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Climate Change Series | Part II: Why Care?

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 24th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT
This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change.  Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue.  Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      —————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

The Effects of Climate Change

Sea level rise would threaten the world’s coastal cities, including Miami. Over 100 million people live within three feet of sea level. In the developing world, sea level rise would hit the hardest, causing massive refugee crises and deaths from disease and other impacts. The effects will also be felt at home. According to Jeff Goodell of the Rolling Stone, with just three feet of sea level rise, 1/3 of South Florida will be underwater. With six feet, ½ of South Florida will be gone. The Florida Keys are already vulnerable to sea level rise[1]. Since 1920, South Florida has seen over 9 inches of sea level rise.[2] The projected sea level rise is double that. South Florida expects to see a sea level rise of 9 to 24 inches in the next 50 years. NOAA projects a general sea level rise from 2.5 to 6.6 feet by 2100[3].

Temperature projections are varied due to uncertainties about carbon emissions in the future. If we lower our emissions, warming will slow, but the converse is also true. The IPCC expects a global temperature increase of at least .2 degrees Celsius per decade for the next two decades[4]. Even if we stopped emitting carbon today, the result of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere would increase. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change recommends a hard limit of 2 degrees Celsius warming. After this point, dangerous positive feedback mechanisms would enhance carbon inputs into the atmosphere and thus increase warming. Such feedbacks include the release of methane from Arctic permafrost, release of carbon from the oceans, desertification, forest fires, increased water vapor (a greenhouse gas), and a loss of albedo from Arctic glaciers (Snow and ice reflect heat back towards the atmosphere. Without such cover due to climate change, this capacity is reduced.)

v  Plant life will migrate toward the poles, and up to ¼ of all organisms will go extinct, including the polar bear.

v  Extreme weather events will happen more often. Without natural barriers to erosion, the effects of such storms will be worse.

v  Rainfall patterns will change. Some areas will receive record amounts of rain while others will go into prolonged drought. In areas such as China and Northern Africa, the movement of desert threatens arable land.

v  Certain diseases such as malaria will thrive due to warmer climates, putting much of the tropical and semi-tropical world at risk.

v  Damage caused by climate change will be measured in trillions of dollars. The Stern Review estimates damage due to climate change at about 5% of global GDP[5].

v  Water supplies will be critically reduced due to salinization, increased evaporation, and drought. It has been said that the next wars will be fought over water supplies.

v  Many parts of the world that depend on agriculture, including the Midwest, could suffer from drought and increase pestilence, decreasing global yields. Changes in ocean salinity will impact fisheries around the world and the economies that depend on fishing.

 

Sources of Greenhouse Gases

Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Here is the breakdown of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States[6]:

  • Electricity: 33%
  • Transportation: 28% (90% of which is petroleum)
  • Industry: 20%
  • Commercial and Residential: 11%
  • Agriculture: 8% (fertilizers, livestock)
  • Deforestation combines for 20% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Cement: 4% worldwide
  • Aviation: fastest growing: 3.5% worldwide
  • Garbage: 3% worldwide

More information worldwide[7]:

  • Coal: 25% Gas 19% Oil 21%
  • Direct Emissions: 34.6% (Agriculture, Land Use, Waste)
  • 76% CO2 15% Methane 7% Nitrous Oxide
  • The atmospheric carbon levels have passed 400 parts per million, the highest level in 3 million years. Some scientists have advocated for 350 ppm as a safe level. We’re far from that[8].

 

Sources:


[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-the-city-of-miami-is-doomed-to-drown-20130620?page=2

[2] http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/07/05/3485930/debbie-wasserman-schultz-says.html

[3] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/06/noaa-sea-level-rise/1750945/

[4] http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

[5] http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/stern_review_report.cfm

[6] http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources.html

[7] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/31/this-giant-chart-shows-where-all-our-greenhouse-gases-come-from/

[8] http://americablog.com/2013/05/global-warming-heat-trapping-co2-concentration-passes-400-ppm-milestone.html