Perhaps no other environmental issue has stirred such controversy both on the environmental front and within the political arena than global warming. It has become a case of either you believe or not, often following along the lines of your political views.
However, more than any other issue, global warming forces the hand of science. Ironically, science is trusted in most other disciplines. Medications and cures are readily accepted. People embrace the technology to improve their daily lives and lower their energy consumption. Yet, bring up the truth behind global warming and suddenly the validity of science is called into question.
Confusion about Global Warming
The roots of the confusion surrounding global warming lie in the term. Global warming or more accurately climate change, described the emerging evidence scientists documented. It is a strange twist of fate that the naming of the phenomenon belies its complexity.
To explain the precise effects of global warming is like trying to draw the most accurate map. Only a map with a scale of one to one is the most precise representation. The same analogy applies to global warming.
The impacts of climate change vary depending upon a host of site-specific conditions such as land cover, topography, and other factors. Therefore, to reduce global warming down to a single cause and effect is far too simplistic.
Evidence of Climate Change
The best evidence for climate change exists in the trends over time. A single winter season of heavy snow or one summer of drought conditions does not describe a trend. Fluctuations routinely occur in weather conditions. The most compelling evidence occurs in the most stable of environments, oceans.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, coastal shorelines erode at a rate of one to four feet each year. While this may not sound like much, it represents tangible evidence of change. A dramatic example of this impact is found with the Cape Hatteras lighthouse in North Carolina.
The lighthouse was originally built in 1870. At that time, it was located 1,500 feet from the ocean shoreline. Through the years, erosion has slowly eaten away at its coastline. In 1987, the distance from the lighthouse to the shoreline was 160 feet, forcing the National Park Service to relocate the structure in 1999.
Take that evidence and apply it to the millions of people who live in coastal areas. The United States has over 95,000 miles of shoreline, providing homes for over 50 percent of Americans since 1960. Clearly, shoreline erosion represents a serious threat.
Causes of Climate Change
Scientists rely on statistical information from which to draw conclusions. This is the foundation of science. A question is asked. Then, an experiment created and the results are observed.
The trends in climate change and ocean levels correspond with an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is turn follow the pattern of agricultural and urban development since the Industrial Revolution.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has documented increases in carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide during the last century, using collected data and geological evidence. Carbon dioxide levels alone rose 36 percent since pre-Industrial Revolution. Similar data exists for surface temperature.
Linking Carbon Dioxide with Oceans
The oceans and the atmosphere continually exchange carbon dioxide, with oceans acting as a major reservoir. Slowly, the acidity of the oceans has increased as has the amount of carbon dioxide. Ocean water temperatures have risen too. Over time, scientists predict these effects will impact how the oceans regulate climate.
The complexity of global warming makes some of the evidence hard to digest and appreciate. Small temperature changes go unnoticed. Bad weather is put down to just a bad year. However, take a moment to consider the impact of global warming, whether or not you believe in its existence.
Consider the effects on millions of people, millions of businesses, and the enormous economic value of coastal areas. If suddenly, the trends accelerated, are you confident there could be a global solution that could be enacted quickly? It behooves the world governments to act now before climate change forces action.