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In its most commonly used sense, “global warming” refers to the gradual warming of globalaverage temperatures due to the slowly increasing concentrations of man-made atmospheric greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. But global warming can alternatively refer to simply the observation of warming, without implying the causes of that warming. The burning of fossil fuels, mainly petroleum and coal, produces carbon dioxide as one of the by-products. As of 2010, the concentration of carbon dioxide is about 50% higher than it was before the start of the industrial revolution in the late 1800's. The potential warming effect of the extra CO2 is through its ability to absorb and emit infrared radiation, which is the type of radiation the Earth continually loses to outer space in response to heating by sunlight. This makes carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas, albeit a weaker one in the atmosphere than water vapor.
Global warming is already changing the world around us in ways that researchers can measure and quantify. Such changes will become more and more evident with each passing decade. Although cutting greenhouse gas emissions in order to minimize future climate change must be our top priority, we must also prepare to respond to impacts that our past emissions now make inevitable. People everywhere need to understand how climate change is going to affect them and what they can do to cope. Scientists have documented climate-induced changes in some 100 physical and 450 biological processes. In the Russian Arctic, higher temperatures are melting the permafrost, causing the foundations of five-story apartment buildings to slump. Worldwide, the rain, when it falls, is often more intense. Floods and storms are more severe, and heat waves are becoming more extreme. Rivers freeze later in the winter and melt earlier. Trees flower earlier in spring, insects emerge faster and birds lay eggs sooner. Glaciers are melting. The global mean sea level is rising. Even if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions dramatically today, these trends will continue for decades or centuries to come. The rate of climate change expected over the next 100 years is unprecedented in human history. Throughout geologic time the average global temperature has usually varied by 5°C over intervals of millions of years. Now scientists believe that the temperature of the Earth’s surface – which has already risen by 0.6°C since the late 1800s – is likely to rise by another 1.4 to 5.8°C during the course of the 21st century. Such an unusually rapid rate of change would affect fundamental Earth systems upon which our very lives depend, including ocean circulation and the hydrological, carbon and nutrient cycles.
The global mean sea level has risen by 10 . total avail. Lake Chad and Senegal. Increased summer drying and the associated risk of drought have been observed in a few continental areas.20 cm during the 20th century – ten times faster than the rate for the previous three thousand years. the water flowing from the Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean has also warmed. it is frequently so heavy that it causes erosion and flooding. sea-ice extent in the Nordic seas has shrunk by 30% over the last 130 years. In the Northern Hemisphere.It would disrupt the natural and managed ecosystems that provide us with water. Arctic sea-ice thickness declined by about 40% during late summer and early autumn in the last three decades of the 20th century. when rain does fall. Precipitation has increased over the Antarctic. including Central Asia and the Sahel. Adverse effects of Global Warming on our World Vast expanses of the oceans have warmed over the past 50 years. food and fiber. Rainfall has generally declined in the tropics and subtropics of both hemispheres. spring and summer sea-ice cover decreased by about 10 to 15% from the 1950s to the year 2000. urban air pollution and deforestation. Seawater is seeping into freshwater aquifers and intruding into estuaries in low-lying coastal areas around the world. Surface waters of the Southern Ocean have warmed and become less saline. declining water quality. the Antarctic Peninsula has experienced a marked warming trend over the past 50 years. while the rest of the continent also seems to have warmed. sea-surface temperatures have risen in line with land temperatures. particularly on low-lying islands. and the water in the Beaufort Sea has become less saline. In Africa’s large catchment basins of Niger.60%. It would add to existing environmental stresses such as desertification.able water has decreased by 40 . stratospheric ozone depletion. . globally. Arctic air temperatures increased by about 5°C in the 20th century – ten times faster than the global-mean surface temperature – while Arctic sea-surface temperatures rose by 1°C over the past 20 years.
heightened risk of infectious disease epidemics (such as diarrhea and respiratory disease). They will more often require repairs. contamination of water supplies. The costs of extreme weather events have been growing rapidly. dragonflies. floods. reduced food supplies. riverbanks. . including Hurricane Mitch. reconstruction or relocation.9 billion per year in the 1950s to US$40 billion per year in the 1990s. ports and industrial development – particularly when based on coasts. Higher temperatures (possibly accompanied by more ultraviolet radiation) will promote the formation of surface ozone. moths. the number of global weather-related disasters has increased four-fold. or permafrost may suffer more damage. injury and mental stress. roads. Europe. Butterflies. as well as floods in Pakistan. Bangladesh. a pollutant that harms human respiratory health as well as plants. Climate change will undermine air quality in cities. Since 1960. In recent years. migratory birds arrive earlier in the spring and depart later in the autumn. These natural hazards can lead directly to death. where previously it was too cold for them to survive. More frequent and intense storms. hills. Venezuela and Mozambique. droughts and cyclones will also harm human health. real economic losses sevenfold and insured losses twelve-fold. and many birds and amphibians are reproducing earlier. damage to health services infrastructure and the displacement of people. Indirect effects would result from the loss of shelter. which devastated Central America in 1998. China. Real losses are estimated to have risen from US$3. Building. railways. beetles and other insects are now living at higher latitudes and altitudes. major climate-related disasters have had serious consequences for human health.
Regional Scenarios Africa Over the next century. storms and landslides are expected to increase in frequency. Asia While northern and mid-latitude Asia will enjoy dramatic advances in crop production in a warmer world. North America Floods. as seems likely. northeastern Brazil and the Peruvian-Bolivian Altiplato. El Niño events become more frequent in a warmer world. Food and water shortages are likely to increase throughout most of Africa. The . If. and heavier rain and snow. The region’s key vulnerabilities will be water and land resources. could benefit at least initially from warmer temperatures. East Africa could receive more rain while southern Africa will probably become a great deal drier. severity and duration. There will be fewer cold snaps in winter. while Mexico’s droughts would become more frequent. more very hot days in summer. semi-natural ecosystems and forests. more coastal erosion and emergencies from higher seas and bigger storms. New Zealand. Desertification will remain a major threat in arid and semi-arid regions. and agriculture and fisheries. Latin America The Amazonian rainforests will dry out. droughts. as will floods and storms. particularly in its more southerly regions. the climate will dry in northern Amazonia. higher temperatures and more evaporation will reduce rice yields dramatically. This will encourage the spread of wildfires in the expanding areas of disturbed forests and threaten the continent’s rich biological diversity. which is cooler and wetter. The Arctic landscape will change permanently as ice and permafrost melt. the tundra dries and forests migrate north. South and Southeast Asia’s many developing countries will see food production drop due to intolerably high temperatures and declines in rainfall and water supply. In arid and semi-arid Asia. Andean glaciers would retreat further. Australia and New Zealand Further reduction of scarce water resources and higher temperatures for crops already growing near their maximum heat tolerance will affect food production in arid Australia. Europe A changing climate will dry out the south and boost agricultural production in central and northern areas.
Small Island States The tens of thousands of small islands scattered across the world’s oceans are particularly vulnerable to climate change.Great Plains in the US and the Canadian Prairies may face increased drought. but North American food production will rise overall in a warmer world. big reductions in rainfall in some parts of the ocean. . In addition to rising seas. risks include more savage storms. and intolerably high temperatures. Many rise up only one or two meters above sea level.
for example. . If we continue to use fossil fuels in the way we presently do. conducting a very dangerous experiment with Earth's climate. Given the strong scientific consensus. 3. such as lowering the pH of the ocean such that coral cannot grow.there is no debate about this. but perhaps most importantly. Ask a skeptical person to look at the data above. are already well known. at very least. the onus should now be on the producers of CO2 emissions to show that there is not a problem. the summaries for policy makers). The recent. very negative effects. some of which. which are available at www. It is a fact that they are very statistically unlikely to be a fluctuation (and now we can point to specific side effects from those warm temperatures that appear to have induced recent worldwide drought). 2. This is bound to have very serious. record-breaking warm years are unprecedented and statistically significant.ipcc. 4. then the amount of carbon we will release will soon exceed the amount of carbon in the living biosphere. Its time to acknowledge that we are. if they still even attempt to make that claim. A direct look at the data itself is very convincing and hard to argue with. whether or not you believe in global warming per se. The best source of data is probably the IPCC reports themselves. the fact remains that the carbon dioxide levels are rising dramatically --.ch(see.Discussing Global Climate Change: Here is a useful list of facts and ideas: 1. The implications are obvious. Lastly.
igpp.S.ipcc.gov Weathervane: an online forum designed to provide the news media. and global policy initiatives related to climate change. legislators.ch : Try the Summaries for Policy Makers for starters.gov .lanl. and the interested public with analysis and commentary on U.rff. These are concise. well written documents that also contain some of the best and latest data.weathervane.usgcrp. opinion leaders.Some Global Warming Related Websites IPCC site: http://www. http://www.org/ The global warming primer and discussion at website of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory: http://www. US Global Change Research Program: www.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Deconstructing Global Warming by Richard S. 13 chemin des Anémones. Alfred P.References How will global warming affect my world? Published by the United Nations Environment Program in November 2003. CH-1219 Châtelaine (Geneva) Sciences. International Environment House. Lindzen. Sloan of Atmospheric .
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