The effects of global warming are many and are interrelated. Global warming affects the environment and therefore human health also. After all, although it seems this truth has been largely forgotten, people do form a part of nature.
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No environment, no people. An unhealthy environment, unhealthy people.
Good. Knowing about effects of global warming is to learn about what to do about the
cause of global warming.
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Effects of global warming – Summary
There is no doubt that the effects of global warming are felt in many ways now and this will worsen. Effects are, and will, be increasingly noticeable in these areas
Food and water resources
War and conflicts and
Further global warming
Today’s average surface temperature is up by about 0.5C since 1890. It is expected that global mean temperature will increase by between 1.4 and 5.8°C, or 2.5 to 10°F.
Of course it is difficult to link global warming with specific events. But we do know such events have increased while carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and temperatures have risen at the same time.
For example, between 1950 and 1959 there were 20 great natural disasters worldwide. Between 1990 and 1989, 89 were counted - wildfires, cyclones, flooding, drought and mudslides among them.
There are many, many factors that combine in their effects of global warming, and many of them are not predictable with certainty. Here are some that most scientists think are now happening or are likely to happen
Effects of global warming – weather
More extreme weather is already occurring. Cyclones have gained in strength since 1970. Rainfall associated with such weather has increased by 7% in the USA for example.
Heavily populated, low-lying coastal areas in cyclone-prone areas are particularly vulnerable. "Hurricane Katrina" which hit New Orleans was a case in point. Cyclone Nargis in Burma is another among demonstrations of the devastating nature of some effects of global warming. Also a case in point in who would suffer first and most from climate change: the poor, elderly and disabled.
Up till 2004 hurricanes were strictly a North-Atlantic affair. Until Hurricane Catarina struck Brazil that year from the South Atlantic.
Already, in some African countries droughts and floods occur more frequently, and outside of previously known cycles. Higher evaporation rates will cause more rainfall in some areas, causing soil erosion and desertification of areas. In the future, Africa, the poorest continent, will be particularly hard hit by droughts and floods while having few resources to combat these.
Transport will be affected by cracking road surfaces, rupturing pipelines, railway lines and runways. Melting permafrost presents risks of road and railtrack subsidence. The new Beijing – Tibet railway across the Himalayas was built to account of this.
Permafrost in Alaska, Russia and Canada is already melting. Billions of tonnes of methane gasses, now locked in huge frozen peat bogs in Siberia will be released in this thaw.
Imagine if you can, the size of this frozen peatbog. It is the size of France and Germany combined!
Can you? No, it’s hard isn’t it.
And methane gas is a 22 times more potent, if shorter-lived, greenhouse gas than is CO2.
Effects of global warming - oceans
Between 1880 and 2000 a 20cm rise in ocean levels has been recorded – now occurring at 0.2mm per year. This is due to ocean water expansion through its warming and water from melting glaciers and polar ice. However only land-based polar ice can be blamed for this as floating ice takes up the same volume as melted water.
Oceans have absorbed about half the human-made CO2 emissions since 1800. A higher CO2 content makes the oceans more acid. This has adverse effects on coral, fish and plankton.
Warmer ocean water and volumes of fresh water from melting glaciers could disrupt the Gulfstream which influences Northern European weather. A cooling effect could occur.
Rising oceans could swallow low-lying islands and coastal areas. My homeland, the Netherlands is such a vulnerable country as much of it lies below sea level. But the Dutch have plans, including for
Effects of global warming - ecosystems
All ecosystems are affected by global warming.
The UN Environment Program predicts that by 2075 few locally endemic species will survive. Twenty five percent of the Earth’s mammals and 12% of bird species will be extinct within the next 30 years.
In a Triffid-like appearance, grass has established itself on Antarctica for the first time in millions of years. Polar bears are stressed through loss of habitat. Many species are steadily moving their ranges towards higher northern and southern latitudes, including butterflies, frogs, and birds. They breed earlier and plants flower earlier in the season.
Aha! So that’s what’s happening with my fruit trees!
Yep, could well be.
The IPCC's summary of part of its 2007 report (p.5) states that "eleven of the last twelve years (1995 -2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850)."
"The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13 [0.10 to 0.16]°C per decade) is nearly twice that for thelast 100 years."
Look into the future NOW here...
Effects of global warming - polar ice and glaciers
Since 1900 global glacier surface area has decreased by half and glacial retreat is occurring on every continent.
The effects include landslides, glacial lake overflow and flash floods as regular, seasonal patterns of snowfall and some melting are destroyed.
Less glacier meltwater in summer means the drying up of rivers and streams, needed for drinking water, irrigation and many other processes. Just imagine the effects from an accelerated melting of Himalayan glaciers. The Ganges and other major rivers are the lifeblood for the huge populations of India, China and other parts of Asia.
After the initial floods there will be no more meltwater...
The icesheets of Greenland and the West Antarctic are also melting at rapid rates. Since 99% of ice resides in polar regions, these huge amounts of fresh water will have noticeable impacts, contributing to rising ocean levels and disruption of the Gulfstream mechanism. Fisheries will be affected, including of wild salmon, trout and ocean fish, as many rely on the cold water for breeding and food.
Effects of global warming - water availability
Reduced rainfall, droughts, and vanishing glaciers will severely reduce the availability of drinking water.
Human health will suffer as a result of climate change. The 2003 European heat wave killed some 30,000 people. But warmer winters may reduce deaths from cold weather.
Some infectious, vector-borne diseases will spread as malaria already has. There are many other
health effects too
including effects of food shortages.
Effects of global warming - further global warming
Melting glaciers and permafrost may be at a stage where there is no turning back. As they contribute their fresh water to the oceans and as methane gas is released these events will further accelerate global warming. This is called the positive feedback effect.
It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.
Huge deposits of methane are trapped in ice crystals under the oceans. If these would be released the atmosphere would experience sudden and significant further warming.
Effects of global warming – war and conflict
Dwindling resources will increase competition between nations in order to survive.
The US Pentagon, not known for its Green credentials, warned of global conflict in a leaked secret report, in 2004. It predicts nuclear war and conflicts over water, energy and food resources on a scale that eclipses its concerns over international terrorism. If that’s the most conservative assessment we’re in real trouble…
Mass migration of environmental refugees, up to 150 million of them by 2050, will also increase risks of violent conflicts.
Obviously among alternate energy sources that of our genuine care and goodwill towards others and our environments is crucial.
Effects of global warming - economic effects
The insurance industry is already facing increased costs from global warming. By 1992 this industry knew that since 1960 economic losses from disasters worldwide had grown three-fold and insured losses four-fold. One study suggests that of these about 35–40% are related to climate change. In 2001 the UN estimated the cost of increased disasters due to global warming at more than US$300 Billion per year by 2050.
Effects of global warming include a wide range, not all strictly bad in themselves. There will be economic opportunities among the losses. Both are hard to quantify.
And part of estimating economic costs depends on what is regarded to have a monetary value, and how much. For example, can we cost extinct species, and loss of human life as easily as we can cost land and agricultural crop losses?
Of course the alternate energy sector is already booming in terms of activity and investment. But so is oil, being more deserving of its "black gold" tag as it defies traditional economic wisdom that price determines demand. Oil demand is still growing including its environmental cost.
Perhaps oil running out is a far greater economic threat than global warming is in itself, but that’s another story.
As northern permafrost melts it may be possible to open shipping lanes thus far blocked between Europe and Asia. This would shorten the existing trade route by 9000km and this may present economic opportunities.