The earth is warming. Ninety-seven percent of scientists have agreed on the consensus that climate change is real and caused by man.
Effects are currently being observed across the landscape. A drastic change is needed to stop a path that could fundamentally change the world.
According to Tristan L’Ecuyer, an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, the changing climate could have drastic impacts on the future world. However, this won’t be an easy fix.
“Predicting the future climate is a difficult problem because there are so many complexities involved,” L’Ecuyer says.
Climate change is complicated. If the world is warming, why did it snow during April? There is a difference between weather and climate.
Weather is the immediate conditions; such as rain or today’s temperature. Climate is the average of all weather over an extended period of time. While the weather varies from day to day, the climate has shown a consistent increase over the last century.
In the last 15 years, the warmest 10 years in recorded history have occurred. According to anyone with a background in statistics, it is clear something has changed. The Earth’s climate has increased by about two degrees. The oceans have risen a foot since the industrial revolution in the United States around 1820.
The carbon dioxide currently in the air that resulted from human activities will take 100’s of years to dissipate. The current effects of climate change are inevitable and there is a guaranteed two-degree warming to come.
Two degrees of climate change is significant and longer-term climate model simulations predict an outside chance that changes could be as large as 10 degrees. Such a warming would fundamentally change the earth – and not in a good way.
“If we continue to make strides towards reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then we can limit the impact,” L’Ecuyer says.
The change in climate has been noticeable over the past few decades in Greenland. Here, the ice sheets are melting at an alarming rate. This ice sheet melting is likely a responsible for a third of global sea level rise.
L’Ecuyer is studying the clouds to see what role they might play in climate change.
The reason clouds are important to climate change has to do with heat and sunlight. Clouds reflect sunlight, cooling the Earth’s surface, but they also heat the earth by acting as a blanket, trapping heat on the surface.
On bright surfaces, this heating effect is larger. This is the cloud greenhouse effect and could be an important feedback that enhances the impacts of climate change. This is the case in Greenland.
Climate change can also be physically seen in other parts of the world. The Netherlands is below sea level and they have already started to construct walls to prevent flooding. Even a few more inches of sea level rise could also cause monumental problems for coastal cities such as Miami.
Miami already experiences consistent flooding during high tide due to the sea level rising. How long will it be before high tide is all the time?
With current trends, about 50 years.
In the United States, cities have the resources to combat the rising sea level. However, in developing countries, the outlook is grim.
Several poor countries rely on rice crops which grow near the coast. Huge fractions of these countries would need to move inland, away from the coast to avoid ending up underwater. The problem is the land is already occupied. Also, most developing countries do not possess the infrastructure to migrate an entire nation.
Why does it seem like no one is talking about this alarming issue?
Neil Stenhouse, an assistant professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication, researches the intersection of science communication and politics, especially climate change. At George Mason University, he conducted research with the Center for Climate Change Communication.
“One thing to consider is … most people barely think about global warming at all,” Stenhouse says, explaining the general reason climate change is not addressed often.
“It’s a big abstract scientific issue, regardless of politics [people] would rather not believe that it’s happening at all, because it’s bad and kind of difficult to wrap your head around as an issue and understand what it means,” Stenhouse says.
Another reason many individuals oppose climate change action involves economic stakes. Stenhouse says, “There have been deliberate efforts to discredit the science by people who are funded and profiting from industries who would be regulated if more action was taken.”
Change starts on the individual level. People can choose to ride a bike instead of a car. They can eliminate plastic water bottles or other unnecessary waste.
Overall, L’Ecuyer is positive about the direction of the world. Germany is aiming to receive 45 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2030. Other countries and many U.S. cities have embraced the Kyoto Protocol set in 1992 which verifies that “global warming exists” and “man-made CO2 emissions have caused it.”
Regarding the question of whether it’s worth it to save millions affected by climate change around the world, L’Ecuyer adds, “If you have to move millions of people, that’s going to be a very expensive undertaking and you could probably save a lot of money by trying to do something now.”