By Stacey Venzel
Over the last one hundred years, the average temperature on our planet has risen 33 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). While the earth does cycle through stages of warm and cool temperatures, the current rate of change is too fast for nature to adapt. This suggests that we could see the effects of global warming in our lifetime.
First, let’s clear the air here with an understanding of the terms “global warming” and “climate change.” They’re often used interchangeably, but science and politics are trying to maintain a differentiation between the two. Scientists tend to relate global warming simply to a rising of the earth’s temperatures. Climate change references this on a grander scale addressing how such changes will affect the earth’s atmosphere over a long period of time.
Biodiversity by land and sea could decrease over the ensuing decades if global warming continues at the current speed. Weather patterns could change drastically. But while these consequences are recognized in the broad scheme of things, lesser known are their implications on an individual level.
All coffee drinkers better start turning to another source of breakfast caffeine. In India, coffee production has decreased by almost 30 percent in less than 10 years. These lower crop yields are linked to extreme weather patterns associated with global warming, such as drought and flooding. As a result of supply and demand, coffee brands have shot up their prices.
Unseasonably warm temperatures affect crop production as close to home as backyard gardening. Like coffee, other staple crops and even livestock are struggling to survive. Heat waves as far away as Australia have caused cattle to drop dead in their stalls.
Not only are land plants experiencing issues with global warming, but marine plants are as well. Harmful algal blooms are occurring more frequently as the oceans heat up. HABs are known to result in wildlife death while simultaneously dampening coastal swimming quality.
While we all know polar bears are affected by habitat loss, underwater life is seeing changes as well. Rising temperatures in the marine world have caused coral bleaching, another top threat to coral reefs everywhere. Destruction of these diverse ecosystems leads to habitat loss for animals like fish and sea turtles.
Our buzzing, pollinating friends are not projected to fair well with global warming either. Bees and butterflies are expected to decline in numbers as their habitats change due to the loss of the plant species they pollinate. Anyone enjoying the autumn perks of an apple cider should pay attention; we could lose the bees that bring the blossoms to the orchards.
This year alone, historic weather patterns have been making the news. As ocean temperatures intensify and sea levels rise, wind strength and flooding in relation to tropical storms are predicted to increase considerably. In October, Hurricane Joaquin battered the southeastern Bahamas for days, devastating the islands with relentless storm surges and high winds. The storm was so large it sent moisture toward the southern U.S., adding to rainfall associated with a region of low pressure that caused unprecedented flooding in South Carolina. Hurricane Patricia hit southwest Mexico mere weeks later, registering at sea as the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.
Those partial to wintry weather might be disappointed to see the winter season lasting shorter on average than in the past. Spring is arriving two weeks earlier than two centuries ago with it expected to arrive three weeks sooner by the end of this century.
Just as plant and animal species face peril with global warming, so do humans. Chances of heat stroke, dehydration and heat exhaustion have reached record highs, as evidenced by the 2003 deaths of more than 11,000 Europeans during a heat wave in France.
Unsafe drinking water is already the leading threat to global health in third-world countries. However, droughts and flooding associated with global warming can cause even more water shortages and contaminate clean drinking water. It could become a problem in developed countries, too. Water now deemed drinkable could be dirtied with salt water or harbor water-borne diseases like cholera. HABs also irritate the respiratory system resulting in aggravated coughing fits for many individuals.
Tourism, recreational activities and agricultural industries located in more extreme climates are expected to experience projected decreases in several areas. People are less likely to vacation where it is uncomfortably hot, for instance, and fishermen might see less success with the residual effects of coral bleaching. Seasonal sports like skiing will also be affected by the melting ice. Additionally, heat stress might cause farmers to find their crops and livestock in short supply.
It is easy to see the consequences of rising temperatures for our planet, but it is perhaps more difficult to appeal to global warming’s impending concerns for individuals. Nevertheless, they are apparent. And, disturbingly, approaching us in the near future.
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