You have most likely already heard of the Climate change meetings (the last one was held in 2015 in Paris). Scientists were extremely happy when a document was signed by (almost) all countries, stating, they will follow some rules, that will help prevent raising the average global temperature for more than 2°C as it was in pre-industrial times. But what was the big deal behind this? What will happen if we fail to prevent the rising of the temperature?
First of all, I should clarify that the Earth has its periods of rising and falling temperatures and because of that, the environment has changed often. She had anoxic conditions (no oxygen), higher and lower temperatures as we are used to now, but somehow, she managed to survive it all. So why do we care so much? Because the Earth has not changed as quickly as it does now– ever! Since the industrial revolution (shown on this graph), the average temperature has climbed for 1,1°C (data for 2017) and we can also see an increase of CO2 concentrations. This might not seem a lot to you, but It actually is! We know that organisms can adapt to new conditions, but how quick can they do this? By the current extinction rates (that are not only related to temperature changes) we could say, that it is quite obvious that they can’t adapt so quick! So what can we do to stop them and what will happen if we continue to burn the fossil fuels and don’t cut the CO2 emissions?
Changes on land
One of the changes that get the most attention is the melting of the snow (on both poles as well as in the mountains and thawing of permafrost). By shrinking glaciers, a lot of water is being released and it needs to go somewhere. When talking about this topic, we usually speak of rising of the ocean level (which I will talk about later) but there are many other problems that will occur. There are ecosystems that need ice and cold in order to function. Here I am referring to our two biggest (polar) deserts – the Arctic and Antarctic. On the other hand, the floating icebergs play an enormous role in the life cycles of krill (planktonic crustaceans and their larvae) which present the main food source for many other organisms (whales, squids etc.).
However, rising of the ocean is not the only threat. When they will rise, we will be left with less land where we can live and get our food from. The areas, where we pump our drinking water from, will be harder to find due to mixing with salt water. Scientists also warn that the floods, droughts, wildfires, storms and heat waves will get more and more severe through the years even though they could get more seldom. Since the temperatures will not rise equally everywhere, we will notice bigger differences, which will lead to changes in the patterns of the winds.
Changes in the oceans
Oceans are known to be our biggest sink of CO2 so, thank god we have a lot of them! Well, yes, but the oceans can only play their role when everything is as it should be. The high concentrations of CO2 are being stored in the oceans, but high concentrations lead to higher acidity, which induces some reactions, many organisms don’t like. Here I speak mostly about clams, snails, and oysters as well as the corals, whose houses and constructions are literally being dissolved in the environment with high acidity.
On the other hand, the oceans also have to deal with the melting of icy surfaces. This means more water and therefore more surface to absorb the sun rays (no bouncing effect). The rays will be able to penetrate deeper into the ocean, leading to some changes in the environment as well as raising the temperature. Because of the rise of temperature, less CO2 and oxygen can be stored and will, therefore, be released into the atmosphere (again raising the carbon levels and just making the climate changes worse).
There is no need to add how problematic the changes in the environment can get. We have noticed, that many plant species start the budding sooner in the year and throwing their leaves away later in the autumn. The same is true for the reproductive cycles – in some bird species, we have noticed that their nesting times now come few weeks sooner than they used to. We have also noticed that the migratory routes of organisms are beginning to change, and many migratory birds are seen at locations, they have never been seen before.
The same is true for the creatures living in the ocean. These species are moving northward in order to live in the same conditions as they did before. The problem with these migrations is, that the newcomers are usually alien (and potentially invasive) species and that they dislodge the natives. Another problem occurs after a natural disaster strikes. In this case, the land is devastated and since the newcomers are better adapted and/or are better competitors, they usually occupy the empty ecological niche quicker.
Some people fear that there is no way to stop the temperature to rise for less than 2°C. They are convinced, that the Earth has already passed the magic border where it could return back to normal and that what we see now is only the beginning.
I believe that it doesn’t really matter where we are, the thing that matters is, where we go from now. No matter what happens (in case of total, extreme madness, nothing will matter anymore) there will be some organisms that will somehow manage to survive the living conditions given at that time. Most probably, these organisms will not be numerous and they will have a long way to go to adapt to the new environment and a long way of evolution will be ahead of them. However, we have already survived this with all previous five mass extinctions, so I believe the Earth knows what it is doing. But no one said we will survive it too, so why try and risk it all? Let’s do something to avoid the disasters from happening!
What do you think of the climate changes? Do you believe in them or not (why so)? What do you do in your everyday life to help the environment? I would love it if you would leave your thoughts in the comments below.