Human Society Is Altering the Fragile Balance of Our Planet
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Our planet earth has sustained climatic changes for millions of years and continues to battle the human activities of society today. These activities are causing climate changes that will have an impact in the present and in the future. One of the most important climate processes is called the greenhouse effect. It occurs when the sun’s energy enters the atmosphere in the form of light waves and heats up the Earth. The proper balance of this energy in the Earth’s atmosphere keeps our climate stable. Scientists have provided strong evidence that greenhouse gases are causing global warming and disrupting the Earth’s precious eco-systems. Knowledge and awareness will help the population respond with global climate change solutions and resilient societies to combat the human behaviors and activities that continue to destroy our one and only earth.
Human society is altering the fragile balance of our planet without awareness of the consequences of the ever-changing climate. Our current global society needs to move from an old paradigm of thoughtless human activities and lack of concern for global sustainability to a more literate and resilient society. As Nate Lewis (2007) of Caltech suggests: We are currently conducting the biggest experiment with Planet Earth that humankind has ever performed by tinkering with our climate, “We get to do this experiment exactly once. And there is no tomorrow, because in 20 years that experiment will be cast in stone. Within the next 20 years, we either solve this problem or the world will never be the same! (p. 14) As human activities continue to add greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides to the Earth’s atmosphere, global temperatures are expected to rise, causing the Earth’s climate to change.
These climate changes may affect precipitation patterns, severe and extreme weather events, and over time environmental systems. Furthermore, human health and agriculture may be sensitive to climate change. Therefore, if science education is to promote a citizenry knowledgeable about global warming and climate change it is essential they become aware of greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change (Osborne, 1985). It is upon each of us to learn more about global climate change through our knowledge-based society and apply sustainable and resilient solutions to help mitigate the existing damages to our environment.
Our global climate system involves many different systems related to temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressures, wind, and precipitation and other measurements over long periods. In contrast, weather is the present condition of these systems over short periods. Weather is what people want to know because it has an immediate impact on their daily lives. Moreover, people may not recognize climate progression because they are generally unaware or not concerned about gradual changes. Scientists tell us these gradual changes are caused from the build-up of greenhouse gases which influence the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect occurs when the sun’s energy enters the atmosphere in the form of light waves and heats up the Earth. (see figure 1, Le Treut et al. 2007 for more detailed explanation). Some of that energy warms the Earth and is re-radiated back into space in the form of infrared waves. Under normal conditions, a portion of the outgoing infrared radiation is naturally trapped by the atmosphere—and that is a good thing, because it keeps the temperature on Earth within comfortable bounds (Gore 2006).
Figure 1 An idealised model of the natural greenhouse effect, Le Treut et al. 2007 The greenhouse effect needs to be balanced to keep the Earth stable and sustainable for our future generations. Gore (2006) states, the climate crisis we now face is that this thin layer of atmosphere is being thickened by huge quantities of human-caused carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. When gases thicken, it traps a lot of the infrared radiation that would otherwise escape the atmosphere and continue out to the universe. As a result, the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere—and oceans—is getting dangerously warmer (Gore, 2006). Scientist Lonnie Thompson derived a method to measure how much CO2 was in the Earth’s atmosphere in over the past 1,000 years. His researchers calculated the ratio of different isotopes of oxygen in ice which provided a very accurate thermometer. This thermometer allowed the experts to count backward in time year by year—much like a forester reads tree rings. From these reading, they discovered an enormous increase in temperature over the last half-century as compared to the previous 950 years of data (Gore, 2006).
Presently, we can compare and contrast the lack of human activities to the relative stable temperatures of the past. The evidence of future global warming is clear and based on factors of increasing carbon dioxide and ice depletion. Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased at an unprecedented rate in the past 200 years and the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps, and glaciers are thawing at the highest rates ever documented. Glacier depletion means there will be a shortage of freshwater for populations of people in the regions of Himalayas, Andes, Alps, and Sierras. Unfortunately, the melted ice eventually ends up in the ocean, causing sea levels to rise, as it has many times in the geologic past. Presently, the sea level is rising about 3-4 mm per year, more than ten times the rate of 0.10.2 mm/year that has occurred over the past 3000 years (Donald, 2012). Gore’s 2006 book supports Donald’s findings and argues that “melting the Arctic could profoundly change the planet’s entire climate pattern.” (p.153). Scientists say that the world’s redistribution of heat from the Equator and the tropics to the poles change the wind and ocean currents—like the Gulf Stream and the jet stream.
Disrupting these currents would have incalculable consequences for all of civilization (Gore, 2006). Scientific studies confirm– when oceans get warmer, storms get stronger. Moreover, there are differing opinions regarding the frequency of ocean storms or hurricanes. Warmer water increases the moisture content in storms and raises the annual precipitation that leads to flooding. The disruption of the planet’s climate can have opposite effects like drought and desertification in areas that normally have regular precipitation (Gore, 2006). Global climate change is a massive, ongoing perturbation to Earth’s ecosystems that has only recently received focused scientific attention (Oswald, 2003). Global warming is disrupting the rhythm of the Earth’s season and the delicately balanced ecological relationships. Many species around the world are now threatened by climate change, and some are becoming extinct (Gore, 2006). As described by Gore (2006), another disturbing concern of global warming and it involves diseases. Disease vectors from algae, mosquitoes, ticks or other germ-carrying life forms are emerging as temperatures increase. Knowledge-based Society
Global education is a key step in slowing down the environmental changes caused by human activities. A statement from the University of Michigan’s Millennium Project research center tells us: We live in a time of great change, an increasingly global society, driven by the exponential growth of new knowledge and knitted together by rapidly evolving information and communication technologies. It is a time of challenge and contradiction, as an ever-increasing human population threatens global sustainability…. It is also a time of unusual opportunity and optimism as new technologies not only improve the human condition but also enable the creation and flourishing of new communities and social institutions more capable of addressing the needs of our society (Millennium Project, n.d.). The world has become more connected and knowledge is accessible for many more people with the technology growth. Our knowledge paradigms have changed from the old energy infrastructures based largely on fossil fuels of oil and gas and less regard for environmental impact. Society continued with business as usual–drilling more wells, fracturing more shale deposits for gas, building more coal-fired power plants, and producing more gasoline-guzzling automobiles (Duderstadt, 2011).
The new knowledge paradigm will need to address global warming by educating the people of the world about the devastating human activities causing the climate to change and what can be done to mitigate the changes. Duderstadt (2011) suggests, changes to our educational institutions and leveraging our cyber-infrastructures so anyone even with a modest Internet connection will have access to the cyberspace cloud containing all recorded knowledge of our civilization along with ubiquitous learning opportunities and social networking communities throughout the world. Our global civilizations have evolved into knowledge-based societies because of the access to technology. Many people believe that the Earth is so big that humans cannot have an impact on climate change. This belief needs to change in order to reduce the growing climate change which is impacting humanity, our ecosystems, and the environment. Global Sustainability
John Holdren states, we are not talking any more about what climate models say might happen in the future. We are experiencing dangerous disruption of the global climate, and we are going to experience more. Yet we are not starting to address climate change with the technology we have in hand, and we are not accelerating our investment in energy technology research and development (Holdren, 2007). Our climate crisis is real and every person must help resolve it. Society can make a difference by creating global sustainable business practices. For some, the idea of transformation presents opportunities to innovate, develop renewable materials and technologies, and create ‘green’ economies (Barbier, 2010). It also presents openings for challenging the global financial system and paradigms of continued economic growth and consumption (Jackson, 2009). Duderstadt (2011) states, “if nations are to meet their responsibilities for national security, economic prosperity, and environmental impact, the world must move rapidly and aggressively to address the need for a sustainable energy future.” (p.26)
Climate change adaptation has been defined as adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change (Smit et al., 2001). As John Holdren is often quoted in relation to climate change “We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each” (Kolbert, 2009, p.15). Now that humanity has advanced from technological growth, it is time to mitigate the damages created by excessive greenhouse gases. We must learn to live our lives with respect for our global environment. Every individual can make a difference by changing the human activities which have overwhelmed our precious planet. Society can take action by reducing energy and emissions, consuming less, and conserving more. Individually each of us can be a catalyst for change by learning more about our environment and informing others to take action with our political votes, investments, and inspiration to sustainability. Conclusion
Unfortunately, the lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is very long. Even if current emissions could be eliminated, it would take thousands of years for concentrations to decay back to acceptable levels. Hence, we have only a few decades to address this problem before reaching the point of no return (Duderstadt, 2011). Professor Hugh Montgomery from the University College London Institute for Human Health and Performance recently wrote: There is now no dispute about climate change: it is happening, and human activity is driving it. Each day, the threat this poses becomes clearer–threatening our civilization and also the survival of our species. The immediacy of this threat is also now recognized: it is not something ‘for the next millennium’ but for our lifetimes and those of our children. Without urgent action, the future is grim. But we can all respond to make the difference. And the time to do so is now (Montgomery, 2009).
Fortunately, we humans get to experience the intense beauty of nature every day we live on planet Earth. In order to preserve and protect nature, human society must take responsibility for altering the fragile balance of our planet and make changes to how we live. Now is the time to correct our climate changing activities and bring back the stability of our planet. Knowledge and awareness will help the population respond with global climate change solutions and resilient societies to combat our human behaviors and activities. Many scientist and leaders have already taken steps to learn and share their research with us. It is upon each of us to do our part by continuing to learn more about our environment and bring awareness and inspiration to our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. There are many organizations working to solve or improve our climate issues and we can get involved by joining or supporting one of them. We owe that to society and the lives of future generations.
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