global warming(redirected from Climate change cycle)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical.
global warming,the gradual increase of the temperature of the earth's lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial RevolutionIndustrial Revolution,
term usually applied to the social and economic changes that mark the transition from a stable agricultural and commercial society to a modern industrial society relying on complex machinery rather than tools.
..... Click the link for more information. . Global warming and its effects, such as more intense summer and winter storms, are also referred to as climate change.
The temperature of the atmosphere near the earth's surface is warmed through a natural process called the greenhouse effect. Visible, shortwave light comes from the sun to the earth, passing unimpeded through a blanket of thermal, or greenhouse, gases composed largely of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Infrared radiationinfrared radiation,
electromagnetic radiation having a wavelength in the range from c.75 × 10−6 cm to c.100,000 × 10−6 cm (0.000075–0.1 cm).
..... Click the link for more information. reflects off the planet's surface toward space but does not easily pass through the thermal blanket. Some of it is trapped and reflected downward, keeping the planet at an average temperature suitable to life, about 60°F; (16°C;).
Growth in industry, agriculture, and transportation since the Industrial Revolution has produced additional quantities of the natural greenhouse gases plus smaller quantities of chlorofluorocarbonschlorofluorocarbons
(CFCs), organic compounds that contain carbon, chlorine, and fluorine atoms. CFCs are highly effective refrigerants that were developed in response to the pressing need to eliminate toxic and flammable substances, such as sulfur dioxide and ammonia, in
..... Click the link for more information. and other more potent greenhouse gases, augmenting the thermal blanket. It is generally accepted that this increase in the quantity of greenhouse gases is trapping more heat and increasing global atmospheric and ocean temperatures, making a process that has been beneficial to life potentially disruptive and harmful. Since the late 19th cent., the global average surface temperature has risen 1.5°F; (0.9°C;) and sea level has risen several inches. Some projected, longer-term results of global warming include melting of polar ice, with a resulting rise in sea level and increase in coastal flooding; disruption of drinking water supplies dependent on snow melt; profound changes in agriculture due to local climate changes; extinction of species as ecological niches disappear; more intense hurricanes and typhoons due to warmer ocean water, as well as more intense winter storms; and an increased incidence of tropical diseases. Oceans are expected to become more acidic, to the detriment of sea life. The effect of such changes on people and communities would not only be locally disruptive but could also aggravate or cause political instability and national and international conflicts.
Among factors that may be contributing to global warming are the burning of coal, petroleum, and other fossil fuels (sources of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone); deforestation, which increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and methane gas released in animal waste. The thawing of the tundratundra
, treeless plains of N North America and N Eurasia, lying principally along the Arctic Circle, on the coasts and islands of the Arctic Ocean, and to the north of the coniferous forest belt.
..... Click the link for more information. as the climate warms may lead to additional increases in methane release.
Much of the debate surrounding global warming has centered on the accuracy of scientific predictions concerning future warming. To predict global climatic trends, climatologists accumulate large historical databases and use them to create computerized models that simulate the earth's climateclimate,
average condition of the atmosphere near the earth's surface over a long period of time, taking into account temperature, precipitation (see rain), humidity, wind, barometric pressure, and other phenomena.
..... Click the link for more information. . The validity of these models has been challenged by some. Some skeptics say that the climate is too complicated to be accurately modeled, and that there are too many unknowns. Some also question whether the observed climate changes might simply represent normal fluctuations in global temperature. However, within climatology, meteorology, and related fields, knowledgeable experts generally accept that human activity is the primary cause for the observed global warming. Most scientists also agree that it is difficult in general to tie the effects of human activity to specific unusual or extreme weather events, but a number of studies released in 2014 agreed that the 2013–14 extreme heat waves in Australia would not have been as severe without the effects of emissions resulting from human activity.
Despite political controversies over global warming, the scientific consensus is increasingly focused on the likely serious consequences of human-caused global warming and the need for urgent and concerted action. Some climate scientists have proposed the use of geoengineering, such as introducing sulfur compounds into the atmosphere to produce global cooling (as volcanic eruptions do); this approach is not without risk, and has been rejected by most environmentalists. In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and DevelopmentUnited Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(UNCED) or Earth Summit,
an 11-day meeting held in June, 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to discuss the global conflict between economic development and environmental protection.
..... Click the link for more information. , over 150 nations signed a binding declaration on the need to reduce global warming.
In 1994, however, a UN scientific advisory panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), concluded that reductions beyond those envisioned by the treaty would be needed to avoid global warming. The following year, the advisory panel forecast a rise in global temperature of from 1.44 to 6.3°F; (0.8–3.5°C;) by 2100 if no action were taken to cut down on the production of greenhouse gases; a more recent study by the same panel estimated a rise of 3 to 7.5°F; (1.8 to 4°C;). Even if action is taken, the already released gases will persist in the atmosphere, and a rise of from 1 to 3.6°F; (0.5–2°C;) is expected to occur. A 2007 IPCC report, based on a three-year study, termed global warming "unequivocal" and said that most of the change was most likely due to human activities, and its report five years later restated those findings even more strongly.
A UN Conference on Climate Change, held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 resulted in an international agreement to fight global warming, which called for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases by industrialized nations. Not all industrial countries, however, immediately signed or ratified the accord, known as the Kyoto Protocol. In 2001 the G. W. Bush administration announced it would abandon the accord; because the United States produces about one quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, this was regarded as a severe blow to the effort to slow global warming. Despite the American move, most other nations agreed later in the year (in Bonn, Germany, and in Marrakech, Morocco) on the details necessary to convert the agreement into a binding international treaty, which came into force in 2005 after ratification by more than 125 nations.
In 2002 the Bush administration proposed several voluntary measures for slowing the increase in, instead of reducing, emissions of greenhouses gases. The United States, Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea created (2005) an agreement outside the Kyoto Protocol that proposed to reduce emissions through the development and implementation of new technologies. The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate established no commitments on the part of its members; it held its first meeting in 2006. Also in 2006, California enacted legislation that called for cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 25% by 2020; the state is responsible for nearly 7% of all such emissions in the United States. In 2007 U.S. President Bush called for the world's major polluting nations to set global and national goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but the nonbinding nature of the proposed goals provoked skepticism from nations that favored stronger measures.
The 15th UN Conference on Climate Change, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in Dec., 2009, failed to lead to a legally binding treaty on reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions. It had been hoped that the meeting would result in a new protocol that would replace that agreed to at Kyoto. The 17th conference, which met in 2012 in Durban, South Africa, agreed to extend the accord (which was extended to 2020 later in 2012) and also agreed to work toward an unspecified new accord; at the same time, however, Canada became the first ratifying nation to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. In 2015, in Paris at the 21st conference, the world's nations agreed for the first time to take measures to hold global warming below 3.6°F; (2°C;), and all parties, not just developed nations, agreed to reduce emissions; a revision of emissions targets (beginning in 2020) and a review of actual emission reductions (beginning in 2023) were required every five years under the treaty (signed 2016). Technological support and financial aid was also promised to developing nations. U.S. support for the 2015 agreement, however, was called into question with the election (2016) of Donald Trump as president; in office he moved to dismantle federal policies intended to address climate change. The present rate of carbon dioxide emissions has been increasing since 1970, and measures adopted so far have not slowed the increase in emissions.
See G. E. Christianson, Greenhouse (1999); T. Flannery, The Weather Makers (2006); E. Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006); E. Linden, The Winds of Change (2006); P. Conkling et al., The Fate of Greenland: Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change (2011); B. McKibben, ed., The Global Warming Reader (2012); W. D. Nordhaus, The Climate Casino (2013).
The United States alone disputes the evidence for global warming while its average citizen consumes as much as twenty-four times the resources as those in some nations.
The global average temperature in 2004 was the fourth warmest since systematic measurements began in the nineteenth century. Scientists noted that temperatures were particularly high in Alaska, the Caspian Sea region of Europe, and the Antarctic Peninsula. The highest global average was recorded in 1998, when a strong El Niño cycle in the Pacific Ocean boosted temperatures. The 2010 average temperatures tied the 1998 record as warmest, followed by 2005, 2003, 2002, and 2009 in that order, from highest to lowest.
The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2001 that the world could warm up by between 1.5 and nearly 6 degrees by the end of the twenty-first century. In their opinion, it was clear that human activities are to blame for most of the temperature rise.
Almost alone in the developed world, the United States disputes the human element in climate change. President George W. Bush failed to participate in world energy or global warming conferences, and U.S. delegates who did attend were accused of blocking key initiatives on energy use, biodiversity, and corporate responsibility. The administration’s failure to cooperate with other nations was especially ironic in light of the World Wildlife Fund’s finding that the average U.S. resident consumes almost twice as much resources as a citizen of the United Kingdom and more than twenty-four times as much as some Africans.
Conspiracy theorists claim that the U.S. government is not doing enough to protect its citizens from the effects of global warming and other geophysical dangers, such as the caldera (below-ground-level volcano) in Yellowstone. Up to fifty-two miles long, twenty-eight miles wide, and six miles deep, the Yellowstone caldera has been heating up for some time and, according to many observers, might blow at any time. The blast would be at least a thousand times more powerful than Mount St. Helens and shower seven inches of ash over a diameter of up to six hundred miles. It would blacken the world’s skies for years and pollute the atmosphere sufficiently to drop world temperatures, ruin agriculture, and annihilate a great deal of life on land and sea. Mount Rainier, Mount Etna, and numerous other volcanoes in the United States and the world are also ripe for eruption.
Other researchers worry that without proper preparations solar ejections of energy rays could destroy us. A massive solar flare directed toward Earth would demagnetize the binary codes of all computer technologies, totally disrupt the planet’s natural magnetic field, and cause global superstorms that would dwarf anything Earth has ever experienced.
Although they don’t receive much media attention, professional astronomers have warned us about asteroids, comets, and even planetary bodies in our solar system that could threaten Earth’s existence. Astronomers from nearly every nation traveled to observatories at the South Pole in 2004 to assess the cosmic influx and the danger to Earth.
A study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned that we are plundering the planet at a pace that outstrips its capacity to support life. More than a third of the natural world has been destroyed by humans over the past three decades. In order to support Western society’s high consumption levels, two additional planets the size of Earth would be required by the year 2050. Or, to put it another way, the earth will not be able to support its population and may simply call it quits by 2050.
Based on consumption of grain, fish, wood, and water, along with emissions of carbon dioxide from industry and internal combustion engines, the WWF derives an ecological “footprint” for each nation by estimating how much land is required to support each of its residents. The USA’s consumption footprint is about 30 acres per individual, while the UK and Western Europe as a whole stand at about 15.5 acres. In Ethiopia the figure is not quite 5 acres, falling to just 1.24 acres for Burundi, the country that consumes the least resources.
Some scientists, such as Bill Hare of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany’s leading global-warming research institute, have projected a detailed timetable of the destruction and distress that is likely to face the world in the next few years.
By the middle of the present century, global temperature is likely to move up to 2 degrees Centigrade above the preindustrial level. There will be substantial losses of Arctic sea ice, and species such as polar bears and walruses will be threatened. In tropical regions, marine animals that live in the coral will be forced out by high temperatures and the reefs may die. Mediterranean regions will be hit by more forest fires and insect pests, while in parts of North America, such as the Rockies, rivers may become too warm for trout and salmon. In South Africa, the world’s most remarkable floral kingdom will start to lose its species. Alpine areas from Europe to Australia will dry up. The broad-leaved forests of China will die. The numbers at risk from hunger will increase and another billion and a half people will face water shortages.
Early in the second half of the century, the global average temperature will rise to 3 degrees Centigrade above preindustrial levels. There is likely to be irreversible damage to the Amazon rainforest, leading to its collapse. There will be a rapid increase in populations exposed to hunger and water shortages. About 2070 the Arctic sea ice will disappear, and animal and marine species will disappear with it. Water stresses for humans will worsen, and whole regions of land will become unsuitable for producing food.
Although some scientists argue that the present global trend toward warming is but a cyclical phenomenon and point out that there have been many such trends in the past, conspiracy theorists exclaim that the handwriting is on the wall. If some measures are not soon taken, famine, droughts, and diseases will occur at previously unseen rates due to global warming. And they wonder why their government seems to be doing nothing to stop the rise of global temperatures or to prepare for its deleterious effects.