In the last decade, there has been much discussion on the impact of global warming on our planet. Various components of the global warming topic have been debated by a significant number of individuals. Global warming as fact or fiction, human involvement or (lack thereof) in the rate and speed at which global warming has accelerated, as well as ways to combat the threat of global warming have all been topics of interest.
As more research is presented about global warming, select groups of prominent educators, authors, environmentalists, scholars, co-workers, neighbors and the like have conceded that as greenhouse gas conditions rise across our planet; humans have had the greatest impact on climate change. (IPCC 2007) We will seek to examine key components of human interaction with the environment citing historical fluctuations in atmospheric temperature due to increased greenhouse gas emission, abuse and overconsumption of natural resources as evidence for global warming, as well assess human carbon footprint impact in relationship to specific carbon dioxide (CO2) gas emissions. Thus, the goal of this composition will be to support the argument that due to overproduction of harmful greenhouse gases, humans have become the primary culprits in increasing the onset of global warming and damage to our ecosystem.
As defined by a 2011 National Geographic internet commentary “Global warming refers to extreme changes in the Earth’s climate. The term illustrates dramatic increases in atmospheric and water temperatures experienced as a result of growing amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.”(NG, 2011). Another article cites global warming in reference to “climate change that causes an increase in the average temperature of the lower atmosphere. Global warming can have many different causes, but it is most commonly associated with human interference, specifically the release of excessive amounts of greenhouse gases.” (EPA, 2006)
According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “scientists from NASA and other research institutions around the world have been routinely collecting temperature data from a wide number of locations. Since the 1800s, records indicate that Earth’s average temperature has continued to increase. “The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has maintained global average monthly and annual records of combined land and ocean surface temperatures for more than 130 years. The data shows that temperatures have climbed to more than 1.8°F (1°C) above pre-industrial levels as of 2015, and the long-term global upward trend is clear.” (UCSUSA, 2016)
Adding to the evidence of direct temperature measurements, studies by independent teams of researchers indicate that the planet is undergoing one of the largest climate changes in Earth’s history, and also one of the fastest in the past 65 million years. Not only that, the current warming is projected to occur at a rate 10 times faster than any change over that period. (UCSUSA, 2016). How and why are these temperature changes so drastic? A 2012 PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) study reported significant findings:
“Compared with natural factors that influence climate (including solar variation and volcanic eruptions), human activities – primarily burning fossil fuels and deforestation – have been a major contributor to climate change over the last 50 years. Burning coal, oil and gas and destroying forests overloads the atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide, adding to heat-trapping gases that already are present in the atmosphere. Combined, these gases act like a blanket covering the earth. ” (PNAS, 2012)
The evidence supporting the argument that global temperature is rising is compelling. Many of these reports confirm that as greenhouse gas amounts rise, there is also a rise in global temperature. It can be assessed that though natural incremental temperature changes do occur, the changes that have occured in even the last 50 years have had an even more significant impact on the environment. This theory leans further into the argument that humans have had a significant impact on rising greenhouse gas emissions due to more recent mass population and production of goods that emit harmful greenhouse gas compounds. The effect of abuse and overconsumption of natural resources in relationship to global warming will be assessed next.
Living entities are born consumers; not in the traditional financial sense of buying and selling, but consumers of resources, such as land and food. As time has given way to larger population increases, humans most notably, especially in areas of the world that are seen as more industrialized and capitalist in nature, are arguably the largest consumers in their regions.
Astute sociologist John Urry proclaimed in a 2016 presentation of findings that:
” Today’s global economy is deeply dependent upon, and embedded into, abundant cheap oil. Most industrial, agricultural, commercial, domestic and consumer systems are built around the plentiful supply of ‘black gold’ (and gas, see Darley, 2004). As Homer-Dixon notes: ‘oil powers virtually all movement of people, materials, foodstuffs, and manufactured goods – inside our countries and around the world’ (2006: 81). It is remarkably versatile, convenient and, during the 20th century, was relatively cheap.
(cont.)This infrastructure was a 20th-century phenomenon, with the US as the disproportionately high-energy producing and consuming society. Its economy and society were based upon the combination of automobility and electricity. While the US possesses 5 percent of the world’s population, it consumes a quarter of the world’s energy and produces almost a quarter of global carbon emissions (Nye, 1999: 6). And it is predicted that, with business-as-usual, global energy consumption would increase 2.46 times between 2000 and 2050 (Homer-Dixon, 2006: 328)”. (Urry, 2016)
This is not to say that smaller and less economically astute nations are off the hook. In countries that are poorer, there are higher prices/demand and less availability for goods such as charcoal, timber, and agricultural land (on which to grow crops for harvesting crops such as sugar, corn, rice, and etc.). Residents seek to cut down important rainforests to acquire financial gain, which unfortunately leads to practices of deforestation and in aquatic areas; overfishing thus hurting the ecosystem in return. As trees are cut down and begin to expire, they release housed carbon dioxide CO2. Continuous cutting down of these forests releases CO2 compounds in the parts per million year. In areas where overfishing is common, such as Asia and the Caribbean, not only is aquatic life suffering from extension due to changes in water temperature and acidity, various species of aquatic life are not able to reproduce fast enough for the growing appetite of consumers.
With consideration that methane, carbon dioxide, and chlorofluorocarbon compounds are the by-products of human activities such as driving cars, electricity usage, and burning of fossil fuels, it could be assessed that with increased numbers of cars are driven, electricity used, forests cut down, fossil fuels burned, as well as struggling and industrialized nations drive to sustain their economies by producing exponential amounts of goods, jobs, and services, the more and more harmful by-product compounds are created. These compounds which occur naturally in small doses (ie; natural degradation/decay of organic matter) are unfortunately produced on a much larger scale, often faster, and in more volume as population growth is experienced.
Human contribution to overconsumption of natural resources on the planet is undeniable. The part of the atmosphere where excess CO2 has gathered, has expanded and warmed more dramatically in recent years at exactly the same time when emissions from human activity has increased, according to studies (PNAS, 2012) These texts also link the argument that human interaction with the environment whether direct and intentional (releasing harmful chemicals knowingly into the environment) or indirect and unintentional (example: cutting down rainforest to create land for agriculture which in turn disrupts the absorption of CO2 to trees, thus trapping gases in the atmosphere), disrupts the delicate balance of maintaining the integrity of the ozone layer. Furthermore, the continued deforestation of raw goods and land in order to supply mass numbers of individuals with products that they may not actually need speaks to an even larger problem of how the carbon footprint is maximized. The definition for carbon footprint is often misinterpreted as a definition of a measurement of actual area. Carbon footprint actually refers to “the mass of cumulated CO2 emissions, for example, through a supply chain or through the life-cycle of a product” (UCSUSA, 2016). Findings from a 2009 scientific study with population growth in relationship to global warming highlighted a few key components :
“The size of the carbon legacy is closely tied to consumption patterns. Under current conditions, a child born in the United States will be responsible for almost seven times the carbon emissions of a child born in China and 168 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.
The globalization of the world economy, moreover, can mask the true carbon footprint of individual nations. China, for example, recently surpassed the United States to become the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter. But a large portion of those gases is emitted in the production of consumer goods for the United States and Europe. Thus a large share of “China’s” greenhouse gas footprint is actually the displaced footprint of high-consumption western nations.”
Armed with this knowledge, and crediting other findings similar to the aforementioned, statistics show that as human population rises, especially in countries that are of the highest consumption rates, the lingering carbon footprint exceeds generations. These same countries, whose citizens continue to adopt a laissez-faire attitude not only in their own accompaniment to exasperating the global warming issue, but also bring along nations to aid in their overconsumption will see a dramatic shift in the way that they operate in the near future.
Humans would do better to understand their place in the environment and set practices forth that would slow if not all but hinder releasing more harmful compounds into the atmosphere. The continued drive to create “the best” of what our civilization has to offer, is also driving away the very thing that is needed to sustain; the environment.