We are all familiar with the term ‘global warming’, defined as the temperature rise of the Earth’s atmosphere, caused primarily by increased emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxide. As the Earth’s climate fluctuates between warm and cold periods, it is natural for this to happen. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the global average temperature has now exceeded pre-industrial levels by 1.1°C to 1.2°C, caused by over 200 years of rising levels of human-made greenhouse gases.
What could this global warming lead to?
One of the most immediate risks posed by global warming is natural disasters, as a warming climate means extreme weather events are more frequent and intense. The oceans are rising faster than ever due to thermal expansion and melting ice glaciers, thus flooding coastal areas, damaging property and eroding habitats. Studies have shown that sea level rise of 0.19 meters per decade could double the frequency of major flooding in some areas of the Northeast United States. In addition, extreme temperatures are increasing the severity and spread of wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. For instance, research has demonstrated a link between extreme temperatures and the number of fires, noting that as air temperature rises, the frequency of wildfires increases exponentially.
Climate change also affects public health. An increase in the Earth’s average temperature leads to the spread of disease-carrying insects, allergens, and air pollution. A 2020 study on the impacts of climate change on human health identified heat-related illnesses—such as heat stroke, dehydration and cardiovascular diseases—as the most significant threats, dwelling on the fact that even a small increase in temperature can have a drastic effect on humans. The risk is highest for groups that are most vulnerable, such as pregnant women, elderly people and those with existing health conditions. In addition, air pollution levels lead to more severe cases of asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Maybe the most worrying consequence of global warming is its effect on biodiversity. Warmer temperatures disrupt food chains, leading to the extinction of certain species and the migration of others. Slight modifications in the climate can cause loss of habitats or food sources, or reduced fertility, leading to the disappearance of a certain species. As the reefs are being heavily harmed by higher water temperatures, the loss of coral bleaching is putting the food sources of many species of fish at risk. As global warming not only has an effect on sea level but also on currents, it can also lead to displacement, with species having to find new homes
Last but not least, global warming has an impact on socio-economic and taxation systems. The measures to reduce the effects of climate change, such as taxes for fuel, prohibitory laws for certain activities, and limits for resources extraction, all place an extra burden on taxpayers, making it more expensive for low income households. In addition, infrastructure projects, such as sea walls, dikes, and dams, are needed to adapt to climate change, often subsidised by the public. This puts a strain on local economies with tax money being used for costly public works.
No doubt, dealing with global warming is a complex, multifaceted issue, with both positive and negative implications to consider. Nevertheless, we need to move forward and research the ways in which this global menace can be tackled. One of the most effective measures is to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Governments, businesses and individuals must pursue solutions, through legislation, technological advancements, and sustainable practices. We need to work together to prevent further damage to our planet, or else we could face irreversible devastation.