Increased concentrations of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) are causing a host of environmental problems. CO2 is the chief culprit in what is known as global warming, however the effect of GHG's on our environment extend beyond warming, so it may be more accurate to refer to these effects as climate change. In an effort to more clearly define these effects some are using the term 'global weirding.'
"Global weirding" was coined by Hunter Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, this term refers to an increase in severe or unusual environmental activity. This definition includes the seemingly paradoxical meterological occurances of heat waves and cold spells, floods and droughts.
GHGs are thought to be the leading cause of increased storm activity. Various meteorological models predict ongoing increases in the number and severity of tropical storms, cyclones, hurricanes, blizzards and other extreme weather. We can expect hotter and drier summers and colder winters.
The melting ice caps on the poles are amongst the more pressing concerns. This melting ice will cause widespread flooding and other environmental problems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that oceanic expansion will cause flooding of coastal areas, swamps, wetlands and river deltas. Some small islands may even vanish completely as a consequence of flooding.
Rising levels of CO2 can impact catastrophically on our oceans, lakes and rivers. Increasing levels of CO2 are increasing the acidity levels in the seas and this could damage marine life and cause irreversible changes to the ocean's biodiversity. The acidification of the world's oceans have a direct economic cost, in the US alone domestic fisheries provided a primary sale value of 5.1 billion dollars in 2007. Damage to corals could also reduce the coastal protection from storms that reefs currently provide.
Increased evaporation of water supplies, will cause water shortages and may even lead saltwater to penetrate groundwater zones.
Extreme weather, flooding, drought and erosion of agricultural plots will damage crops and soils and decrease agricultural yields leading to widespread famines.
Contagious diseases are expected to increase because global warming is conducive to the proliferation of pathogens and certain insects that spread disease like the malaria mosquito.
Perhaps the most dramatic and devastating effects to our climate may occur as the circulation of cold and warm gulf streams is altered by desalination of the Atlantic Ocean. Some scientists have indicated that this could lead to a new Ice Age.
GHGs not only impact the environment they have profound social consequences. We can expect large-scale migration and mitigation issues between countries as people flee meteorological calamities, desease, drought and famine. Historically the scarcity of resources often leads to civil unrest and war.
The delicate balance of the Earth's ecosystems is threatened by climate change. Many scientists predict major shifts in ecosystems and changing migration patterns. These changes are causing massive die-offs and even the extinction of entire species of plants and animals. In some cases population explosions of certain species may further destabilize the natural balance. Decreasing biodiversity will further alter the planetary balance.
The effects of GHGs are not only dire predictions for our future, their effects are wreaking devastion today. A recent study from the Global Humanitarian Forum, an organization headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, claims that global warming is already causing 300,000 deaths and $125 billion in economic losses annually. Further, we may be running out of time as many climate change scientists believe that we can get to a tipping point beyond which the earth will not be able to recover.
Next: Debunking CO2 Myths and the Science of Global Warming / Action on Climate Change
Primer on CO2 and other GHGs
Obama's Renewable Energy Revolution
US Cap-and-Trade: Positioning Your Business
US Cap-and-Trade: Obstacles and Solutions
US Cap-and-Trade: What and Why
The Road to Copenhagen (COP 15): Implications for Business
The Road to Copenhagen (COP 15): Timetable
Green Stimulus and Republican Opposition
US Green Legislation
Green Stimulus Package Part 1
America Votes: Environmental Politics
Market Based Social Change
Green Policy Debated in the Canadian Parliament
Cap-and-trade in Ontario and Quebec