You’ve probably heard of the phrase in recent media called “alternative facts.” It is basically a falsehood that is presented and stated as truth (or as the common folk calls it… a lie). When it comes to climate change alternative facts are nothing new, but then some might wonder… what are the authentic facts?
Glad you asked!
What exactly causes climate change?
There are many factors that contribute to climate change (think animal agriculture, deforestation, melting permafrost, etc.), but I’ll just focus on the most commonly known, greenhouse gas emissions. Every time we drive our cars or get energy from a fossil fuel based power plant it results in the release of greenhouse gases.
Fossil fuels are made up of hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are simply molecules containing hydrogen and carbon. Types of hydrocarbon based fossil fuels include conventional oil extracted as crude oil, natural gas, and coal containing decomposed plant life.
When hydrocarbons are combusted in cars or factories they combine with oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide. Other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and more.
Why are greenhouse gases so bad?
The problem with allowing all of these gases into our atmosphere is that they do exactly what the name suggests…create a greenhouse gas effect. Have you ever been into a greenhouse? It’s humid and hot, very hot. The same thing is happening to earth just on a larger scale.
The sun emits a wide spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. Some emissions appear as visible light, others as infrared radiation, and even the infamous ultraviolet waves that burn skin. The earth also reflects infrared radiation from its surfaces back up into the atmosphere.
Infrared light is unique because it has the exact energy and wavelength to interact with greenhouse gases. Gases like carbon dioxide have the ability to absorb infrared light due to the vibrations between the bonds and release this energy as heat. Therefore, the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorbs more infrared light. The more infrared light absorbed by these gases, the more heat that’s trapped and produced.
What will a warmer world look like?
A warmer world will not just mean it gets hot everywhere. No, it’s not quite that simple.
Increasing earth’s temperature will cause (and has already caused) an increase in the frequency and strength of hurricanes, droughts, and heat waves. Corals will bleach due to ocean acidification and melting permafrost will release more methane (a greenhouse gas). Warmer poles will result in changes to the polar vortex. Ecosystem imbalances will result in mass extinction, and much more.
This is not the future we want for generations to come. It is our job to learn the true facts and spread the word to the people would don’t know or don’t care about the science of climate change.