Conservation Corner

Our Changing Environment Part 2:

Pauline Lee

In recent decades, natural disasters such as drought, floods, extreme storms on land and along seacoasts and wild fires have disrupted human lives, destroyed natural environment and harmed all living species. According to climate scientists, such catastrophes, occurring with evermore ferocity and greater frequency, are caused by increasing global temperature. Such increase has also resulted in melting icebergs, ice sheets and glaciers; rising sea water; warming of ocean water and smaller formation of snowcaps.

At present, over 97% of the scientific community has come to a consensus that the world is undergoing global warming caused by human activities that have created ever-increasing amounts of greenhouse gases. These gases, in normal amounts, act as a thermal blanket for trapping heat in the atmosphere to maintain life-supporting temperatures. According to climate scientists, ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica and mountain glaciers show climate change can be correlated with changes in greenhouse gas levels. The ice core contained atmospheric CO2 of about 280 parts per million (ppm) from 10,000 years ago to the start of the Industrial Revolution around 1760. Since that time, the concentration of atmospheric CO2 has increased steadily by 40% to 409 ppm in early 2017, due to the burning of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil), along with deforestation, soil erosion and animal agriculture. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, CO2 is responsible for 63% of the warming attributable to all greenhouse gases. Methane and nitrogen oxides are the two other gases contributing to the problem, while the halogen carbons are only minor contributors in comparison.

Merely looking at the average temperatures predicted by the weatherman’s forecasts will not tell how climate will change. The scientific models for climate prediction depend on multiple factors. Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to collect essential information about our planet to continuously refine their calculation of the factors that drive our weather conditions. Thus, more data gives more accurate forecasts of climate-changing events. The mystery of the global warming hiatus, 1998-2012, was solved in 2015 when scientists were finally able to obtain more accurate measurements of temperature increases in ocean water, demonstrating that more than 90% of all the energy trapped by manmade greenhouse gases goes into the ocean. The long-term picture is that as global temperatures rise, warmer oceans are expected to fuel stronger ocean storms, with disastrous consequences to larger populations such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017. Furthermore, the excess dissolved CO2 has increased the acidity of surface ocean water by 30%. Both the increases in heat and acidity have adversely affected marine life. Since land covers less than a third of the earth’s surface, a warmer ocean will certainly cause warmer temperatures on land. Thus, thousands of people have succumbed to heatwaves on land in recent years. In the next installment, possible remedies to reverse climate warming will be considered.