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Climate Change Research Paper Sample

Synoptic Description of the Climate Change

By definition, climate change refers to a change in regional or worldwide climate patterns as a result of the augmented levels of atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuels. The term covers every form of climatic discrepancy regardless of its physical causes or statistical nature. In effect, climate change may be a result of changes in the global orbital elements, solar activity, or anthropogenic forcing. According to McKibben (2011), it is strictly used to indicate a momentous change, which has significant environmental, economic, and social effects, in the mean values of temperature of the amount of precipitation after a specific period of time. The means are usually taken over time of the order of a decade and so on. The term climate change is sometimes used interchangeably with global warming. Conversely, there is some bit of confusion in defining these terms even within proficient scientific organizations. According to several insightful types of research, it is erroneous to equate global warming to climate change. Notably, certain climatic implications from variations in radiative forcing can end in extensive alterations in the large-scale climate patterns, even without global cooling or global warming.

Causes of the Climate Change

The overall worldwide temperature depends on the balance between the energy that enters and that which leaves the planetary system. The incoming energy from the sun is taken in by the Earth system, which leads to the warming of the Earth. Therefore, the Earth ceases to warm and cools when this energy from the sun is reflected in space. Several factors, both human and natural, can lead to changes in the energy balance. The first example includes alterations in the greenhouse effect. It affects the amount of heat that gets trapped in the atmosphere. The second factor is variations in the amount of energy from the sun reaching the Earth. The third includes changes in the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. These three factors are the main causes of changes in the global climate.

Several scientists have put together the general picture of the Earth’s climate, which dates back to hundreds of thousands of years. They have analyzed some measures of climate like tree rings, ice cores, pollen remains, glacier lengths, as well as ocean sediments. Additionally, they have also studied changes in the Earth’s path around the sun. These records point out that the climate system fluctuates naturally after several thousands of years. Generally, changes in climate before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution during the 1700s were a result of natural causes, including volcanic eruptions, changes in the energy from the sun, as well as, changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gas. Nonetheless, current climatic changes cannot be caused by naturally occurring factors only. According to credible research, natural causes alone could not cause the recent warming of the atmosphere, especially since the beginning of the twentieth century. Most of this warming is attributed to several human activities.

The Greenhouse Effect

The sunlight that reaches the surface of the Earth is either absorbed or reflected. Once the planet absorbs this energy from the sun, it releases some of it back into the atmosphere in the form of heat, otherwise referred to as infrared radiation. Greenhouse gases like CO2 (carbon dioxide), H2O (water vapor), and CH4 (methane) absorb certain amounts of energy, which then prevents or slows down the loss of heat back into space. In essence, these greenhouse gases play the role of a blanker by making the earth's surface warmer than it should be. This process is referred to as the Greenhouse Effect. Tens of thousands of years ago, the levels of carbon dioxide appeared to follow the glacial cycles. CO2 levels during the warm interglacial periods have been high. On the other hand, CO2 levels during cold glacial periods have been low. This was a result of the cooling or heating of the Earth’s surface, which leads to substantial changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gases. Scientists take these changes to be positive feedback, which amplifies the existing changes in temperature.

Human activities, especially during the commencement of the Industrial Revolution during the mid 18th century, have added significantly to changes in climate by toting up carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. These emissions have led to an increase in the greenhouse effect, which then causes the temperature of the Earth's surface to increase. The major human activity that affects the rate and amount of climate change is the emission of greenhouse gases mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. The most significant greenhouse gases that come from human activities include methane, carbon dioxide, (N2O) nitrous oxide, and others.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas that adds to current climate change. As part of the carbon cycle, carbon dioxide is absorbed and then emitted naturally through plant and animal respiration, atmosphere-ocean exchange, and volcanic eruptions. Human activities that increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere include the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use. Notably, these activities release a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

According to the research, the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have amplified up to 40 percent ever since the pre-industrial ages. During the 18th century, it was approximately 280 ppmv (parts per million by volume). By 2010, it had increased to 390 ppmv. The recently observed level of carbon dioxide is the highest in about 800, 000 years. In the remote past, several volcanic eruptions contributed huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Nonetheless, a review carried out by the U.S. Geological Survey points out that human activities nowadays emit over 135 times as much carbon dioxide as volcanic eruptions every year. Currently, human activities contribute more than 30 billion carbon dioxide into the atmosphere year in year out. This causes a build-up in the atmosphere that can be equated to filling a tub with water, where water from the faucet is more than the amount being drained away.

Methane

Methane comes from both human activities and naturally occurring, including extraction of fossil fuel, agricultural activities, natural wetlands, and motor transport. The amount of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere is the highest in approximately 650, 000 years. Human activities, especially during the 20th century have ended in the increase of CH4 concentrations. Nonetheless, the rate of its increase has slowed down drastically over the recent decades.

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Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide comes from both human and natural activities either, mainly through natural biological processes and agricultural activities. Other processes, including the burning of fossil fuels, also add to the creation of N2O. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Nitrous oxide concentrations have increased by approximately 18 percent. In fact, it has rapidly increased towards the end of the century. Contrastingly, ice core samples depict N2O concentrations varying slightly for about 11500 years before the Industrial Revolution commenced.

Other Greenhouse Gases

Water vapor is also another example of the most abundant greenhouse gas. Despite its short atmospheric lifespan, it is also the most essential when it comes to the magnitude of its role in the greenhouse effect. Some human activities can influence the levels of local water level. On a global scene, however, its concentration is controlled by temperature, which then influences the rates of precipitation and evaporation (New, Todd, Hulme, & Jones, 2001). In effect, the global water vapor concentration is not affected by human emissions directly.

Another compelling greenhouse gas is the O3 (tropospheric ozone) despite having a short atmospheric lifespan. Ruddiman (2003) states that several chemical reactions could create ozone, especially from emissions of nitrogen oxides or capricious organic compounds from power plants, automobiles, and other commercial or industrial sources when there is sunlight. Notably, ozone traps heat and pollutes the environment. Consequently, it can lead to respiratory health issues, as well as, bring damage to ecosystems and crops.

Other greenhouse gases are categorized under F-gases, which include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). They are mostly used in foaming agents, coolants, solvents, fire extinguishers, aerosol propellants, and pesticides. F-gases, unlike ozone and water vapor, possess a long atmospheric lifespan; therefore, some of them will impinge on the climate for numerous centuries.

Changes in the Sun’s Energy

According to Parrish (1993), several natural occurrences also influence the climate, which then affects the amount of solar energy that reaches the surface of the Earth. Some of these changes include changes in the orbit of the Earth and within the Sun, as well. Changes within the Sun can have an impact on the intensity of the sunlight, which usually reaches the surface. Therefore, sunlight’s intensity can bring a cooling effect when there is a week solar intensity or warming when the solar intensity is strong. The Sun, according to Wilson & Hugh (1991), goes around an 11-year cycle of minimal ups and downs in regards to intensity; however, its effect on the climate is minimal. Other events that can influence the amount of sunlight that strikes the Earth’s surface include the position and tilt of the Earth’s axis, as well as, changes in the shape of its orbit.

Notably, alterations in the intensity of the Sun have had an impact on the Earth’s climate for some time. For instance, Little Ice Age, which happened from the 17th to 19th centuries, may have been somehow caused by a small phase of solar activity between 1645 and 1715, which corresponded with lower temperatures. The Little Ice Age was a slight cooling that happened in Europe, North America, and other areas around the world. Alterations in the Earth’s orbit have also impacted climate for several centuries. As a fact, the amount of sunshine during the summer on the Northern parts of the Earth is affected by alterations in the orbit taken by the Sun. It somehow controls the advancement or retreating of ice sheets. In view, these changes were the main causes of precedent cycles of ice ages, which made the Earth experience long instances of ice ages and short interglacial periods. Variations in solar energy have kept on affecting the climate for some time now. Nonetheless, apart from the recurring 11-year cycle, solar activity has been somehow constant, hence does not explain the current warming of the Earth's surface.

Changes in the Reflectivity

Sunlight that reaches the Earth's surface is either absorbed or reflected. The amount being absorbed or reflected depends on the Earth’s atmosphere or surface. Light-colored surfaces and objects like clouds and snow appear to reflect the most while darker surfaces and objects like forests, the ocean, or soil appear to absorb the most sunlight. Albedo is a term expressed in percentage, which refers to total solar radiation reflected from a surface or object. The whole Earth has an Albedo of approximately 30 percent. This figure means that seventy percent of the sunlight reaching the Earth is taken in, which then warms water, land, and the atmosphere. According to Svensmark, Bondo, & Svensmark (2009), aerosols also affect reflectivity. They refer to liquid droplets or small particles in the atmosphere, which can either reflect or absorb sunlight. The climatic impacts of aerosols, unlike greenhouse gases, contrast depending on the place they are emitted and the substance they are made of. Aerosols that mirror sunlight have a certain cooling effect. Examples include particles from sulfur emissions and volcanic eruptions. On the other hand, those that soak up sunlight have a certain warming effect. The best example is black carbon.

According to Watson & Harrison (2005), variations in reflectivity, for instance, the increase in cloud cover or melting of ice, have added to climate change over time. More often than not, they act as feedbacks to other procedures. Volcanic eruptions have been the most noticeable. Particles from volcanic eruptions that land on the upper atmosphere reflect sufficient sunlight to bring a cooling effect on the Earth’s surface by several tenths of a degree over a long period of time. Nonetheless, particles from one eruption cannot produce a significant effect, since they stay in the atmosphere for little time when compared to greenhouse gases. Changes in how mankind uses land have affected the Earth’s reflectivity. Urbanization, reforestation, deforestation, and desertification, as described by Ruddiman (2005), often lead to changes in the climate, especially in the places that they happen. These effects look average over the whole globe but are significant on a regional level. The amount of aerosol particles has also increased due to the number of human activities on the planet. Generally, aerosols of anthropogenic origin have a cooling effect that offsets approximately a third of the overall warming effects from greenhouse gas emissions. A reduction in the emission of aerosols can, therefore, end in a more warming effect. Aimed reduction in the emission of black carbon, on the other hand, can lead to a reduction in warming.

Occurrence of the Climate Change

The occurrence of climate change affects many regions. To start with, changes in reflectivity, the sun’s energy, and the greenhouse effect affect the universe as a whole. Sunlight’s intensity, for instance, brings a cooling effect or warming depending on the solar intensity. This in turn affects the temperature of the whole universe. Other instances of climate change like the formation of glaciers and sea ice happen mostly in the northern and southern parts of the Earth like the North Pole and the South Pole (Seiz & Foppa, 2007). Other instances of climate change take place in specific regions like African, Asia, and Latin America. Several areas in the African continent have been identified as having the most variable climates in the whole world. Droughts and floods can happen in the same area within just a few months. Such events always bring untold sufferings, including famine and displacement. Asia, as a continent, also experiences several instances of climatic change. Some parts of the regions receive excess rainfall, typhoons, and tsunamis. Latin America is another part of the world that gets a vast of the effects of climate change. For example, the Andean glaciers and the Amazon are the most susceptible to climate change. Other areas that experience a substantive share of climate change include the small island developing states, which is made up of over 50 states and territories that cover the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans, as well as, the Caribbean Sea. The climate of these islands is influenced by things like the monsoons, El Nino, and trade winds.

The Social and Economic Impact of the Climate Change

The impacts, as well as vulnerabilities, as a result of climate change, vary, depending on the region. The general impacts of climate change like change in the global temperature affect the whole world. Other impacts, however, affect specific regions.

Africa

Africa as a continent is already feeling the pressure from climate change. It is also extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Several factors add to the impacts of recent climate variability in this continent. Notably, these factors impact negatively the ability of the continent to deal with climate changes. Despite it being a relatively poor continent, the economic impact brought about by climate change is catastrophic. This is why most African countries depend on international aid when disaster strikes. Some of the negative effects include illiteracy, poverty, limited infrastructure, weak institutions, poor access to crucial resources, and armed conflicts. Overexploitation of forests, land degradation, desertification, and population increase bring extra burdens to Africa. Sand and dust storms in the Sahara negatively impact agricultural activities, health, and infrastructure. As Demenocal (2001) states, in the future agricultural land, will be lost as a result of the impacts brought about by climate change. Most of the subsistence crops like sorghum in Ethiopia and Sudan, Maize in Ghana, and groundnuts in the Gambia are on the decline. The continent is also vulnerable to climate-sensitive diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrhea. An increase in temperature under climate change is altering the geographical distribution of illness vectors, which are slowly spreading to higher altitudes and other new areas.

Asia

As the largest continent, Asia spreads over several climatic zones, including arid, boreal, temperate, and tropical. The continent is experiencing alarming socio-economic and environmental challenges while protecting its vast natural resources. Ecosystems and lands are constantly under degradation, which threatens food security. The quality of air and water is on the decline. In addition, the region is prone to natural disasters like tsunamis, landslides, and earthquakes. The economic impact brought by climate change is also devastating. Climate change leads to increased heat waves, long dry spells, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, thunderstorms, snow avalanches, intense rainfalls, as well as extreme dust storms. These disasters bring hunger and diseases. The impacts of climate change on issues related to health include dengue, malaria, and vector-borne diseases.

Latin America

Latin America has a vast network of climatic regions, ecosystems, land-use patterns, and topographies. Agriculture, water, and health sectors, as well as, the Amazon, and the Andean glaciers are the most vulnerable to climate change. The disappearance of Andean glaciers can cause adverse effects on the livelihood of many communities and ecosystems. The main risk as a result of climate change on life and health includes heat stress, especially due to urban heat effects in megacities. Transmissible diseases include cholera, dengue, and malaria. Droughts and floods can bring rodent-borne infections such as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome and leptospirosis. Increased deforestation, as well as, warmer and drier climates may lead to forest fires, which will increase the vulnerability of many communities located in the area.

Personal Suggestions

Evidently, several developing countries are bearing the most burdens as a result of climate change. It is also worth noting that they are the most susceptible to any future change. Several of these countries have already developed plans to adapt to these climatic changes. Others are at the final stage of their plans. However, there should be urgency for these developing countries to look for ways of implementing these laid-out plans. Most of the developing countries find it hard to implement their plans due to the lack of resources. Adaptation is a crucial part of any prospect of the climate change system. Globally, discussions are building to uncover the most effective ways to deal with climate change. Among the areas identified as regions for future action in the wake of acclimatizing to climate change include Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For total effectiveness, adaptation strategies and plans have to be incorporated into risk reduction and sustainable development planning at local, communal, national, as well as, international levels. According to Demenocal (2001), little has been done about integrating adaptation into advancement plans. In view, the promotion of acceptable practice at the international level in integrating climate change and related issues would go a long way into promoting adaptation strategies with attached benefits.

Capacity still lacks, which would facilitate developing countries to come up with and implement adaptation strategies and programs. Communities, in adapting to climate change, can use local coping strategies. It will also be helpful to find synergies between the Rio Conventions to help disburse knowledge and information on assessment processes. Notably, a delay in the implementation plans will end in increased costs. Additionally, it will also lead to even greater dangers to more countries and communities. For instance, extreme weather conditions and events like floods, droughts, or loss of glacial meltwater could cause large-scale movements of population, which would end in large-scale conflict because of competition over resources that are already scarce, including food, water, and energy.

Already, several mechanisms for financial aid for developing countries have been put in place. However, application procedures have to be streamlined to pinpoint the different modalities and requirements of varying sources of recent assistance. Furthermore, current financial assistance is inadequate in supporting adaptation tactics. Therefore, any future discussions touching on future financial aid, and climate change have to be sufficient, sustainable, and predictable to facilitate all the adaptation plans. Novel financing options have to be put in place that would bridge the gap that exists between adaptation costs and available sources. The area that deals with insurance are one crucial component of future adaptation strategies. Pioneering risk-sharing mechanisms must be put in place as a response to the novel changes posed, which include the frequency of land degradation, extreme events, and failure of biodiversity.

Every nation has to come together and help to deal with climate change besides coordinating the planning and actions to be taken. To promote adaptation strategies, there should be raised awareness among the mass media and other key sectors, including the use of recent events such as weather, economic, and health crises. The issue of climate change needs a worldwide framework for global cooperation. Adaptation actions should be a crucial part of such a framework that should be put in place. Developing countries need substantive resources to support such actions. A successful framework has to incorporate aid for adaptation in the least developed countries since they will unfairly put up with the brunt of the climate change effects.

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