Friday, May 6, 2011

Climate Change: A Complex Issue with Clashing Points of View

By Lindsey de Stefan

Climate change, or global warming as it is often referred to, has been a hot button issue in recent years. It has dominated the environmental arena, and has even played a role in the political spectrum, as Democrats and Republicans hold very different ideas about the phenomenon. There is a lot of conflicting information about this so-called global warming and the process of weeding through all of it to separate fact from fiction can seem overwhelming. The truth of the matter is, depending upon who you ask, you will likely get a very different interpretation of climate change, its causes, its effects, and what it ultimately means for you and me.

But there is a way to find your way through the maze of information and emerge a more knowledgeable and informed person on the other side. There is no need to get bogged in all the conflicting ideas because everything you need to know about global warming is right here.

What is global warming?

Global warming is just what it sounds like: the increase in the Earth’s average temperature in the near-surface air and water. According to the National Wildlife Federation (NFW), the average temperature of the planet has increased 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. At first consideration, this seems to be a relatively small number. If the temperature outside went up a mere 1.5 degrees right now, would anyone really notice? Probably not. For that reason, it doesn’t seem so scary. But the truth of the matter is, as the NFW is quick to point out, for the planet we call home, an increase of this magnitude, however small it may seem to us, is actually a very big deal. With polar ice caps melting and sea levels rising as a result, the impact on planet Earth may actually be tremendous.

What causes it?

The causes of the increase in the Earth’s temperature have long been debated. Many believe that humans and their vast carbon footprint on the planet are to blame. Others maintain that Earth goes through cycles constantly and that this is just a new stage in yet another climate change sequence. After all, some 20,000 years ago, the Earth was in the middle of a glacial age, long before the carbon-emitting technology that’s believed to be causing today’s change.

The fact of the matter is, global warming is likely caused by a combination of these two things. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirms that humans are increasing the emission of greenhouse gases, which are gases that trap heat. This makes perfect sense, even to the average Joe. We emit gases into the atmosphere that trap heat. Therefore, the temperature of our planet rises. Since the level of greenhouse gases is at an all time high, a rapid acceleration of the planet’s warming is also logical.

But we cannot forget about the Earth’s history of a drastically changing climate. National Geographic explains that the average global temperature, as well as concentrations of carbon dioxide, have both fluctuated in a cycle of hundreds of thousands of years as the Earth’s position relative to the sun has continued to change. For this reason, though it cannot necessarily be proven, we can assume that, eventually, the climate would change on its own in one direction or another regardless of human impact. But there is a good chance that our impact is speeding up the process.

How does it affect our planet?

We’ve all heard the startling claims: temperatures increasing, glaciers melting, sea levels rising at an astounding rate. And global warming is the clear culprit. Indeed, these are the impacts of an increase of the Earth’s average temperature. And these are scary things that have repercussions for all living things, big and small, that call this third planet from the sun their home.

The list of impacts caused by the changing of the Earth’s climate is interminable. It can be detected in ecological, natural, and social systems throughout the planet as wildlife and animal life, including human beings, struggle to adapt. As an example,] look at polar bears, who reside in the Arctic Ocean. As their habitat is destroyed by the melting of sea ice upon which they depend for hunting, mating, and a host of other things, polar bears will be unable to survive. And they are just one of a countless list of species that will suffer in such a way.

How can we help?

Our planet is considered by many to be in a fragile environmental state and in danger. Those who believe that global warming is entirely caused by human beings believe that we can make a difference in halting its impact. Those who attribute the increase in temperature to the Earth’s regular climate shifts are much more skeptical.

The truth of the matter is, neither party can be proven right. It is for each individual to decide what they believe to be true. And if one decides that humans are the major culprits in the global warming issue, or if one believes that they are speeding up the temperature change, then there are certainly things to be done.

Many strides have been made to create a host of eco-friendly products and services, from all-electric cars that have zero carbon emissions to wind farming. There are “green” alternatives everywhere one looks that are designed to reduce the human species’ carbon footprint on the planet. And whether or not one believes that these things will stop global warming, or even slow down its progression, they do have other benefits. They provide us with cleaner air and water and an overall healthier environment in which to live.

Now what?

Climate change, or global warming, is certainly a very complex issue with a myriad of facts, data, and evidence from a host of different organizations to take into account. But these are the bare-bone facts of the situation. There is evidence to support hundreds of thousands of years of constantly changing climate situations on our planet. But there is also hard proof that humans have, if nothing else, sped the process up a significant amount. It is really up to each citizen of the planet Earth to make their own decision about climate change and make their day-to-day choices accordingly.

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About the Author

Lindsey de Stefan is a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey. She is graduating in May with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts with a concentration in Journalism. After graduation, Lindsey hopes to pursue a career as a television reporter or a contributor at a magazine.

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