Climate change is a phenomenon which is causing a shift in long-term weather patterns and it is the result of both anthropogenic and natural factors. Naturally, the globe’s climate is expected to shift in small increments over time. However, human impacts which have been taking place since the Industrial Revolution, such as the burning of fossil fuels, are causing climate change to occur at an alarming rate.
In the media, climate change is associated with other terminology such as global warming and greenhouse gases (GHG’s). Basically, climate change can be described as an “umbrella” term because it touches upon various facets of the atmosphere. For one, it is known that the concentration of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are increasing. In turn, these greenhouse gases are raising temperatures in the atmosphere. As the concentration of GHG's in the atmosphere keep escalating so do the impacts of climate change.
Greenhouse gases are capable of warming the planet because these compounds absorb solar energy. This works as follows:
- Solar energy gets transmitted from the Sun through the atmosphere and towards the Earth. However, some of this energy gets reflected back into the atmosphere.
- Greenhouse gases are capable of trapping some of this reflected energy and absorbing the heat. This thermal energy gets re-radiated towards the Earth in all directions.
Anthropogenic factors such as pollution and the use of gasoline for transportation, as well as natural factors such as plant respiration, all cause an increase in the amount of GHG’s in the atmosphere. In addition to warming temperatures, climate change is causing numerous other impacts such as raising water levels since ice caps and ice sheets are melting and shifting the range in which insect vectors can be found. Clearly climate change has wide spread effects and thus, the need for mitigation through national actions such as the Kyoto Protocol, are essential in attempting to solve these issues.
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