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WHAT IS CLIMATE CHANGE? DO WE KNOW IF IT IS HAPPENING? ARE THE EVIDENCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE COMPELLING? EXPLORE AND DESCRIBE THE CONDITIONS IN AUSTRALIA OR AROUND THE WORLD.
Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing the world today; globally, climate patterns have affected public health, environment, water supplies and agriculture. Average land temperatures in Australia have risen by 0.9 degrees since 1950 (Kjellstorm & Weaver 2009, p. 5), and the prediction is this will increase by 0.4 – 2.0 degrees by 2030 and 1.6 degrees by 2070(Saniotis & Bi 2014, p.2). This essay will explain what climate change is and argue that the increase in recent years is due to human influences. It will provide evidence to support this argument, focusing on changing conditions around the world such as the earth’s surface temperature, sea-levels and extreme weather events. It will also outline the impact it is having on conditions in Australia and the importance of mitigation and adaptation strategies to help reduce the impact climate change will have in the future.
Climate change refers to the earth’s changing weather patterns that occur over a period of time; one aspect of climate change is global warming, which is the increase in global temperatures near the earth’s surface, caused by an increase in greenhouse gases. Two factors relevant to influencing climate change are – those that a natural causes, such as volcanic activity, solar variations and the earth’s optical changes; and those that a human caused, such as burning fossil fuels, cutting down trees and farming livestock. Natural climate change occurs constantly and according to Marohasy (2008, p53) climate change is not unusual, and it is natural for the earth to either be warming out of an ice age or cooling into one. However, it has been argued that the extensive changes the earth has experienced in the past century is due to human influences, and it has become evident that the alterations in the atmosphere caused by human activities are causing climate change to happen at an accelerate rate (Hay 2014, p. 29).
Human induced climate change is a controversial idea and has been largely debated around the world. While many people still believe the earth’s weather pattern is its natural cycle, the suggestion that human influences have caused it to happen at an increase rate is supported by many studies and climate change experts. Until the past century, the earth’s surface temperature had remained relatively stable for over 6,000 years (Hay 2014, p. 29); however, during the 20th century studies showed this has accelerated and as stated in an article by De Podesta (2012, p. 27) the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is likely the reason that air temperature above the earths land surface has risen. With a vast range of studies and research provided by peer-view articles, the suggestion the planet is warming at an increased rate due to human-induced climate change will be demonstrated. Statistics and observations of the land and sea temperature, sea-level measurement and the increase in extreme weather events provide undeniable data that climate change is not only caused by natural influences.
On a global scale, the average increase the earth’s land mass has experienced has been between 0.20 and 1.00 degrees since the 1970s (Slenning, 2014). In fact, according to Hughes (2011, p. 191) 2000-2009 was the warmest decade in Australia on record. The warming climate, according to Shum, Kuo and Guo (2008, p.149) have also caused the sea-temperature to become warmer which has accelerated the ice melting of glaciers and ice sheets; which are two factors that influence the changing of sea-levels. Although sea-levels change for a variety of reasons and have been consistently changing for centuries, in the past 40 years, on average, the sea-levels have increased by 0.5mm/year. Furthermore, with the use of Topex-Poseidon satellite altimeter data being used during the 1990s, it is indicated this has risen to around 2.5mm/year (Cazenave et al. 2003, p. 141). The authors of this data state that this increase is due to the warming ocean and many studies indicate this is related to the increase of anthropengic gases.
Other evidence to support that climate change is happening at an increase rate and that human activity is a major contributor is the extreme weather events that the earth has been experiencing. A statement issued in August 2010 by the World Meteorological Organisation states that ‘unprecedented sequence of extreme weather events matches Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming’, (cited in Coumou & Rahmstorf 2012, p.491). Although scientists often cannot comment that a particular weather event is directly related to climate change, Coumou and Rahmstorf (2012, p. 495) demonstrate though their research using statistical analysis and modelling method, and other data, that the probability of the last decade of extreme weather being related to climate change is likely. During the past decade globally some of the most traumatic and damaging record-breaking meteorological events have occurred. Countries such as Europe, Australia, and Western Russia experience their hottest summers resulting in heatwaves, bushfires and droughts; and Central Europe, Eastern Australia and Republic had some of their worst storms, resulting in floods (Coumou & Rahmstorf 2012, p. 492). These extreme weather events correspond with the suggestion that the last decade was one of the warmest periods on record.
The evidence that climate change is real and the impact the warming temperatures, sea- levels and extreme weather events are having on conditions in Australia is overwhelming. Conditions such as the tourism industry, the environment and public health have all had negative outcomes as a result of the warming weather. One negative impact is the public health of Australians; Extreme weather events such as environmental disasters, storms, floods, heat waves and air pollution are causing an increase in illnesses and deaths related to heat exposure, vector borne infectious diseases and food borne diseases, mental health and coronary heart problems (Kjellstorm and Weaver 2009, p. 6). In fact, according to Saniotis and Bi (2014, p. 2) climate related diseases and injuries account for about 160,000 deaths every year. The relationship between climate change and health is of great concern and with the prediction that Australia’s climate will continue becoming hotter and drier (Saniotis & Bi 2014, p. 1) it is certain that public health will continue to be a major condition affected by climate change.
Another great concern and a condition that climate change has had implications on is the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), which is one of the world’s natural wonders and a popular destination for tourists. The increase in sea surface temperature (SST) and the reduced exposure to dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) has already caused coral bleaching and coral mortality (Wooldridge et al. 2011, p. 946) and this will continue to have serious results for the reef biodiversity, ecology and appearance. Additionally the GBR is a popular tourist destination and if it continues to deteriorate it could lose its appeal and the income it generates. Another factor that will affect the tourism industry is the changes in the weather patterns; according to Amelung and Nicholls (2013, p. 232) in studies, they conducted utilizing the TCI method Australias peak seasons will alter in size, timing and duration which will affect the number of tourists. As tourism is a major source of income in Australia this is a major concern.
The impact climate change is having on conditions around the world is clear. According to the Intergovnmental Panel on Climate Change (cited in Tong, Ren and Beker 2010, p. 393) ‘global average surface temperature will likely increase by 1.8 – 4.0 degrees by 2010’, which make it evident that conditions such as our environment, tourism and public health will continue to deteriorate. Therefore, it is important to take action and utilise mitigation and adaptation strategies to help prepare, cope, avoid and reduce the implication of climate change in the future. Mitigation strategies refer to reducing human influences on climate change, including reducing greenhouse gases. In an article by Baron (2006, p. 137) the major factor in the rise in the earths surface temperature is due to human causes and although this was done unintentionally prior to 1900, we have continued the processes that have caused changes in the climate. In fact, if mitigation strategies had been utilised and strong action had been taken 30 years ago statistics would be more favourable now and for our future generations (De Podesta 2012, p. 27).
Although mitigation strategies will reduce human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, which will improve our air pollution, water quality, health and environment (Barrett 2014, p. 139), it is clear climate change will never be eliminated. Therefore, it is important to also utilise adaptation strategies; which prepare individuals and communities to be able to improve their actions to help cope and adapt to the unavoidable implications of climate change (Kjellstorm & Weaver 2009, p. 5) Both adaptation and mitigation strategies are important and closely liked, and both have benefits for public health, communities and the environment. However, it is evident that the less we try to mitigate climate change, the more we have to adapt to it, therefore focusing on mitigation strategies to help reduce human-induced factors could potentially improve conditions that climate change affect.
In conclusion, it is clear that climate change is happening; globally, it is a problem that threatens issues such as our environment, health and communities. Studies of the increased surface temperature and ocean temperature, and the rising sea-levels verify that climate change has accelerated in the past century and is evident that human activity contributed to this increase. However, it is important to realize that climate change will always be an issue, regardless if it is natural or human related; but utilising the concepts of mitigation and adaption strategies we can be better prepared and lessen the impact climate change has on conditions is Australia or globally.
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