Impact of global warming
Terrible storms and floods have caused death and destruction all over the world. Some say the climate catastrophe is man made and caused by global warming – and that things are set to get worse.
What is global warming?
It is the idea that the whole world is becoming warmer because of the greenhouse effect. Over the last 100 years the average temperature of the Earth has gone up by 0.6 degrees celsius. That doesn’t sound like much – but it could have dramatic effects. Some say the floods and extreme weather we are experiencing all over the world at the moment are caused by global warming,
What is the greenhouse effect?
The warmth from the sun beams down on our planet. Gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap the heat and stop it from escaping too quickly. This is called the ‘greenhouse’ effect. Carbon dioxide is the most important of the greenhouse gases. The greenhouse effect isn’t a bad thing – without it our planet would be mainly frozen! It would be around 33 degrees celsius colder – and that wouldn’t be enough for plants and animals to survive. On the other hand, too much greenhouse gas is a bad thing. The planet Venus’s atmosphere is made up of 90 per cent carbon dioxide. The greenhouse effect on Venus heats the planet up to a roasting 523 degrees celsius making life impossible.
Is global warming really happening?
Most experts think so these days. For many the crunch came when scientists found a mile long stretch of water where there is usually ice at the North Pole. Experts don’t think the ice at the pole has melted for 50 million years. British birds are also nesting two weeks earlier than they did 30 years ago and it is now warm enough for malaria mosquitoes to survive and breed in southern England.
Are humans to blame for global warming?
It is likely, but not certain. The Earth’s climate doesn’t stay the same.10,000 years ago northern Europe was covered in ice! But it’s the speed at which the Earth’s temperature seems to be hotting up that is worrying experts. Human activity has certainly caused more carbon dioxide to be pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere – scientists are agreed on that. But what the experts aren’t completely sure about is whether this extra carbon dioxide is actually enough to cause global warming.
Where is all this extra carbon dioxide coming from?
Humans pump it into the air by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas (and fuels made out of them – for example petrol) in order to do things such as run industry and cars. Forests are also burnt to make more land for farming and this – along with natural wildfires – sends even more carbon dioxide up into the atmosphere. Plants and trees also soak up carbon dioxide. So, fewer plants and trees mean more carbon dioxide in the air. Rich countries are responsible for most of these extra greenhouse gases. 4.5 per cent of the world’s population lives in the US – but they are responsible for 23 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases. Whereas 17 per cent of the world’s population live in India and they pump out only 4.2 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases. The UK produces 3 per cent – the same as the whole of Africa.
Is global warming behind the recent storms and floods in the world?
It’s too early to say for sure. We haven’t had the floods and storms for long enough to know if they are a long term trend or just freak events. Experts say this weather does not mean global warming is definitely here – but it’s just the kind of weather we would expect if it was.
How could global warming affect the planet?
Experts think global warming will make for a warmer, stormier world. Dangers include more droughts, floods, tidal waves and insects bringing new diseases. Species of animals and plants will disappear from certain areas. Life has survived climate change in the past. But we don’t know how successfully species and habitats will migrate and adapt.
Are governments doing anything about it?
Governments say they want to cut the amount of carbon dioxide pumped out into the air. This means burning fewer fossil fuels and chopping down fewer trees – and also investing in other ways to make energy such as wind power. But environmental groups say governments are not acting quickly enough. European leaders are talking about how Europe can adapt to the changes in climate. This could mean growing different crops, finding new ways to deal with more forest fires, not building on flood plains and building better defences against flooding.