Climate Change and Its Effects

by Katie Simpson

Climate Change and Air Pollution

How did climate change start? Two of the biggest reasons are that the number of humans on the planet is rising faster than ever before and we live life differently than our ancestors have until the past century. Factories and combustible engines have only been a part of our history for about one hundred years and their impact has been amazing. A major component of air quality comes from carbon dioxide emissions from factories all over the world. The planet is now out of balance: Factories and power generation emit more CO2 than all of the trees and plants can take in and turn into oxygen. In addition, cars produce toxic carbon monoxide that pollutes the air. If carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other pollutants were visible and we could see how is spewed out by cars and factories, we would be more aware and alarmed. Carbon dioxide emissions have risen over the past 15 decades, but most of all in the past 50 - 60 years. Carbon dioxide is also being absorbed by the ocean, causing it to be more acidic, making the coral reefs die off.

There are many contributors polluting the air. It depends on where you live. In the United States, one of the major polluters are cars and trucks. In South America, the farmers burn their forests to make way for the farms that produce crops for the US and other countries. Trees take in CO2 and release oxygen. By removing the trees, this natural air purifier is taken away. If trees are burned for fuel, more CO2 is sent into the air. This, along with fewer trees, pushes the balance even more out of balance. In China, there are many coal power plants that emit loads carbon dioxide into the air. When we burn fuel, we produce soot and greenhouse gasses. Soot is injected into the air, mountains, and snow. With soot in the snow, the snow becomes less reflective, and snow melts faster.

There are many different factors that contribute to climate change. Climate change not just with warming, other places are cooling. For example, New York experienced significant snowfall this winter, while Northern California was hot and sunny and dry most of the time. With climate change, the earth will experience more extreme weather. We will have extremely hot, cold, and stormy days, hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons in many different places. When we think about global warming, our minds immediately see a picture of a hot earth. The earth’s air temperatures are rising overall, but weather and temperature are changing and impacting different places in different ways .

Another problem is that we are not using our resources wisely. It has become more important to use resources wisely because ecosystems are fragile. Las Vegas provides an example of a city that is using resources unwisely and in an unsustainable fashion. Las Vegas is in the desert and uses significant quantities of water for its growing population, to make grass green for tourism, as it tries to be an oasis in a desert. Citizens in Las Vegas need to learn to love your cactus yards and ditch the putting green, people! One thing we can do is elect government officials that can make changes about Las Vegas and its water problems. We have to make a big combined effort and work on our crisis together.

Eating Right

Believe it or not, eating animals is a big contributor to global warming. Livestock emissions (methane) make up 51% of greenhouse gases. It is not just their gasses that are a problem. ⅓ of global crops are fed to animals. Cows are major contributors to the earth’s overall greenhouse gas content. They produce a lot of flatulence, which is methane, a greenhouse gas. In big herds, this adds up to a lot of added greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. They need to have water, and places where they eat need to be cleaned yet more water. Cows also eat a lot of grain, which requires even more water to grow. For one cow, there is a lot of water and grain that could have been consumed by humans. A single hamburger requires 600 gallons of water to produce! Because the typical American diet is comprised of highly processed food, it takes more than 1,000 gallons of fresh water per day to produce food for 1 person. If you buy meat and produce from a local farmers market, the merchants will not have to haul the food on trains and cars, polluting the air, just to get it to your table. If you try to eat a little less meat, and make sure it is locally grown, it will be better for the environment, climate change, and you. Also, keep in mind that animals are living beings too, and it is mean to hurt them.

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Smog, Cars and Factories

Because Asia has so much smog, sometimes 25% of Los Angeles’s smog is from Asia. This smog is made of dust, soot and pollutants. Smog from Asia can travel 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in only 3 days to reach Los Angeles. Some scientists are tracking and sampling smog clouds in research aircrafts. The scientists can figure out where pollutants come from and determined the path taken by pollutants from factories in China! Scientists track North America’s smog that, in turn, pollutes Europe. This means that the countries producing smog and greenhouse gases have an effect all around the world. In Mumbai, India, the smog is so thick that breathing the air there is equivalent to smoking 2 ½ packs of cigarettes a day. Weirdly, if the brown smog clouds were cleaned up, people’s health would improve, but the planet’s wouldn’t. This is because the brown clouds hide 50% of the greenhouse gasses in the air. The brown clouds hide the sun, which would shine on the ocean, heat it up, and cause further global warming.

Our buildings that use air conditioning and heating systems, electricity to run appliances, actually contribute to air pollution even more than cars and trucks. Unfortunately, the United States has been making more car emissions than any other place in the world for years. China and India are countries that, together, make up almost half of the world’s population and they have a growing middle class, many of whom want middle class automobiles, refrigerators, and other items that add to the effect of climate change and pollution. You can see why the population growth combined with our technology are causing changes to accelerate. The old saying “dilution is the solution to pollution” doesn’t work any more - there is not enough to dilute all of the pollution that people are making.

Ice, Glaciers, Water, and the Arctic

For 3 million years, the Arctic Ice Caps have been the size of the United States without Alaska and Hawaii. They have shrunk to 60% of its size from 1980-2007, which is 1.78 Million square miles. The Arctic Ice Cap expands in the winter, and shrinks in the summer because of melting. Global Warming comes into play with the Arctic Ice Caps because when the frozen ground melts are releases the trapped carbon dioxide in it, chemicals react and turn the CO2 into methane. Some lakes in Alaska are bubbling with methane! Once a scientist went to a frozen over lake in Alaska, lit a lighter in a hole connecting to the lake, and a fire started! Methane is a flammable gas, so an accidental spark can create quite a bit of danger.

In the Arctic, polar bears can not walk across the ice sheets so easily because the sheets are melting. So, to catch seals, they have to swim between the glaciers. This is challenging in near 0 degree water! The arctic fox is another endangered animal due to global warming. The red fox, a relative of the arctic fox is now migrating into the warmer Arctic, stealing the arctic fox’s holes, and eating the food the arctic foxes once hunted.

The Himalayas have the 3rd largest glacier in the world. It has formed lakes that were glaciers a couple of years ago. 40% of all the people in the world get their drinking water from that one glacier! These BILLIONS of people may soon need to figure out a new source of drinking water.

2% of all the water on earth is freshwater. 98% of the water on earth is saltwater. That shows the scarcity of our drinkable water. As the planet warms, areas that do not have much water will have even less water. Some areas will get more water, but those areas are usually wetter. In places like China, India, California, Nevada, and Arizona, it will be harder to find fresh water. It will not just be hard to find water for drinking, but will become more difficult for farming, growing crops, and keeping orchards alive. If there is not much fresh water, then food will become pricier, as California grows food for much of the United States.

A major factor in climate change is the population growth in 3rd world countries. As the populations in these countries become more educated, the population growth tends to slow. Since there is a direct relation between population growth and climate change, education of the 3rd world population will help to slow the growth in these countries. In addition, since many of the high population growth countries also have very little power and phone service, it will be much simpler to move directly to a renewable energy economy. There will be little competition with Oil, Nuclear, and Gas companies.

Energy Sources

Fossil Fuels: Coal’s sole advantage is that it is abundant. But, it comes at the expense of the environment. To harvest coal from the Appalachians, the mountain top has to be removed for the coal to be extracted. The material that is removed from the mountaintop is then dumped into the valleys and streams below. In Appalachia alone, this extraction process has covered more than 2000 miles of stream, and has filled them up by toxic waste. It is also dangerous because the coal mines sometimes collapse, and the miners in the shafts can be severely injured or killed. In addition,there are often poisonous gases in the mines that can injure the miners. That accounts for just the extraction of the coal. Then, the producers have to transport the coal to where it can be sold and burned for heat and electricity. Coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, and contributes greatly to the poor air quality in many cities around the world.

Oil is also quite plentiful thanks to modern harmful extraction techniques such as fracking. The downside includes oil spills, transportation spills, and, of course the actual burning of the oil.

Natural gases burn cleaner than oil or coal, but still contribute significantly to the CO2 in the atmosphere. This fuel is seen as a transition fuel from dirty coal and oil to renewables.

Nuclear: Nuclear energy was once seen as a "clean" fuel, until the 3-mile island reactor meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979 followed by Chernobyl disaster in Russia, then the tsunami disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in 2011. A reactor makes energy by breaking apart a chemical bond in a sealed environment. Sometimes accidents occur when typhoons or earthquakes strike near the nuclear reactor. This can cause a meltdown, which means the reactor gets so hot, it explodes, spewing its radioactive compounds all over the land, water, and people. The radioactive compounds are so dangerous because they take thousands of years to break down into safe compounds. That is why nuclear energy is a bad choice.

Solar: Solar energy is good because it can be local, on your rooftop. Also, once you install the solar panels, your energy is free! Solar doesn't pollute, and the cost of it has come down dramatically over the years, making it more attractive to businesses and homeowners looking for a greener energy alternative.

Wind: Wind is also a great source of energy. Offshore wind technology has made many advances in recent years, takes full advantage of strong, steady winds over the ocean and plentiful space for mass scale wind farms. Like solar, wind also does not produce greenhouse gases, and costs about the same as most typical energy plants.

Hydro: Hydro is an energy source created by the flow of water from a river or lake through an electrical generator to make electricity. It is considered renewable, like solar and wind. It is generally good for the planet, except a dam is required.

Action now

Ozone, a molecule made of 3 oxygen atoms, is a protective gas, which lies in the stratosphere between 12-19 miles above earth. This is called the ozone layer. In 1913, the ozone layer was discovered by the French physicists, Charles Fabry and and Henri Buisson. The amazing fact about the ozone layer is that it absorbs 97-99% of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet light. Without the ozone layer, all of humanity would fry as if we were in a giant microwave. The bad thing is, the ozone layer can be depleted by gases, mainly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The ozone layer can also be depleted by aerosol products. Fortunately, a global agreement, called the Montreal Protocol, banned the use of these products. This shows that if you want to get something done, you have to spread the word, and your plan will work.

In Africa, many people use kerosene lamps as their light source. This is dangerous, polluting, and expensive. The company Solar Aid, is trying to change that. The organization is trying to replace all of the kerosene lamps with solar lamps. People in Africa, who earn $1.50 a day, can save $70 a year. This is a fortune for people working on $1.5 per day wages. Also, a solar lamp lasts an hour longer than kerosene lamps, providing one more hour of study time, or whatever needs to be done. Each solar lamp leads to saving half a ton of CO2 emissions each year. Now, Solar Aid has given 1.5 million lights to people in Africa, helping to make a significant difference to the amount of CO2 in the air.

What YOU can do in the fight against climate change

Climate change is already here. We can’t stop it, but but we can have better lifestyles to keep the earth as cool as possible. We want to do our best to limit the production of greenhouse gases and find new technologies that make energy without burning fossil fuels. We have to change the way we live, and adapt to the new and changing world we have.

Right now, we expect a lot of snow in the mountains. In later years, it might rain instead. We need to figure out ways to collect most of that rainwater, and stop it from flowing into the oceans. This action can help to prevent a significant rise in the ocean level and allow us more drinking water. We need to change the way we do things so we can live in our new climate.

We can help the planet by planting trees. When we plant trees, we should plant them carefully and choose a suitable environment to plant them. People will also need to know where water is abundant, and where it is scarce. We should use our resources responsibly. Some areas will be flooded with ocean water, and other places will become deserts because of the heat. There will need to be enough water, not for just you and your family, but for everyone else in the world. In places too cold to grow crops easily , like Canada and British Columbia, there will be better land for farming because of our heating planet. Since Greenland and Iceland’s permafrost is melting, we can grow crops more easily in the future.

There are many other ways to help prevent more climate crisis. First, we need to raise awareness about climate change. We should say what we know to help people prevent an even greater crisis. We have to be active about climate change if we want humanity to survive more than a few hundred years. We need to use energy more efficiently, reduce carbon emissions, and stick to the 3 R’s ; reduce, recycle,and reuse, with a huge emphasis on reduce. If we reduce a lot in the first place, then we won't have to recycle and reuse as much. If we use less of the earth's resources we will help the planet more. The best ways to reduce carbon emissions is to carpool, ride your bike more, buy a hybrid, or even better, an electric car. If you ride your bike, you can help save the planet, and get more exercise! If you own a company, you should turn your company solar instead of using fossil fuels. To help the environment and nature, plant trees, plants, and pick up trash. Keep the earth cool by trying to eat less animals

Another source of energy besides fossil fuels are solar and wind power. Even if the wind is not blowing all the time, the sun is an endless resource and free. The sun can power cars, lights, signs, and almost anything! Climate change is a huge problem, but not impossible to solve. We have to try to prevent more climate change, and we have to solve it as a community. That is what will make a difference on our planet.

If we do not act at once, the planet will become really dangerous. The temperature of the planet is rising because of global warming. Scientists believe that if the average global temperature rose only 3.6 degrees F, our Earth’s future would be in peril. This temperature would be the highest in 30 million years. The sea level would at least rise 3-6 feet, and there would be hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing to higher land because their homes would be flooded by rising sea level. There would be a drought in 40% of the inhabited land and half of the species we know today might become extinct. Unfortunately, our planet is on track to rise by 7.2 degrees by 2300. If 3.6 degrees is super bad, just imagine 7.2 degrees! At this temperature, about half of the planet would be impossible to inhabit. Merely stepping outside would be dangerous! This temperature would be hostile for humans, plants and most animals (lizards excepted!). Without trees and plants, there would be no people.

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Sources and interesting sites about climate change