The Effects of Climate Change

The evidence of climate change as well as the predicted future effects is alarming. Find out what the implications of climate change are in this tile.

Impact of Climate Change on Physical Systems

The evidence of global warming can be clearly seen in the world around us. According to statistics, the 7 hottest years since 1880 have all occurred between 2014 and 2020. The global average temperature in 2020 was 0.98°C higher than the late 1800s. This doesn’t sound like a massive difference, but a 1 degree difference is enough to severely destabilize global ecosystems.

With the increase in global temperatures, there is a risk of the polar ice caps melting, and we are already seeing this. In the 20th century, the global average sea level has risen between 17 and 21 cm.

This shows the scale of the threat that we are under, as the systems that we rely on for food and wellbeing are under threat. If the trend is not stopped, future generations will suffer greatly due to the severe effects.

Impact on Biological Systems

Changes in climate have a direct effect on biological systems. The increase in global temperatures results in extreme weather conditions like super storms, floods, and droughts, which, in turn, results in loss or changes in habitats for plantlife and animal species. Warming also affects the biological timing (phenology) and geographic range of both animal and plant communities. Increases in migration of species have been observed, which results in altered biological communities and functioning of ecosystems.   

Climate change can also affect survival and reproduction, where some species might benefit including pests, fungi, or diseases and other species might become extinct. Predator and prey interactions might also be affected by these shifts

What’s more, seasons are also affected by the warming effect. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the average growing season on the American mainland has lengthened by nearly 2 weeks.

Climate Change Predictions: Daily Temperatures and Oceans

Since the 1970s, average global temperatures have been increasing at a rate of 0.13°C per decade, which is almost twice as fast as the rate over the preceding 50 years, which was around 0.07°C per decade.

According to IPCC reports, global temperatures are predicted to continue rising dramatically over the next 80 years, at an even faster rate than thus far. This will not only result in higher average daytime temperatures, but will also increase the frequency and magnitude of extremely hot days.  

Warmer oceans will result in melting glaciers and ice sheets, which will lead to a rise in water levels. Simulations predict a rise in sea levels of between 26 and 77 cm for a 1°C increase 

in the average temperature. This puts some cities in danger of sinking into the sea, among them such  heavily populated cities as Mumbai, Shanghai, New York , Bangkok, and Miami. With a population of 10 million, Jakarta is considered to be ‘the fastest-sinking city in the world’ and, according to predictions, it will be entirely underwater by 2050.

The Ocean’s Buffer Capacity

Just like with human bodies, oceans have a natural buffering capacity. A buffer resists changes in acidity when adding an acid or an alkali by converting those substances. 

The buffer effect of the ocean is good news, because a constant pH is important for marine life. Seawater contains ions, such as chloride and sodium from salt, as well as calcium, hydrogen carbonate and carbonate ions that are essential for living organisms that produce calcium carbonate skeletons. All of these ions are part of the buffering process. 

The oceans’ natural buffer is the carbonate/hydrogen carbonate system. This maintains pH between 8.1 and 8.3, in a series of equilibrium reactions. This chemical equilibrium between various chemical forms of carbon and hydrogen ions, or protons, forms a buffering system that is the most important factor controlling the pH of seawater.

Ocean Acidification Explained

There are a lot of things happening in the oceans, including changes to the chemical environment – this has an impact on the pH of the seawater. One example is carbon dioxide, which reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid, a weak acid that breaks, or ‘dissociates,’ into hydrogen ions (H+) and bicarbonate ions (HCO3). This causes the acidity of seawater to increase. But why?

Le Chatelier’s principle states that, if a dynamic equilibrium is disturbed by changing the conditions, the position of equilibrium shifts to counteract the change to achieve a new equilibrium. According to this principle, an increase in concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide will cause the equilibrium to move to the right, meaning that seawater becomes more acidic. A pH below 7 means that a substance is acidic, while a pH above 7 indicates that it is basic. A pH of exactly 7 is neutral. 

The oceans’ surface has already become more acidic by a pH of approximately 0.1 in the last 200 years. And, according to predictions, acidity is likely to  increase by a further 0.3-0.6 by the end of the century, depending on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

The Implications of Climate Change

Climate change will undoubtedly have some implications on our society and the environment. Though the impacts of climate change will vary regionally, they are very likely to impose costs that will increase with global temperatures. It is also likely that a combination of climate change and other disturbances will exceed many ecosystems’ capacities for resilience. This could result in outcomes like species extinction, food insecurity, and human activity constraints. With an increase of the average global temperature of 2°C, almost every summer will be warmer than the hottest 5% of recent summers.

With increased temperatures, changes in precipitation and climate variability would alter geographic ranges and seasonality of diseases spread by organisms like mosquitoes, for example.

It’s also likely that food will become scarce. Although higher carbon dioxide concentrations and slight temperature increases can boost crop yields, the negative effects of warming on plant health and soil moisture will lead to lower yields at higher temperatures. 

The Economic, Political, and Social Effects of Climate Change

Climate change has already, and will continue to challenge society with undeniable social, political, and social effects. And all these challenges are interrelated. 

The economic influence of global warming is primarily through damage to property and infrastructure, loss of productivity, mass migration, and security threats. Other economic and societal challenges that cities around the globe face due to climate change include energy shortages and losses to industry. Rising temperatures and increased frequency of extreme weather events will also put severe pressure on food availability, stability, access, and use. 

The main political challenge regarding climate change, however, lies in that the public is largely divided when it comes to taking a stance against climate change drivers. No progress can be made if governments and communities around the world are not in agreement with regard to combating climate change. This is because our world climate is interdependent: it is impossible to stop climate change in England if France is still burning fossil fuels, for example. Climate change is a global threat and can only be addressed by a global response. 

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