Climate change. Global Warming. What?!

Dear 21st century humans,

There’s one thing that we have always heard when it comes to our environment. Well, three actually. These are buzz phrases that are thrown around by scientists, news anchors and politicians WHENEVER there is talk of the environment. Climate change. Global Warming. Greenhouse effect.

But the problem is, people are STILL confused about what these really mean. How are they related? Are we really in danger? Well, kind of. But from what? Is it climate change? Global warming? Greenhouse effect? Are they all the same? Are they different? Which should we be worried about? Should we be worried about them at all?!

Let me take this post to answer these questions for you.

First up, let me explain what these phrases mean. That’s important.

Global warming

When the temperature on Earth increases, i.e. more energy stays in within the Earth than it emits, it is called global warming. There are many reasons why the total energy on Earth could increase.

Some of these factors are:

  1. The solar radiation increases
  2. Earth revolves closer to the Sun
  3. The inclination of the Earth on it’s axis changes
  4. Atmospheric composition changes to hold in more energy

Climate change

Climate is the weather pattern (rainfall, temperature, humidity, etc.) that a place experiences over a long period of time. It is usually fixed, except for minor fluctuations year on year (called climate variability).

But, over large time periods—over decades or centuries—the climate of the Earth changes.

Why?

The climate is controlled by the total energy of Earth at a particular time. When the total energy changes, the climate also changes.

Total energy could increase (because of global warming) or decrease (because of global cooling).

But even though the total energy (heat) on Earth changes, climate change means changes in every weather factor. Climate change can mean that an area can get hotter than what is known, or colder. The area could get wetter, or drier. The duration of summer and winter could change.

Greenhouse effect

This is a concept based on which greenhouses work. Basically, a greenhouse situation is when solar radiation comes into a particular enclosure, but is not allowed to leave that enclosure because of an obstruction. In real greenhouses, this obstruction is glass.

This is extrapolated to Earth. Consider point number 4 under the reasons for global warming mentioned above.

There are certain gases in the atmosphere that have this property of letting radiation come in, but doesn’t let it go out. When the amount of these gases in the atmosphere increases, naturally, the radiation (energy) they trap also increase. And that raises the temperature of lower levels of Earth, allegedly causing global warming.

What is going on in our world right now? Is it climate change? Is it global warming?

Yes, it is climate change. And it is happening because Earth is holding on to more energy than it lets go (i.e. because of global warming).

It’s a cause-effect relationship. Global warming is happening, which is causing climate change.

Are we in danger because of this?

Climate is, and has been changing since the end of the last Ice Age. The world has been getting hotter. So, in a way, we have been experiencing “warming”. But it’s nowhere near as warm we’ve had at some times in the past. For example, in the Jurassic times, the world was so hot that there was NO ICE on the planet, anywhere. The poor Dinos.

Compared to that, we’re in very cool times. We have plenty of ice.

The whole issue with this climate crisis is the rate of change of the climate.

We’re well away from the “Global Greenhouse” scenario, but the problem is, it’s coming towards us much, much faster than it should. The climate is changing, and it is changing really fast. THAT is the problem. THAT’S why this is such a big deal.

Nature is a beautiful machine. It has adapted itself in such a way as to deal with these periodic changes in climate. But it has adapted to a particular speed. It’s like this:

You are a new driver. In times like this, you are comfortable when cars ahead of you are coming at 40 miles per hour. But the minute you see a car coming at 140 miles, you get nervous.

Nature is that nervous driver. And it can’t adapt to this rapidly changing climate, rapidly changing environment. Which then causes all the problems that has been very well explained by scientists the world over….

Global warming and climate change are natural Earth System processes. It will happen whether we like it or not. What we need to worry about it how fast it’ll happen. How fast the climate will change. Because if it happens and we can’t adapt, things could get ugly.

I hope this has cleared things a little for you. Please comment if you have more questions.

As always,

Yours,

Fellow 21st century human.

Author: Saurab Babu

Usually found sitting with a good book, nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate. Always ready for a good story.

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