How are Human Activities the Main Contributor to Climate Change?

1723 words (7 pages) Essay in Environmental Studies

08/02/20 Environmental Studies Reference this

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 Climate change is one of the major environmental issues in our world. Scientists are inventing new solutions, such as nuclear power, a low-carbon electricity source, to reduce climate change (Romm 199). According to the article “Causes of climate change,” issued by the Government of Canada, climate change can be caused by events that occur naturally, such as volcanic activity and changes in solar radiation. On the other hand, climate change is also caused by human activities. The article, “Causes of climate change,” stated that human activities are the main contributors to climate change because of climate forcers, substances that oblige the climate to change. Although climate change can be caused by events that occur naturally, human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, are the main contributors to climate change because carbon dioxide, a climate forcer, is released to the atmosphere causing weather patterns to change.

 To begin, burning fossil fuels is one of the top human causes that result in climate change because it produces the following gases that increase temperature: carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide is the main human-produced gas that causes climate change because it is produced in large amounts compared to methane and nitrous oxide (Romm 1-2). According to Romm, a climate expert, the emissions of carbon dioxide caused the Earth to warm by “1.5℉ (0.85℃) since 1900” (2). Normally, when sunlight hits surfaces, such as ice, the light gets reflected back into space. The rest of the light gets absorbed by surfaces like the ocean. When humans burn fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere which causes the temperature of the Earth to increase (Romm 1). Arctic sea ice declined “7.8%/decade” due to greenhouse gas loading (Stroeve). Surfaces and objects that are dark in color have low albedo, which means these surfaces will absorb light; therefore, these surfaces will be warm. On the other hand, ice has high albedo; therefore, ice is cold. Since ice is melting at a high rate, the albedo of the Earth is low because the heat is absorbed instead of being reflected back into space (Cain). This increases the temperature causing climate change to occur. This effect can be summarized in a feedback loop; when ice melts, the reflection of sunlight by ice will decrease causing an increase in temperature.

 In addition, conversion of land for forestry and agriculture, also known as deforestation, is another human activity that leads to climate change. People decide to convert lands for agricultural purposes, such as growing crops, mines, urbanization, and etc. It is clear that some people don’t know the consequences of these human activities on the planet. Just like how burning fossil fuels increase temperatures, deforestation also causes the planet to get warmer. In addition to high temperatures, deforestation alters other climate variables, such as precipitation, to increase (Pielke 1625). The mass of the tree is mostly carbon and this is because of photosynthesis, a process in which plants use light energy to make their own food. Carbon dioxide gets absorbed from air by plants through photosynthesis (D’Augustino). The podcast “Swinging CO2 Levels Show The Earth Is ‘Breathing’ More Deeply” clarify why carbon dioxide decrease during spring and summer and increase during fall and winter. During fall and winter, plants stop growing which means that carbon dioxide is not absorbed by plants. Therefore, humans should limit activities that cause climate change during fall and winter because carbon dioxide will increase and plants will not be able to absorb it. When land is converted and disturbed by humans, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released to the atmosphere (Land Use Changes). This will result in high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide which eventually increase climate change. According to the article “Land Use Changes & Climate,” carbon dioxide that is released due to land conversions represent about “18% of total annual emissions” on a global scale. To illustrate, today, urbanization is one of the top human activities that result in climate change. A lot of countries, such as United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other countries surrounding it are converting lands to create urban areas. Dubai, a city in UAE, has the tallest building in the world. Urbanization results in high temperatures because the high density construction materials used, such as roofing materials, will absorb heat instead of reflecting it (Land Use Changes). It is evident that urbanization could be one of the reasons why temperatures in UAE reach about 50℃ in the summer.

 Followed by, high temperatures and precipitation, that are a result of human activities, are harmful to the environment. According to the article “How will climate change affect rainfall?,” issued by The Guardian, high precipitation is more likely to cause dry areas, such as southern Europe, can experience drier summer and Europe winters can increase. It is expected that regions with warm climate will experience heavy rainfall and this will increase the risk of floods (Clark). It is obvious that this issue is a concern because if dry areas get drier, wet regions get wetter, and floods occur frequently, then tsunami and other natural disasters might happen as well. If natural disasters started to come about more often, then injuries and death rates will also increase. In brief, this shows how human activities are the main contributors to climate change as it can result in natural disasters. It is evident that the facts mentioned above affirm that natural events are secondary causes that result in climate change.

 In contrast, some scientists believe that natural events, such as volcanic activity and change in solar radiation, are the main contributors to climate change. According to a 2013 study that looked at megafossils from the Swedish Scandes, early summer temperatures, during the Roman and Medieval periods, “have been 2.3℃” higher than modern temperatures (Kullman 555). The research done by Kullman, a professor at Umea University, also showed how temperatures decreased in some parts of the world. Although the research that was done by Kullman show temperature changes during Roman and Medieval periods, it is evident that it lacks clear evidence on how climate change is a result of events that occur naturally.  Additionally, it is clear that if human activities were not the main contributors to climate change, the governments in some countries would have not applied carbon tax, a tax for hydrocarbon fuels that produce carbon dioxide (Romm 172-173), in the country. The governments would not ask polluters to pay for carbon dioxide that is released to the atmosphere if it was not because of human activities.

 Lastly, there are many solutions developed by scientists and governments to help decrease greenhouse gas emissions which can reduce climate change. Carbon tax is one of the climate policies created by governments. This policy is intended to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Canada is one of the countries that use carbon tax. In British Columbia, carbon tax has been in place for about six years, and the evidence showed that it is a successful policy to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Pembina Institute). The carbon tax system in British Columbia did not only show environmental success, but it also showed an economic success. Statistics showed that fossil fuel use from 2008 through 2013 “declined by 16.1 percent in B.C.” (Pembina Institute). Cap-and-trade is another solution that aims to reduce pollution in the environment. This program is used in Ontario. In this system, the “cap” represents the limit of pollutants a company can release. These limits are set by the government. Then the “trade” is for the companies that were able to reduce gas emissions. The companies can sell their permits to other companies that found reducing gas emissions hard and costly (Romm 174). Clean energy is also one of the solutions that aim to minimize climate change. For example, nuclear power is the second largest electricity source that minimizes climate change. The nice thing about nuclear power is that it is classified as low-carbon electricity (Romm 199). Scientists are still developing nuclear power to make it easy and safe for use. Not a lot of countries use nuclear plants because they are expensive.  In fact, “20%” of the power derived in the United States are from nuclear plants (Romm 199).  Beside the expensive cost of nuclear power, the use of it can cause accidents. Therefore, scientists are still conducting studies about nuclear power hoping that one day it will become safer for use by many countries.

 In conclusion, although climate change can be caused by natural events, it is apparent that human activities are the main contributors to climate change because these activities release carbon dioxide that causes weather patterns to change. Urbanization and burning fossil fuels are the two top human activities that result in climate change because construction materials used in urbanization and gases released from burning fossils increase temperatures.

Works Cited

  • Cain, Fraser. “Albedo Effect.” Universe Today. N.p., 11 Sep. 2009. Web. 28 May 2019.
  • “Causes of climate change.” Government of Canada, 28 Mar. 2019. Web. 20 May 2019.
  • Clark, Duncan. “How Will Climate Change Affect Rainfall?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 15 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2019.
  • D’Augustino, Tracy. “Where do trees get their mass from?” Michigan State University. MSU Extension, 4 Feb. 2015. Web. 28 May 2019.
  • Kullman, Leif, et al. “Ecological Tree Line History and Palaeoclimate – Review of Megafossil Evidence from the Swedish Scandes.” Boreas, 42.3 (2013): 555-567. Western Libraries. Web. 21 May 2019.
  • “Land Use Changes & Climate.” The Environmental Literacy Council, n.d. Web. 21 May 2019.
  • Pembina Institute for Appropriate Developments, and Canadian Electronic Library. The B.C. Carbon Tax. Pembina Institute, 2015.
  • Pielke, Roger A. “Land Use and Climate Change.” Science, 310.5754 (2005): 1625-1626. JSTOR. Web. 15 May 2019.
  • Romm, Joseph. Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford UP, 2016.
  • Stroeve, Julienne, et al. “Arctic Sea Ice Decline: Faster than Forecast.” Geophysical Research Letters 34.9 (2007). Western Libraries. Web. 21 May 2019.
  • “Swinging CO2 Levels Show The Earth Is ‘Breathing’ More Deeply.” NPR News. Audie Cornish, Dr. Heather Graven, Melissa Block, Richard Harris, and Steve Oberbauer. NPR. 8 Aug. 2013. Radio.
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