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Let's discuss climate change

Creator: Meiyjhe December 22, 2016 5:21pm
Meiyjhe
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Permalink | Quote | PM | +Rep December 22, 2016 5:21pm | Report
Hello everyone,

As I have studied environmental sciences I feel obliged to bring up the topic of climate change and environmental problems. This is because there are many misunderstandings when it comes to environmental problems and many parts that are not well understood. With this thread I hope to give some more understanding to the major outlines of climate change and spark up a discussion on environmental problems like climate change since this is a pressing issue.


Since there is a lot to talk about here is a table of contents so you can pick the topic you are interested in reading:
1. What is climate change?
2. How does climate change impact the world?
3. What causes this process? (No, not just fossil fuels)
4. What are the best case and the worst case scenarios?
5. What can we do about it?


1. What is climate change?
Climate change seems like a selfexplanatory term, but yet it is important to understand what these words actually mean. Climate refers to the average weather situation for a multitude of years, usually about three decades. You are probably familiar with terms such as tropical climates, continental climate, polar climates and/or others. These are standards that have a certain amount of temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation and other weather data that would make them fall into that category. These categories are used to give insight not just on the weather, but also on what kind of life could live there. This group of flora and fauna we call an ecology. So now that is the basic idea behind climate. The change of climate would mean that the average weather is continuously going to a state that is different from what it was within that 30 year period.

Currently the climate change people are talking about is the climate change driven by global warming. The increase of average temperature across the globe influences the quantity of ice, the air pressure (and thus wind speed -more on that later-), the humidity and precipitation. These are all different parts of what determines a climate, thus having an increase in temperature can significantly change the rate of the change of climate. This is why climate change is considered a pressing issue right now; not per se that it is happening, but at which rate it is happening.


2. How does climate change impact the world?
With the knowledge in mind on what climate change is, next up is to understand why it is harmful. In the previous chapter I discussed a few things that would change together with the main reason of the current climate change: global warming. The following things would change: The quantity of ice around the world, the air pressure, humidity and precipitation. Now I will explain to you how these parts influences the world.

The melting of ice is one of the most well-known causes of global warming, as it increases the sea level, harms the polar ecologies (best known the polar bears) and even speeds up the global warming process further.

The increase of sea levels would mean that people would have to continuously upgrade their dams, ****s and dunes just in order to protect land safe from floods. This continuous work would require billions of euros/dollars every year. To give some insight, per 1 meter sea level increase, about 4 million euros has to be spent for 1 kilometer of ****s alone (1). Not only does this cost a lot of money, but increasing the strength of ****s and dunes also require a lot of space, meaning that residential areas and natural areas have to be moved from their current location which has social and environmental impacts as well. The worst part is that this costly process has to be performed or else large land masses could disappear under the water, such as my dear Netherlands.

The reasoning as to why the melting of the ice caps also increases the rate of global warming has to do with two things: Albedo and captured polutants. Albedo is a phenomenon where the solar power reflects on a surface and casts back to outer space. The albedo effect relates to the color of the surface, dark surfaces capture a large amount of solar power (thus have a low albedo) and light surfaces reflect it instead (having a high albedo). As you know, ice is white and thus reflects most of the light that falls on it's surface. Reducing the amount of ice on the world will thus in turn mean that less light reflects back to outer space and instead gets captured by the darker soil and waters that used to be underneath the ice. That about albedo. The captured pollutants are harmful molecules that were frozen together with the water on the icecaps across 10.000 years. Although the pollutant concentrations were relatively low during most time periods, releasing them all into the waters and atmosphere within a relatively short period of time contributes to the greenhouse effect as well as the damaging of ecologies due to pollutants also being harmful to inhalation or ingestion.

The harm to ecological systems is a more general subject that does not apply to just the melting of ice caps, but to the change of weather in general. Like we established in the first chapter, ecologies are dependant on their climate. Changing this rapidly would make it significantly difficult for species to survive. Plants are usually built to receive a certain amount of light and water, changing the light and water for a plant could cause them to either starve or to drown. This is the reason why greenhouses are commonly used, as they allow the control of weather conditions within a certain space. If these plants were to die, then the animals depending on them would die with them. This will make it significantly harder to collect natural resources and would in turn require more controllable conditions and thus lead to higher costs of natural resources in general. Of course, the death of plants as you know, would also increase the speed of climate change. We do need plants to absorb the carbon dioxide after all.

The air pressure, humidity and precipitation are a significant part of the weather and will have significant results on more than the changes in ecology. The air pressure differences across the globe will increase as solar power increases air pressure. The higher the difference between pressures is, the more the high pressure tries to balance out with the low pressure. This process in the air is commonly known as wind. The humidity and precipitation on the other hand will work differently. The dry areas will become more dry and wet areas will become more wet. This has to do with the fact that increase of temperature does influence the amount of water vapor in the air, but it will also cause it to fall down quicker on the land. The dry areas usually rely on water staying in the air for a bit longer. The increase of precipitation and wind will result in more significant and frequent storms which could potentially cause more flooding and thus would require once again a large sum of money just to keep land habitable.


3. What causes this process? (No, not just fossil fuels)
The reasoning why climate change is bad is hopefully more cleared up now, but if we want to withhold these bad things from happening we first must understand where these issues are coming from.

As we have established before, the climate change we are currently talking about is mostly caused by global warming. The global warming happens due to the capturing of solar radiation within the atmosphere. Partially due to the surface and partially due to what reflects back towards the surface. What is reflected back is done by clouds as well as greenhouse gasses. A famous greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, but some other lesser known significant greenhouse gasses include methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NxO) and water vapor. Methane is mostly released by organic processes such as decomposition and farts. Nitrous oxide is released during combustion processes. Carbon dioxide on the other hand is released by both. The reasoning why nitrous oxide and methane are relevant however, is because methane is 25 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide is 298 times more effective. Carbon dioxide does have the largest contribution still, but this is just due to it's high concentration in the air (which is an average of 4% by default, recently 4% being the minimum).

You might be wondering whether most greenhouse gasses come from combustion and this is true. Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are results of combustion processes (and thus fossil fuels). This relates well when you consider the start of the industrial revolution. The graph below shows that a sudden peak happens about the same time as we started to massively combust fossil fuels. Together with it the carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide started to massively increase. Here is another graph that shows the temperature increase across many years, showing that they go quite along each other. In case you are wondering, the temperature data is collected via trees that can grow over thousands of years old. The width of the rings relate to the temperature. The greenhouse gasses were analysed by looking into millenia old polar ice and were compared for the greenhouse gasses at various depths.



As these figures show, fossil fuels are a major contributor to the greenhouse effect, but they are not the only one. In fact there is one that might be considered a larger contributor and that is the meat industry. The meat industry requires a significant amount of land for both the animals as well as plantations fortheir feed. They require a significant amount of water and also release a significant amount of methane. These all added up lead to a decrease of carbon dioxide uptake by forestry, a decrease of water that would have been used by the surrounding ecology and an increase in greenhouse gas releases.

There are more climate change contributors such as deforestry in general, combustion in general, the production of carbon intensive material such as cement, but are each less significant than these two giants.


4. What are the best case and the worst case scenarios?
Now that the concept of the current issue of climate change is more clear, we move on to how pressing the matter is. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) researches the data on what would happen in the future continuously and release reports every 6 years on what they imagine would happen in the future. They create scenarios based on different priorities of the economy and calculate how well humanity would be able to resolve the issue of climate change.

In the figure below you can see the different scenarios that the IPCC has imagined. The temperature increase is compared to the year 2000 and the bottom orange line is not a scenario, it is used as a comparison tool where the greenhouse gas concentrations would be constant. This means that the best case scenario is the blue line, an increase of almost 2 degrees Celsius. You might think this is insignificant, but scientists have come to a conclusion that the results that I have been talking about in part 2 will continue to happen at about the same rate as it is now. Considering the amount of mountain ice that has already been melted, the fact that still a high amount of money is heading to keeping our society flood proof every year as well as agriculture and that multiple ecologies around the world are already threatened by our influence, calling this a good scenario is pushing it.



The worst case scenario is represented in the graph as 4 degrees Celsius increase at the year 2100, but that is not the worst case scenario. The actual worst would be if this would stay increasing even after 2100. This might seem like a very obvious statement, but there is more to it than you might think.

The planet Venus sometimes gets compared to our global warming situation here on earth. The reasoning for that is because something similar happened there. Venus, the planet that is currently considered to be the hottest planet in our solar system, used to be a very average planet. However, volcanos erupt now and then on Venus, but unlike on earth there was no carbon cycle. No carbon dioxide was taken up by plants or other life forms. This meant that the carbon dioxide would forever remain in the atmosphere together with all the other greenhouse gasses. Volcanos kept erupting until the atmosphere of Venus reached a point where it got so hot there was no point of recovery any longer. This could potentially happen to earth as well. Imagine that the average global temperature would increase to a point where most flora died due to climate change. The carbon cycle gets broken down, no carbon dioxide gets uptaken any more. This would mean that there would come a point of no return and earth will become too hot for any plants to live on this planet.

Would this happen in your life? No. However, there are many who believe that climate change and global warming is only a threat to humanity and not to earth, but this is definitely not true. Global warming and climate change are threats to earth and humanity both, which is why we should take care of it.


5. What can we do about it?
We as a society can do tons to help reduce the damage done by climate change, but it is hard to make large steps as a people if you have to convince them first. You can decide to always use double printed paper instead of singular, you can decide to work towards less energy usage and fossil fuel use, you can decide to eat less meat. It is your life, it is up to you.

What I personally do is... most of them honestly. Not just because they are environmental options, but also economical ones. Meat and energy can get quite costly. If we would work to become more energy efficient and use alternative energy sources as well, we would have to pay less energy per month which can reduce the energy bill quite significantly. Meat is also much more expensive here than vegetables are. 300g being around 5 euros for meat here whereas if you would make a meal solely out of vegetables you would be able to make something here for 2 euros. Obviously the prices change per country, but it is worth looking into.

My message to you is not to be environmental, but to be sustainable. Ask yourself whether a decision is economical, environmental and socially (as in beneficial to society) acceptable. If it is none of the three then you might want to reconsider your decision. If everyone would already work to invest into a solution that is economically and environmentally viable long term, that would already help a ton to prevent further contribution to climate change.

Thank you all for reading. I hope this post wasn't too much of a read and that you found at least some part of it interesting. If you have any questions whatsoever, please share and I would answer to the best of my ability. I do not want this to be just about what I have to say though, so if anyone else has any input I would love to read it as well.

Source:
1. M.M. Hillen, S.N. Jonkman, W. Kanning, M.Kok, M.A. Geldenhuys and M.J.F. Stive. Coastal defence cost estimates. Case study of the Netherlands, New Orleans and Vietnam. April 2010.
Change is gooooood
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Yay! A science-y article. Already subbed. Hopefully some people jump in here to add feedback. I'll finish the read tomorrow and I might ask some stuff if it comes up.
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Ekki wrote:
Yay! A science-y article. Already subbed. Hopefully some people jump in here to add feedback. I'll finish the read tomorrow and I might ask some stuff if it comes up.
Sadly not much happening yet :D

I am still curious on what you think though
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Meiyjhe wrote:
The melting of ice is one of the most well-known causes of global warming, as it increases the sea level [...]
I was under the impression that water dilation due to increasing temperatures was the main factor of sea level increase (ice melting correlates quite well with sea level, not because of causation but because of a common cause). I guess it's true, but it's a small bit of info I didn't see here.

Meiyjhe wrote:
The air pressure, humidity and precipitation are a significant part of the weather and will have significant results on more than the changes in ecology. The air pressure differences across the globe will increase as solar power increases air pressure. The higher the difference between pressures is, the more the high pressure tries to balance out with the low pressure. This process in the air is commonly known as wind. The humidity and precipitation on the other hand will work differently. The dry areas will become more dry and wet areas will become more wet. This has to do with the fact that increase of temperature does influence the amount of water vapor in the air, but it will also cause it to fall down quicker on the land. The dry areas usually rely on water staying in the air for a bit longer. The increase of precipitation and wind will result in more significant and frequent storms which could potentially cause more flooding and thus would require once again a large sum of money just to keep land habitable.
Didn't know about this in particular. I often read that winds were increasing due to global warming but it's good to know how that works.

Meiyjhe wrote:
You probably know where most of the carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide would logically come from and these are fossil fuels.
This isn't obvious for a big bunch of people. I think a section dispelling some common misconceptions is, unfortunately, always a good addition to any climate change post. Natural causes climate change (sun cycles, volcanoes), conspiracy theories and flat out denialism are way too widespread when it comes to the topic. You might not want to dive into that *****torm, so ignore this if that's the case.


Meiyjhe wrote:
5. What can we do about it?
We as a society can do tons to help reduce the damage done by climate change, but it is hard to make large steps as a people if you have to convince them first. You can decide to always use double printed paper instead of singular, you can decide to work towards less energy usage and fossil fuel use, you can decide to eat less meat.
While it's always nice to do our fair bit to paliate global warming, it's really far from being enough. You'll never convince the whole population to stop consuming unless bussinesses with big environmental impacts get regulated. Efforts towards reverting global warming should focus on that instead of the average citizen.
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Ekki wrote:
I was under the impression that water dilation due to increasing temperatures was the main factor of sea level increase (ice melting correlates quite well with sea level, not because of causation but because of a common cause). I guess it's true, but it's a small bit of info I didn't see here.
Yes that is also an important factor, I indeed forgot to mention it.

Ekki wrote:
Didn't know about this in particular. I often read that winds were increasing due to global warming but it's good to know how that works.
Indeed, what I often found when I was talking about this topic is that people have no idea why it works the way it works. That is why I thought it would be good to expand on this a little bit more in the post :D

Ekki wrote:
This isn't obvious for a big bunch of people. I think a section dispelling some common misconceptions is, unfortunately, always a good addition to any climate change post. Natural causes climate change (sun cycles, volcanoes), conspiracy theories and flat out denialism are way too widespread when it comes to the topic. You might not want to dive into that *****torm, so ignore this if that's the case.
Also agreed, I really did my best in the post to be as neutral and complete as possible throughout the post. I guess I missed a spot, I will edit it.


Ekki wrote:
While it's always nice to do our fair bit to paliate global warming, it's really far from being enough. You'll never convince the whole population to stop consuming unless bussinesses with big environmental impacts get regulated. Efforts towards reverting global warming should focus on that instead of the average citizen.
That is true, but policy makers and government have the power of that. We as a people can only decide to focus on ourselves. If we were to look into our flaws and work to fix it as a people, we would make a significant change. I know that environment alone isn't enough for people to rethink their behaviour, that is why I also expanded on it being economical as well.

Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it :D
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