It is hard not to notice the fact that temperatures appear to be rising on the average. This rise in average surface temperatures on Earth is known as climate change, and is commonly referred to as global warming. The United States Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration all agree that climate change is a reality and is most likely directly related to human activity. This winter has been unseasonably warm compared to years past.
In December of 2015, New York City had an average high temperature of 51 degrees, which is 13 degrees above normal averages and the highest December average of all time. Preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information, shows that at least 2,475 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 16 days of December. The Environmental Protection Agency works in conjunction with over 40 data contributors from multiple government agencies, academic institutions, and other organizations to gather and communicate key indicators related to the causes and effects of climate change.
According to the EPA, Earth's average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years. These seemingly small changes in the average temperature of the planet can lead to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather. The ascension of global temperatures has been followed by alterations in weather and climate. Several areas have experienced major shifts in rainfall, which has resulted in an increase in floods and droughts, along with more persistent and punishing heat waves. In addition, ocean temperatures have risen, water has become more acidic, ice caps have melted and sea levels have climbed. Growing sea levels as a result of the melting of the polar ice caps are said to contribute to greater storm damage. The rising ocean temperatures are associated with stronger and more frequent storms. Increased rainfall, specifically during severe weather events, contributes to flooding and other damage. An escalation in the occurrence and severity of wildfires imperils habitats, homes, and lives. Damaging heat waves lead to an increase in human deaths and myriad other disastrous residual effects.
A high level of confidence has been expressed by several scientists, scientific organizations and governments that many of these observed changes are connected to higher levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. It is widely believed that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels as well as increased agriculture and deforestation are the main culprit for these colossal shifts in the chemical makeup of the ecosystem. Although a small minority of voices question the legitimacy of these declarations, decades of data and analysis support the existence of climate change along with the culpability of human behavior in this process.
What exactly can be done in order to combat this perilous adversary known as climate change? According to Greenpeace, the technology is currently available for renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power, which can provide 96% of our electricity and 98% of our heating needs in the United States. Not only would this be beneficial to the environment, but it would also improve the economy as the solar industry presently employs more people than coal mining and wind energy is much more affordable than coal power in several states across the country. Greenpeace is actively campaigning to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and build a country powered by 100% renewable energy. Although there is still a considerable amount of work to be done, the transformation has already begun as large corporations, such as Apple and Google are setting outstanding examples, committing to 100% renewable energy, while also making astronomical investments in wind and solar. Additionally, numerous Americans are enlisting in the energy revolution by participating in projects like community solar, which is a solar-electric system that, through a voluntary program, provides power and/or financial benefit to, or is owned by, multiple community members.
The issue of climate change, and what we can do to prevent further damage to the planet's natural eco-systems, has also taken center stage on the world political agenda in recent years. As it truly is a global issue, the international movement has grown in support of a long lasting solution to tackle the problems we face. This has led to a number of international summits, including the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the Kyoto Treaty. These meetings have been organized in order to debate our most pressing environmental concerns as well as to devise a solid plan to help prevent further damage to the environment. This past December, at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, the world’s nations agreed on an aggressive plan to combat climate change. This most recent conference, which is the 21st annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is comprised of several key elements, including an acknowledgement for pursuing a temperature goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a bolstered procedure for loss and damage, and the provision for scaled up and simplified access to climate finance for Small Island Developing States. The agreements made in the conference consist of conditions that are legally binding, including a five-year review of emissions designed to determine the ability to meet the long-term global goal, to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change.”
It was also agreed that developed countries would commit $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, in order to help them bypass fossil fueled development in favor of cleaner alternatives. It is encouraging to see that this problem, which could eventually lead to catastrophic consequences for our planet, has gotten the attention of the powers that be. Now it is imperative that these authorities follow through with the measures necessary to achieve these goals of slowing down the damage that our daily activities produce. It is up to each and every one of us to do our part in ensuring a healthy future for ourselves and the generations to come as well as the environment we depend on.