Over the past decades, scientists have reported a gradual increase in the atmospheric temperatures on Earth, a condition termed as global warming. In the early 1950s, global warming sounded like a relief, especially to the people in the Northern hemisphere, from the extreme cold climates. By the 1960s, however, scientists recognized the extent to which global warming posed a risk to the environment. Several studies were conducted to ascertain that global warming was real and if not mitigated, would cause a sound effect by 21st century. By 1965, the US President’s Science Advisory Committee, reported on the matter, predicting that the world temperatures might have increased significantly by the year 2000 (Laing & Binyamin, 2013). Today, the effects of global warming are apparent with every decade, reporting an increased rise in temperature than the preceding one. What are the effects of high temperatures on the daily life of a human being? This paper will put the effects of global warming into perspective.
The causes of global warming can be classified into two major categories; the natural processes causes also referred to as external forces and the human activities related causes. Researchers have established that human activities contribute to over 90% causes of global warming with the major cause being the greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007), absorption of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere warms the Earth by trapping heat. Gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and ozone can all lead to global warming. The effect of these gases depends on their respective concentration in the atmosphere and the duration into which it is emitted.
There are several human activities that result in the emission of greenhouse gases. For example, industrialization and man’s addiction to electricity has increased coal burning power plants in order to satisfy their demand. Reporting on the US industries, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that coal burning and electricity production accounts for over 80% of the total emissions. CO2 is also emitted from burning gasoline to produce energy. As lifestyle changes, many people are spending more time driving, which is estimated to cause 33% of emissions in developed countries. Another human activity that leads to an increase in the CO2 release into the atmosphere is deforestation. Cut down trees are used to generate heat, either as fuel or charcoal, a process that emits carbon dioxide. Deforestation does not only add CO2 in the atmosphere, but also removes in the system one of the greatest absorbers of CO2 since intact forests removes the gas from the atmosphere.
The world is already experiencing the effects of global warming as predicted in the 1960s. One of the obvious effects is the rise in temperature that has been recorded in several parts of the world. Increase in temperature has led to in melting of ice sheets, consequently raising the sea levels (Laing & Binyamin, 2013). As a result, the average global sea levels have risen by close to 8 inches, which may lead to flooding and depletion of coastal habitats. In the East coast of the U.S, for example, melting of ice in Greenland and Antarctica is capable of causing floods that can displace of the surrounding communities. According to the IPCC reports (2007), sea levels may rise by up to 0.9 meters by 2100, should the current rate of greenhouse gas emission remain unchecked.
Global warming is instigating changes in weather patterns with studies predicting drastic changes in the future. It prolongs the drought season in one area while causing heavy floods in other areas. In their report, Mannshardt and Gilleland (2013) explain that global warming has increased the intensity of weather and climate extremes and whose result is costly to bear. For example, the world is reporting unprecedented events, such as the hurricane Katrina of August 2005, which was the strongest and deadliest in the history of the US. Global warming is caused by prolonged hot and dry seasons, which increase the instances and intensity wildfires. According to the National Wildlife Federation (2008), the overall area burned by wildfires in the US is likely to double by the end of the 21st century if the average summer temperatures keep on increasing. Other than destroying forest and vegetation cover, wildfires release CO2 in the atmosphere, leading to more global warming.
The impacts of global warming on agriculture have taken a center stage in research and studies. Scholars have proved that a moderate rise in temperature and, to some extent, increase in CO2 can increase agricultural yields (Adams et al., 1998). However, global warming may not balance the requirement of different crops since plant species thrive in specific optimal conditions, including temperature, CO2, moisture, and nutrient component. For example, high levels of CO2 may increase yield in certain crops like wheat. For a natural increase of CO2, it is likely that temperatures will be high, higher than the optimal requirement. This counteracts the gain in yield that would have been realized from the increase in CO2 concentration. In some crops, moreover, warmer temperature may speed up their growth period, but declines the quantity and quality of produce. Warmer temperatures and increased CO2 have also been found to favor the reproduction of fungi, pests, and weeds. Farmers, therefore, shoulders an extra cost of fighting pests and weeds.
Other than crop farming, livestock and fishery farmers have also reported losses as a result of global warming. To begin with, a research by Adams et al (1998) reveals that heat waves may reduce animal fertility, milk production, and increase their vulnerability to diseases. Extreme weather conditions, such as droughts may also lead to insufficient and low quality pasture and feed supply which can also reduce on productivity. Varying climatic conditions may also increase the bleeding of parasites leading to a high prevalence of livestock diseases.
The rise in global temperature is unsettling the ecosystem, causing stress to the wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation has warned on the possible extinction of over one million different species by 2050 .The shifts in the ecosystem have caused displacement of some species habitat, with over 1500 different species facing the risk of extinction. For example, polar bears are facing extinction threat rely on Arctic sea ice, which is rapidly melting. Studies have shown that polar bears are starving and drowning as they swim for long distances in search of ice during summer months. Aquatic wildlife is also striving to survive the impacts of global warming. In California, for example, shoreline, sea life is shifting northward to escape the warm oceans and air temperature.
The effect of global warming has been identified as a threat to the future of human health whose burden is already live among the poor nations. Whereas the global warming impact is stronger in some areas than others, its impact on health has been reported to affect the poor people, mostly in third world countries. This is because developed countries are able to adjust to the changing environment and instill measures to cater for health risks. According to health workers, the effects of extreme weather conditions on health could last even long after the condition stabilizes. For example, a long duration of drought will not only cause malnutrition and deaths in young children, but increases their chances of falling ill even in their future lives.
The effect of global warming on human health varies from the heat-related, to air pollution-related diseases. According to Physicians for Social responsibility’s (PSR) analysis (2009), cases of heat-related illnesses, such as cramps, heatstroke, fainting and heat exhaustion are on the rise as the intensity of heat waves increases. Although the human body may be able to adapt to the changing intensity of heat, it may not be able to adjust to sudden changes, PSR notes. The increased concentration of ozone and CO2 in the atmosphere, as a result of global warming, has also been identified as a major cause of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. These diseases are, in most of the times, chronic and may be costly to treat.
Extreme weather conditions do not only cause instant deaths but can also lead to the spread of infectious disease. It may also lead to the emergence of new forms of diseases (PSR, 2009). Extended seasons may create a favorable environment for rapid multiplication of certain vectors. For example, areas that experience prolonged flooding may experience insect-borne diseases, such as elephantiasis, sleeping sleekness, malaria, and different types of fever, since their causative agent is adapted in watery grounds. There are other disease causing parasites, such as ticks, carriers of Lyme disease that thrive in a warm climate. Naturally, the cycle of weather conditions would keep the vectors in check since they either only survives in either hot or cold extremes. With the weather patterns changing, some areas are experiencing longer dry seasons while others are facing longer rainy seasons.
The above effects may not be understood without the evaluation of their economic impacts. The world is diverting a proportion of its resources in addressing natural disasters, such as hurricanes, drought, and floods, which causes loss of lives and massive destruction of properties. The economy is also facing an indirect loss from a decline in agricultural produce due to factors relating to global warming. The increased cost of sustaining the health care is also dragging the economies of several countries as they adopt measures to deal with the vulnerable health of its citizens. To the poor nations, however, the cost is becoming unaffordable and hence they suffer most from the effects of global warming.
Evidently, the impacts of global warming are affecting not only the human beings, but also other living organisms as well. The extent of the effect varies contingent to the geographical location. People’s response to the effects of global warming is also different, with the rich doing better than the poor. The fast rise in temperature is expected to increase even further, calling for immediate response to the threat of global warming. If the bitter pills of global warming are evident today, how will it be in the next century? Adequate measures should, therefore, be taken to minimize the rates of greenhouse gas emission. Relevant policies should also be enacted to control deforestation among other CO2 emitting activities.
Laing, J., & Binyamin, J. (2013). Climate Change Effect on Winter Temperature and Precipitation of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada from 1943 to 2011. American Journal of Climate Change. 2(4), 275-283. Retrieved on 7th Feb 2014 from http://file.scirp.org/Html/6-2360124_40682.htm
Mannshardt, E., & Gilleland , E. (2013). Extremes of Severe Storm Environments under a Changing Climate. American Journal of Climate Change, 2, 47-61. Retrieved on 7th Feb 2014 from http://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?paperID=37407#.Uxv3uoXOQ_A
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2007). Summary for Policymakers. The Physical Science Basis. Retrieved on 7th Feb 2014 from http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-spm.pdf
Adams, R., Hurd, B., Lenhart, S., & Leary, N. (1998). Effects of Global Climate Change On Agriculture: An Interpretative Review. Climate Research. 11(1), 19–30. Retrieved on 7th Feb 2014 from http://www.int-res.com/articles/cr/11/c011p019
National Wildlife Federation (2008). Increased Risk of CatastrophicWildfires: GlobalWarming’sWake-Up Call for the Western United States. Retrieved on 7th Feb 2014 from http://www.nwf.org/pdf/Global-Warming/NWF_WildFiresFinal.pdf
Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2009). The Medical and Public Health Impacts of Global Warming. http://www.psr.org/resources/the-medical-and-public-health-impacts-of-global-warming.pdf