In the 1950s, the first reports of increasing global temperatures were found in local newspapers, where journalists referenced scientific studies on climate change. The term was casually used until the 70s when scientists began publishing their papers and other work regarding climate change. In the 80s, NASA climate scientists testified before Congress to the effects of climate change and the studies outlining the causes and potential consequences of rising temperatures.
Now, almost 70 years after the initial introduction to rising global temperatures, among growing natural disasters and extensive scientific evidence, global warming has become a political debate, dismissed by one party and spoken of with urgency by the other.
Growing Concern of Rising Temperatures
Political associations aside, science is a difficult side to argue against. Studies show an overall change in temperature over the last few decades — a frightening trend to continue when our sensitive ecosystems hang in the balance. Although some conservatives believe temperature change is part of the worldly cycle of ice ages and volcanic activity, scientific evidence suggests global warming is largely the cause of human influence.
One of the ecosystems to undergo the consequences of global warming is the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest continuous reef system off the northeastern coast of Australia, known as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Although coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean ground, they are home to more than 400 types of coral, exist as a habitat and breeding ground for endangered ocean species, and are visited by 25 percent of fish at some point in their life cycle.
Coral reefs are considered vital to the overall health of our oceans, but the last several decades have shown that the reefs are dying at a growing rate due to increasing ocean temperatures, overfishing, and pollution. Warmer water temperatures cause the corals to release the algae that give them nutrients and color and causes coral bleaching, which is a sign of stress among the reef. The rise in ocean temperatures is also considered one of several factors contributing to the increase in natural disasters that occur as evaporated ocean water resides in the atmosphere.
Political Conspiracies vs Science
Even with signs of the looming dangers of global warming around the world, climate change remains a politically divisive topic due to the changes it would necessitate if it were accepted. Forty-two percent of Americans believe the hype surrounding global warming is exaggerated and not as bad as scientists imply; however, most Americans do indeed believe global warming is happening. Climate scientists remain undivided on the issue of climate change, as studies can pinpoint the exact percentage of temperature change that has occurred.
Yet, businesses and governments have avoided acknowledging and addressing global warming for the financial implications it might have. Reversing climate change, or even just slowing it down, would require a hard stop of the largest current contributors to greenhouse gases — animal agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels. However, these are two of the biggest industries in the world; we have created our cultures around eating meat and the ability to travel.
While it’s understandable that the corporations depending on these resources want to avoid shutting down and losing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars, the fate of the world may depend on it. Growing environmental concern has caused an uptick in vegetarian diets, as more people realize that the demand for meat is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases. Although transportation can be a more difficult contribution to avoid, many eco-conscious consumers choose to avoid eating meat to reduce their environmental footprint.
While avoiding meat is a relatively simple action, finding ways to reduce your use of fossil fuels can be difficult without buying an expensive electric car, especially for people who have to travel often. However, companies have been investing in renewable energy for several years now, as oil has been acknowledged as a finite and dwindling resource for decades. Solar power is a growing renewable resource, one that may soon be used to help power cars and further reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
In the meantime, however, those who are able to use public transit have the potential to reduce their environmental footprint by using more sustainable forms of transportation. Urbanization has concentrated more than half of Earth’s population, causing large, condensed cities to contribute 70 percent of fossil fuel emissions. Those living in urban environments should support public transit daily in order to actively avoid contributing to the problem.
Growing Public Health Risks
Although climate change deniers are unlikely to make lifestyle changes to reduce their greenhouse emissions until laws require them to do so, eco-conscious consumers have taken matters into their own hands to reduce their environmental impact. Scientists have speculated a large number of imminent consequences due to global warming, from environmental disasters to food security, to vector-borne diseases. These are all expected to have notable effects on public health, some of which are already being recorded.
According to the University of Nevada, Reno, global warming is causing the loss of biodiversity, and could potentially contaminate water sources and cause droughts, which could decimate crops around the world. Studies show that the number of people at risk of malnutrition could double by 2050 because of the effects of extreme temperatures on food output.
Another public health risk associated with rising temperatures is the spread of vector-borne diseases that are transferred through mosquitoes and ticks that thrive in warmer temperatures. Areas surrounding tropic and subtropic areas will likely see an increase in malaria cases, while parts of North America are more likely to be affected by a growing number of cases of Lyme disease. While it might seem surprising that a few degrees could have such a large impact around the world, such is the impact of global warming.
Although our government has been resistant in committing to environmental protection initiatives, small steps are being taken towards environmental consciousness, such as tax breaks for corporations investing in renewable energy. It’s uncertain what the effects of transitioning to mostly using renewable energy might be, and it’s uncertain if we have the means to do so yet; however, by acknowledging global warming as fact, the government will be taking a step towards giving people the information they need to make informed decisions about their environmental impact. Although the potential changes to ensue may be difficult to navigate, allowing science to lead the conversation is a step towards a solution to climate change.
By Frankie Wallace