In the last few years there has been a lot of attention given to the problem of climate change. Usually we only hear vague ideas about how the Earth is heating up, how we are all going to die and that we are to blame. However climate change is a natural process that experts have said has been sped up by human activity, for example, industrial activities, vehicles and machines producing gases like carbon dioxide and methane. These gases are damaging because of how the Sun’s rays heat up the Earth.
The rays from the Sun enter the atmosphere, hitting the Earth’s surface with most being reflected back without heating up the Earth at all. The ones that are absorbed by the sea and the ground are reflected back as infrared rays therefore heating up the Earth. However as more CO2 and other “greenhouse gases” are pumped into the atmosphere, fewer and fewer of the Sun’s rays are reflected away, hence the rising temperatures.
Although there is debate over the largest contributor to the climate change problem that is not my focus for this essay. In this essay I intend to show how climate change would affect the world’s water; that is to say 70% of the Earth’s surface.
The most talked about point in the media about the effect of climate change on water is the sea level. This is because as the Earth heats up the seas and oceans will absorb a lot of the heat causing the water molecules to expand and the sea level to rise.
Another possible factor that contributes to the rising sea levels is the melting of the glaciers, ice shelves and ice sheets and this has another effect. As there is less and less ice to reflect back the sun’s rays as ice reflects back 90% of the light that hits it while water absorbs the same percentage, this speeds up the warming of the earth even more and as more and more ice melts the problem worsens.
There are many inter-linking consequences to the rising sea levels and of global warming. Droughts, floods and even the danger of the Gulf Stream, the warm water current that heats up our region, shutting down. The idea of flooding because of rising sea levels is self-explanatory. As there is more water, rivers, lakes and streams could break their banks and flood.
The possibility of the Gulf Stream shutting down is more complicated and will have a much more lasting effect. The Gulf Stream works through a mixture of wind, water salinity and temperature, the shape of the ocean floor and the Earth’s rotation. As temperatures continue to fall and more sea ice melts, this adds more fresh water to the Atlantic, reducing the salinity of the water. As there is less dense and less salty water, the Gulf Stream slows down. As it does slow down and weaken it will become more and more unstable and more likely to shut down altogether, lowering temperatures in our region by up to 9oC.
Fortunately there are things we can do to help the climate change problem. Saving energy lowers the amount of fossil fuels that are needed to produce that energy and the less coal, oil and gas being burned in power plants, the lower the emissions of carbon dioxide. Saving energy can be a simple matter, such as switching off lights when you leave a room, having showers instead of baths, and turning down central heating systems, even 1oC can save up to 10% on energy bills. One of the most effective ways of helping is properly insulating your home as this reduces the energy needed to heat your home.
The second most important greenhouse gas, methane is produced by landfill waste, which comprises 90% of the UK’s sixteen million tonnes of waste each year. If we recycle more and more of this waste then there is less need to mine for raw materials and less methane being produced as there is less landfill waste.
Two hundred years ago, if we produced the same amount of carbon dioxide as we did now, it probably would not have had any major effect, as there was not the same level as deforestation. The reason this would have made a difference is because trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
Although the effects of climate change won’t be felt for years, we owe it to the future generations to save, if not our planet, our way of life.
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