Anthropogenic climate change is the greatest threat to the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment report states that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely to be due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. In order to get a better understanding this essay will discuss briefly the differences between climate change and anthropogenic climate change and the affects that this will have on a global scale. Using examples from Ireland and the Mediterranean we can see specifically how climate change will affect the environment we live in on several different levels, physically, ecologically, socially and economically. To conclude what we can do to mitigate the affects of climate change is discussed.
Climate change is something which occurs naturally and is affected by the following: the hydrospheric, atmospheric, cryospheric, and biospheric systems. It is also affected by solar radiation from the sun and the Milankovich cycles (the earth’s axial tilt and orbit around the sun). These systems interact with one another to give the earth its climate. However with the population explosion which has occurred since the industrial revolution, from less than one billion in the 1800’s to almost seven billion today(http://esa.un.org/unpp), the pressure human activity has put on these systems is causing the earths climate to change and warm at a much more rapid pace than would occur naturally. We know that this increase in temperature is occurring due to records kept since the beginning of the 1900’s, ice core samples and through proxy records. Greenhouse gases (GHG) have the most significant impact on the climate. What are greenhouse gases and how does human activity affect them? Greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These gases trap solar radiation from the sun in the atmosphere causing a warming affect.
Human activity and the production of GHGs affect the environment in the following ways: changes in land use through agriculture, urbanisation and deforestation; the use of aerosols which release harmful CFCs and other halocarbons into the atmosphere. However the most important anthropogenic cause of climate change is the use of fossil fuels which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The world is almost entirely reliant on fossils fuels for its supply of energy. Agriculture and urbanisation change the earths Albedo affect (reflective properties) thus affecting the amount a radiation from the sun reflected back out to space. The increase in agriculture to meet the world’s demands for food is “thought to contribute more than twice as much methane as natural resources” (Middleton, 2003, p183). As we know trees absorb carbon dioxide, with deforestation however we reduce the earth’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. CFC’s and halocarbons are not naturally occurring compounds, they increase the atmospheric albedo and alter cloud properties, they also last for a very long time in the atmosphere, from 60 to 100 years and have contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer. Carbon dioxide is the biggest contributor to climate change. “Human activities such as burning fossil fuels, coal, oil, gas, for use in power stations, industry and transport, have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by 35 per cent since the beginning of industrialisation”. (http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov).
The potential impacts of climate change can be ecological, physical, social and...