MY WORD: Climate change – where is our world going?

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Recently the head of a United Nations panel warned, "If the world doesn't cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, global warming could become out of control." A group of Nobel laureate scientists predicts dangers are going to become worse as time passes.

Cris Field of the Carnegie Institute for Science in California reports, "We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential." Other climate scientists say, "Nobody around the world is immune."

Princeton University Professor Michael Oppenheimer said, "Environmental changes are occurring rapidly.... They are now and in the future."

Both farmers and city dwellers are experiencing some of the drastic climate changes.

Foremost is water supply; some areas have too much water and others not enough, including drinking water. Water shortages in regions of the world are limiting amounts of grain, fruits and vegetable production, causing higher prices and, in some cases, hunger.

The UN report mentions other risks: availability of food and its cost to consumers, the extent of some diseases and financial costs. Poverty, sickness, violence, and refugees also result from climate change. There will be more mosquitoes and new pests spreading diseases to plants and animals, including human beings. Global warming will have an effect on everyone, the rich, poor and persons in between. Some scientists say the report is very conservative because it is based only on peer review studies.

Science is clear: human activities are the principal cause of climate change. These activities have brought on global warming, causing a continuing rise in temperature. Carbon dioxide and other air pollutants collect in the atmosphere like a thick blanket, trapping the sun's heat and causing the planet to warm up. Coal-burning power plants are the United States' largest source of carbon dioxide pollution. Two billion five hundred million tons are released into the atmosphere each year. Automobiles are the next largest carbon dioxide pollutant, creating about one and a half billion tons released into the atmosphere each year.

The increased temperature causes climate fluctuations around the world, bringing on drastic changes in rain, snow, melting ice, droughts, floods, fire, mud slides, hurricanes, rising ocean tides and other changes. Rising sea levels brought on by melting glaciers are forcing millions of people around the world to seek higher ground.

Ninety percent of the warming occurs in the oceans, 10 percent in other water bodies and in the earth's atmosphere and surfaces. Warming of ocean water is reducing photosynthetic processes going on there. Photosynthesis is a global process producing essential biological energy reaching back to the formation of life on the earth. Carbon dioxide and water are the chemical compounds used in photosynthesis to produce basic sugars, which are essential for living organisms. The leftover chemical in the process is oxygen. Photosynthesis maintains atmospheric levels of oxygen.

A recent scientific census of biodiversity of living species revealed there are about 8,700,000 living species. More than 6 million are land and atmospheric species, and more than two million live in water. In our living biosphere many species may vanish before their existence is ever known. Biodiversity of species depends on earth's environments for species to coexist.

Scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara have shown that increased global warming is reducing life in oceans. Ocean food chains are based on the production and growth of trillions of microscopic plants. Satellite data shows that ocean warming is reducing the number of plants, imperiling ocean fisheries and other marine life.

Water food chains begin with phytoplankton – microscopic living plant organisms in oceans and fresh waters – diatoms and certain algae are life forms of phytoplankton. Energy from photosynthesis is essential for phytoplankton to produce food for them and microscopic animal organisms in water known as zooplankton.

Phytoplankton of oceans and fresh water produce food for other one-celled animal organisms, zooplankton, and other one-celled animal organisms, which proceed up the water food chain, including shrimp-like creatures to small fish, to larger fish, then to mackerel, to tuna, and to large sharks and whales. Increased warming of the oceans will decrease the photosynthetic processes in phytoplankton, resulting in decreasing food chains in the oceans. People who depend on ocean products for their livelihood will be severely affected.

All evidence points to the urgent need for governments and individuals around the world to come to grips with global warming. Further delay will only make inevitable a drastic change in mankind's way of life.


Noble Roberts’ major studies and writings are in the biological and chemical sciences, including ecology, oceanography, public health and speciation at the baccalaureate, masters, doctoral and post doctoral levels. He is a resident of Shelbyville.