Scientists agree that even a small increase in the global temperature would lead to significant climate and weather changes, affecting cloud cover, precipitation, wind patterns, the frequency and severity of storms, and the duration of seasons.
- Rising temperatures would raise sea levels as well, reducing supplies of fresh water as flooding occurs along coastlines worldwide and salt water reaches inland.
- Many of the world’s endangered species would become extinct as rising temperatures changed their habitat.
- Millions of people also would be affected, especially poor people who live in precarious locations or depend on the land for a subsistence living.
- Certain vector-borne diseases carried by animals or insects, such as malaria, would become more widespread as warmer conditions expanded their range.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions are the Biggest Problem
Currently, carbon dioxide accounts for more than 60 percent of the enhanced greenhouse effect caused by the increase of greenhouse gases, and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing by more than 10 percent every 20 years.
If emissions of carbon dioxide continue to grow at current rates, then the level of the gas in the atmosphere will likely double, or possibly even triple, from pre-industrial levels during the 21st century.
Climate Changes are Inevitable
According to the United Nations, some climate change is already inevitable because of emissions that have occurred since the dawn of the Industrial Age.
While the Earth’s climate does not respond quickly to external changes, many scientists believe that global warming already has significant momentum due to 150 years of industrialization in many countries around the world. As a result, global warming will continue to affect life on Earth for hundreds of years, even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and the increase in atmospheric levels halted.
What is Being Done to Reduce Global Warming?
To lessen those long-term effects, many nations, communities and individuals are taking action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming by reducing dependence on fossil fuels, increasing the use of renewable energy, expanding forests, and making lifestyle choices that help to sustain the environment.
Whether they will be able to recruit enough people to join them, and whether their combined efforts will be enough to head off the most serious effects of global warming, are open questions that can only be answered by future developments.
What do “greenhouse effect” and “global warming” mean? And how do humans contribute to the problem? See the previous page.