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More on the science behind global warming

Among scientists, the verdict is already in on global warming. The world is getting warmer, and humans are the main cause. This message is reinforced by the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report authored by more than 2,500 scientists from the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the premier (and Nobel Prize winning) scientific body responsible for studying the effects of human activities on the global climate.

Over the past 1000 years, atmospheric concentrations of the three most important greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) remained fairly stable. Then, starting in the 19th, century the presence of these gases in the atmosphere began to skyrocket. Why? Because of the industrial revolution and associated growth in the use of fossil fuels (especially coal) in Europe and elsewhere. By 2005, global atmospheric concentrations of the most prevalent greenhouse gas, CO2, rose from its historical norm of around 250 parts per million (ppm) to 382 parts per million. Most scientists believe that if CO2 levels increase to 450 (ppm), we will completely lose our ability as a species to slow the process of global warming.

Under a fossil fuel intensive ‘business as usual’ scenario, the best climate change models predict that global mean temperatures could increase up to 11.5 F (6.4 C) in the next 100 years. Temperatures will increase even more in the Northern Hemisphere. If you thought Las Vegas, Miami or Shanghai were already hot enough during the summer months, you have not seen anything yet. The biggest temperature increases will be experienced in Polar regions. Shipping companies are already planning for the day when the North Pole is completely ice free during the summer months. This sudden increase in temperature will have catastrophic effects on polar bears and thousands of other species that call the Arctic their home.

What else is in store for us if we do not take action now to halt our damaging effect on the climate?

  • Warmer and fewer cold days and nights over most land areas (warmer temperatures also mean less snowpack in most places).
  • Warm spells and heat waves (heat waves already kill thousands of people each year).
  • Increases in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes/cyclones and heavy precipitation events (tens of millions of people are already displaced and tens of thousands killed each year).
  • Rising sea levels (island nations like Tuvalu may be completely wiped out in coming decades).
  • Expansion of drought affected areas (persistent drought and desertification already ravages dozens of countries, causing massive displacement of populations and civil unrest).

For more on the science behind climate change, visit the IPCC web site.


More essays written by Jonathan Harrington on the environmental effects of global warming

Global warming effects on Northwest fish and wildlife

The high meadows of White Pass: Grandma’s hangout

A dying breed: The lodge pole pines of British Columbia


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