climatic conditions experienced on earth in the recent and in the distant past? Here paleoclimatology and its interpretation from a host of natural sources like ice cores, tree rings, corals, and ocean and lake sediments reveal the earth’s climatic history back to millions of years. So if I tell you of the climatic conditions of the earth many million years ago, don’t be surprised how I arrived at the data. This is not a simple extrapolation down to millions of years ago. It is based on solid paleoclimatological data interpretation and models, all backed by solid data garnered from paleoclimatological investigations.
These paleoclimatological records provide a comprehensive look at the long-term changes in the earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land surfaces, and cryosphere (frozen water systems).
While we use the terms climate change and global warming interchangeably, it is pertinent to note that global warming. The recent rise in the global average temperature near the earth’s surface—is just one aspect of climate change. There are many other aspects involved in the Earth’s climate change.
What is the primary cause of climate change today?
Let us see the energy the earth receives from the sun and start from this point onwards. A part of the energy received by the earth from the sun is reflected off the earth back into space mostly by clouds and the ice cover at the polar regions of the earth. This along with the release of the energy by the earth’s atmosphere planet cools our planet. But when the atmospheric gases like CO2, CH4 and other gases called greenhouse gases prevent the energy released by the earth from radiating into space our planet warms. This is the phenomenon of the greenhouse effect and global warming. Both natural and anthropogenic factors are responsible for global warming and the resulting climate change.
What are the natural causes of climate change?
Some amount of climate change can be attributed to natural phenomena. Over the course of Earth’s existence, volcanic eruptions, fluctuations in solar radiation, tectonic shifts, and even small changes in our orbit have all had observable effects on planetary warming and cooling patterns. But are these the main reasons for the scale of global warming being felt today or is there something more to it?
Climate records show us unequivocally that today’s global warming—particularly what has occurred since the start of the industrial revolution—is happening much, much faster than ever before. The natural causes are still in play today, but their influence is too small or they occur too slowly to explain the rapid warming seen in recent decades. And these records tell us one more important thing. They refute the misinformation that natural causes are the main culprits behind climate change, as some in the fossil fuel industry and climate change deniers in the think tanks backed by the fossil fuel majors would like us to believe. These climate change deniers are as bad as the holocaust deniers.
What are the anthropogenic causes of climate change?
The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that human activity generates are the leading cause of the earth’s rapidly changing climate today, though climate change deniers would like us to believe otherwise. Greenhouse gases play an important role in keeping the planet warm enough to inhabit. But too much of these gases in the atmosphere is bad for the earth and for us. The amount of these gases in our atmosphere has skyrocketed in recent decades. Our current concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are unprecedented, compared with the concentrations that prevailed in the past 800,000 years. Indeed, the atmosphere’s share of carbon dioxide, the planet’s chief climate change contributor, the main greenhouse gas, has risen by ~50 percent since pre-industrial times. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 levels were consistently around 280 parts per million (ppm) for almost 6,000 years of human civilization. As of May 2022, the global average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is 421 ppm. This increase is primarily due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels.
Is it only the burning of fossil fuels or are we humans doing something more to cause global warming and climate change?
The burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas for electricity, heat, and transportation is the primary source of human-generated emissions. A second major source is deforestation. Forests are our natural carbon sinks and cutting down millions of trees for creating land for agricultural use is exacerbating this global warming.
Logging, clear-cutting, fires, and other forms of forest degradation release an average of 8.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, accounting for more than 20 percent of all global CO2 emissions. Other human activities that generate air pollution include fertilizer use (a primary source of nitrous oxide emissions), livestock production (cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats are major methane emitters), and certain industrial processes that release fluorinated gases. Activities like agriculture and road construction can also change the reflectivity of the earth’s surface, leading to local warming or cooling.
Why are our forests not able to mitigate this problem?
Though our planet’s forests and oceans absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and other processes, these natural carbon sinks cannot keep up with our rising emissions. Moreover, do not forget that we are clearing our forests on a massive scale. The resulting build-up of greenhouse gases is causing alarmingly fast warming worldwide. It is estimated that the earth’s average temperature rose by about 1 degree Fahrenheit during the 20th century. I know many people think that this is not too much. To understand this properly and succinctly consider this. When the last ice age ended and the north-eastern United States was covered by more than 3,000 feet of ice, average temperatures were just 5 to 9 degrees cooler than they are now. 1 degree Fahrenheit is a massive change.
So that was the discussion on climate change and what causes this climate change. In the next part, we will discuss the effects of climate change, climate change facts, and climate change solutions, including what we at Petropath are doing to counter climate change.