The human impact on the global climate is an undisputed issue. However, the fact is often ducked by political figures and special interest groups. They claim that the increases in global temperatures are not unprecedented, but very normal, and that there is no proof of the extent to which it is human actions that have contributed to this increase. However, all of these controversies regarding climate change exist only at the level of the popular media. At the scientific level, there is a strong consensus that global surface temperatures have increased in the recent past, and the causative factor has mainly been the human-induced emissions of green-house gases.
With the extreme climatic conditions that are being experienced in the world over, there is little doubt left regarding whether or not the degree of climatic change is normal. The sweltering heat wave of the last few weeks made this year the hottest one so far. Globally, 9 of the 10 hottest years have occurred after 2000. India experienced its tenth hottest year ever, with many states being declared drought-affected. In the US, wildfires claimed 1.3million acres, mostly in the West, the second-largest area to be charred during June on record. Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet's oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big changes - oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. All of these point to the great risk at which have placed ourselves as well as our future generations.
The major cause of global warming is the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The increasing industrial activity and human population has led to a major increase in the burning of fossil fuels, thereby leading to increased emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, land-use patterns have changed, and large-scale deforestation has taken place. This too has led to an increased concentration of greenhouse gases. The two factors together have led to changes in global temperatures. It may be noted that small changes in global temperature can lead to a drastic and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather. The results of the same are already becoming visible.
Potential impacts of global warming
• Increases in global temperature could lead to many plant and animal species becoming extinct, and this would have potentially dangerous impacts on their direct as well indirect consumers. As an effect of global warming, species like golden toad, harlequin frog of Costa Rica have already become extinct.
• Increase in water levels due to melting of glaciers could lead to submergence of several low-lying areas.
• There would be a significant increase in the diseases and number of deaths related to extreme heat. It may be noted that the highest number of people impacted in any particular drought was 300,000,000 in India in the year 2002. Events like these would become less of an exception and more of a rule if temperatures continued to rise.
• Marine life is very sensitive to temperature changes, and would thus be impacted to a major extent by any changes in temperature. Coral reefs are expected to die off as a result of global warming.
• Our food-production levels, transportation systems, stream-flows, etc would also be impacted. For India alone, the impact is predicted to be disastrous. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, India's agriculture will suffer more than any other country's. Assuming a global temperature increase of 4.4°C over cultivated areas by 2080, India's agricultural output is projected to fall by 30-40%.
Besides these impacts, one of the major impacts as already stated would be the extreme weather conditions. Global warming would impact the ecosystem in so many different ways that it is not even possible to state the entire range of the harmful impacts.
By altering the decision we make in our day-to-day lives, we can make a difference and contribute towards reducing global warming.
At a personal level, we can make quite a few changes in our lifestyle that help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Walking and biking instead of using motor vehicles, using car pools, using more energy-efficient appliances, etc are some of them.
Besides, governments can take initiatives to prevent deforestation at a large scale. Also, it could help prevent an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases by banning certain products that emit huge amounts of these gases. The government has the key role to play when it comes to promoting alternative sources of energy that are not as polluting as the coal-based ones.
Geo-engineering, a relatively new approach towards solving the problem of global warming could also yield results in the future. Geo-engineering involves the deliberate modification of the climate by managing solar radiations or removing carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere. The research for the same, however, is at a very elementary level at present.
Day by day, new problems associated with global warming are coming to light. It is clear that the global environment is slowly careening out of control. Unless we take heed, “The weather extremes and wild swings in temperature will become more pronounced with time and” become “characteristic of a planet suffering ‘meteorological shock’ brought on by a runaway planetary entropic heating process and magnetic reversal…What we are experiencing now is climate change- what we will be experiencing tomorrow is climate collapse.” (The Extinction Protocol, page 137,173).