Imagine hundreds of tons of melting ice the size of apartment complexes falling into the sea. Now imagine 80 of the world’s largest cities underwater because of that melted ice (think of the movie Waterworld without terrible acting by Kevin Costner). Oh, and imagine this catastrophe being entirely our fault.
Devastating weather patterns have received a lot of attention in the news lately. Sea level rise is one of the most, if not the most, alarming event that shows climate how change is laying waste to our planet. Over the last two decades, the polar ice caps have been losing significant mass, glaciers have continued to shrink, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere snow cover has unremittingly declined.
Dr. Jason Box, a glaciologist who studies the receding ice caps in Greenland, estimates that Greenland has lost enough ice on its’ western side to supply Los Angeles with fresh water for about the 2,000 years. Think about that – one region of one country has lost that much ice.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, recently released a new report called the “IPCC 5TH Assessment Report” on climate change. The group within the IPCC responsible for the report consisted of 309 scientists from 70 countries around the word and drew on more than 12,000 research papers in reaching its findings.
Their research concluded that the increase in the world’s temperature has not only led to an unprecedented number of droughts and wildfires, but has been the major contributor to the shocking amount of ice around the world melting. The report also definitively states that the sea level is rising at a faster rate than it has in the last two millennia and that climate change is not merely hypothetical, but an actual threat to the planet.
So, we know that ice is melting faster and that sea levels are rising, but who and what is responsible for all this?
In short – it’s almost all our own fault.
Since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s, Earth’s temperature has risen significantly. Most scientists attribute this rise in temperature to human activities and the industrial revolution.
The leading cause of global warming is believed to be “greenhouse gases”, or emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas. The burning of fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; the more gas there is in the air – the more the gas acts as an insulator for the atmosphere by retaining heat.
That’s the basic theory- now here are some numbers to put things in perspective: The atmosphere has consumed so much greenhouse gas that amount of carbon, methane and nitrous oxide have been pushed to unprecedented levels not known in the last 800,000 years. The ocean has absorbed almost 30 percent of the emitted carbon dioxide, contributing to the acidification and warming of the ocean. We are essentially pouring heat and poison into our oceans and air, without due consideration for the enormous consequences.
Not only has the warming of the ocean contributed to a rise in sea levels, it is on a pace that will very likely exceed projections made as recently as 2010. Revised projections of sea level rise indicate that we are 50 years ahead of the 2010 estimates.
So, what are we going to do about it? Well, there’s not much we can do except to completely undo what we have been doing in the last century. Even our food consumption habits must radically change.
For example, a report done by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States found that current production levels of meat contribute 36 billion tons of “CO2-equivalent” greenhouse gases the world produces every year.
Funny statistic time: TheScientificAmerican.com reports, “…producing half a pound of a hamburger patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000 pound car 10 miles.”
We are at least beginning to effect change by placing more emphasis on renewable energy, but even if the entire world population drastically cuts its emissions, most effects of climate change will last for centuries to come.