Of the many possible doomsday scenarios that plague our minds and may plague the future, global warming may be one of the most puzzling, but altogether, the most realistic. Setting aside the self evident buzzwords like nuclear war, city-sized meteors and a literal plague, what is global warming, and what does it truly mean for the future?
Global warming can be thought of as the current trend in the Earth’s overall temperature to be rising as a result of human activities post-industrial revolution. Activities like large scale farming and fossil fuel burning contribute to global warming because both release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“The term is frequently used interchangeably with the term climate change, though the latter refers to both human- and naturally produced warming and the effects it has on our planet. It is most commonly measured as the average increase in Earth’s global surface temperature,” said NASA.
Greenhouse gases have been identified by scientists as being a direct cause for our current rate of global warming. During 1896, the first ever study of global warming was released by a Swedish chemist known as Svante Arrhenius; it focused on what carbon dioxide’s effect on the earth’s climate. In 1938, the question was revisited, and in 1958, the greenhouse effect was observed in action raising the atmospheric temperature of Venus.
The significance of greenhouse gases on climate change relies on a phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect. When gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapor, are relatively abundant in a given atmosphere, solar energy (after entering) becomes trapped and reflected between the planet’s surface and atmosphere. The amount of greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere will have a proportionate effect on the amount of heat being trapped. Likewise, on Earth, this system continues in a cyclical pattern. An increase in atmospheric heat has several main effects on weather (as have been noticed in recent years), on the sea level (which has been observed as rising for the past 25 years) and on the amount of water vapor being released from the ocean and into the atmosphere. Water vapor is considered a greenhouse gas, which contributes again to the cyclical nature of climate change.
There have been multiple predictions and ideas as to what the future may look like; however, all ideas are merely predictions and only time can tell what will truly be the case. Despite that, there are several different effects that have been occurring already and will likely continue to grow in intensity. The first to expect is more storms, like larger and more intense hurricanes, more often. Temperature is expected to continue rising, and with it, arctic sea ice will continue to melt until there is very little or none at all. With hotter temperature, sea level will also continue to rise, with the prediction of rising 1 to 8 feet by 2100. In certain areas, droughts will become more frequent, and summer temperatures will continue to rise. There will be longer frost-free seasons, and although certain areas will see less annual rainfall, when it does rain, the periods will be more intense. All these effects even occurring individually would have many disastrous consequences for the environment, for infrastructure and for the general habitability of our planet. Albeit the most significant and long term effects of climate change may be very far into the future, but the effects of our decisions now will mean much for generations to come, and may block generations from coming into a planet livable at all.
There have been lots of plans forward as to what can be done about climate change, with 2016’s Paris Climate Accord and the recent 2019 Green New Deal. In September 2020, California’s governor Gavin Newsom created an executive order requiring all new cars sold by the year 2035 be zero-(greenhouse gas) emission vehicles. Moving forward, the question on what the disastrous effects of climate change might be, must be shifted to what we can do to stop those effects from ever occurring.