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Air pollution effects: Global Warming

What is global warming?

Global warming can be defined as an increase in the average temperature of the Earth due to air pollutants, which collect sunlight and radiation and produce the greenhouse effect. This pollution layer avoids the reflection of sun rays by Earth’s surface towards space, which raise the temperature in our planet among a lot more consequences.

It is a real problem since statistics and evidence are there. According to NASA’s data:

  • Carbon monoxide levels in the air are the highest in 650.000 years, concretely up to 408 ppm (parts per million).
  • 17 out of the 18 warmest years in history (which have been recorded) have taken place after 2001. Global temperature has increased 1°C (1,8°F) since 1880.
  • Arctic ice minimum levels have decreased 13,2% each decade. In 2012, Arctic summer sea ice shrank to the lowest extent on record.
  • Satellite data show that Earth’s polar ice sheets are losing mass at speed of 413 gigatonnes per year.
  • Sea level is currently increasing 3,2 millimeters per year.

Causes of global warming

The main cause of global warming, according to most climate scientists, is the greenhouse effect. Greenhouse gases absorb heat and re-emit it in all directions warming up the lower atmosphere and the Earth’s surface.

Burning of oil and fossil fuels, which mainly come from sources such as vehicles combustion engines and carbon industries, emit huge amounts of carbon molecules to the atmosphere, where they react with oxygen to create carbon dioxide (CO2). More sources of global warming contributing to create that pollution layer “in charge of microwaving the Earth” are soot and aerosols, among many others.

Which are the greenhouse gases?

These gases can be classified in two groups depending if they react to changes (physically or chemically) (“feedbacks”) or not (“forcing”). Greenhouse gases are:

  • Water Vapor (H2O): The most abundant greenhouse gas. It performs as feedback: the warmest the Earth is, more water vapor will be found in the atmosphere (clouds and precipitation).
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O): Human-made activities such as soil cultivation, use of fertilisers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production or biomass burning.
  • Methane (CH4): An active, but limited greenhouse gas emitted by human and biological sources like agriculture or ruminant digestion associated to livestock.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2): Although produced naturally by respiration or volcano eruptions, carbon dioxide emissions have become an environmental problem due to anthropogenic sources. Since Industrial Revolution, activities such as industrial operations, deforestation or burning of fossil fuels, among others have massively increased the emission of this greenhouse gas.  
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): synthetic compounds produced by industrial activities and controlled by some governments due to its strong effects related to the ozone layer depletion.

Global warming environmental effects: Climate change

Mainly, global warming implies the worst of the air pollution environmental effects: Climate change! By warming up the surface of our planet, we get an impact almost worldwide.

Some of the current evidence of climate change are:

  • Ice declining and sea level rising:
    • Ice sheets slip: The warmer the planet is, faster the ice will thaw.
    • Glacial shrink, especially in places such as the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
    • Less snow covering the top of mountains.
    • Sea level rise at current speed of 3,2 millimeters per year, which in 50 years mean coastline will have risen over 15 centimeters.
    • Downturning the thickness and extension of Arctic sea ice.
  • Extreme weather events:
    • Extreme events such as hurricane Katrina (2005), which hit New Orleans and other american cities of Louisiana and Florida. In this section plagues, more and stronger rains, intense heat waves, floods, and others are also included.  
  • Ecosystem changes:
    • Warmer global temperature: As already mentioned, since the 19th century the average temperature of the planet has increased by 1°C (1,8°F).
    • Warming oceans: oceans have collected this increased heat within the top 700 meters.
    • Ocean acidification:  The acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30% due to humans activities emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

However, this does not end here. The effects will continue to grow and environmental impact will rise over the years:

  • Temperatures will continue increasing.
  • Extending frost-free and growing seasons for crops.
  • Precipitation patterns will be affected.
  • Changes in natural habitats that will cost the extinction of a huge amount of plants and animals.
  • More droughts and heat waves.
  • More intense and stronger hurricanes.
  • Sea level will rise from 30 to 120 centimeters by the end of 21th century.
  • Arctic won’t have ice anymore.

Health effects of global warming

Despite climate change has direct health effects in humans, most of the problems or issues it causes are due to environmental alterations. Heat waves, natural disasters, breathing poor air quality and spreading diseases are just some examples.

Some groups such as kids or elderly are more vulnerable to illness or death due to these global warming consequences. However, it affects differently depending on the region and the capacity of each country to adapt to changes.

Global warming will also affect crops, livestock, fisheries and others by reducing yields, seasonal and weather changes, the need of using more pests, etc. Furthermore, drinking water will become harder to find, less availability and of less quality.

How to stop and prevent global warming?

Changing your daily routines is not easy, but if you expect a future we need to make the effort and change some habits. It is not only a government’s duty, it is in our hands!

Some possible solutions to reduce global warming are:

  • Investing in renewable energies for our homes, businesses, means of transportation, etc.
  • Not use fossil fuel electricity anymore.
  • Change our food production habits in order to prevent deforestation and forest degradation, as these emissions represent the 30% of the world’s heat trapping emissions.
  • Improving in nuclear power, so it has fewer pollution emissions.
  • Improve and apply new low-carbon and zero-carbon technologies.
  • Reduce water waste.

Each of our individual inputs will make a change and guide the planet to a better future. If we expect our leaders and politicians to make everything, the situation is not going to change. For example, US President Donald Trump said that “global warming is a hoax” years before the elections. If the president of one of the top countries in the world is not taking care of our planet, we need to make the difference throw individual efforts.

On the other side, there are countries aware of the problem that created alliances and agreements about global climate change over the years, such as The Paris Agreement (the latest UNFCCC agreement).

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