What is driving global warming and climate change
The global warming
It is getting warmer and warmer on earth. In the last hundred years alone, the average temperature has risen by almost one degree Celsius. The main reason for this warming is the increased proportion of carbon dioxide in the air. This CO2-The main cause of the increase is the industrialized countries through the burning of oil, gas and coal.
Plants, on the other hand, have a protective effect on the climate. They can absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into organic compounds during photosynthesis. The tropical forests store a particularly large amount of carbon dioxide. Because large areas of forest are being cleared in the tropics, this storage function is becoming ever smaller. Because where there is no tree, no more carbon dioxide is taken from the air. The greenhouse effect increases and the atmosphere warms up.
So will we soon be swimming in the lake in winter instead of sledding? Difficult to predict. Scientists are trying to calculate by how many degrees Celsius the earth will heat up in the future with the help of computer models. According to these models, the average temperature on earth could rise by a further one to six degrees by the year 2100. How the temperature curve will actually run depends above all on whether the proportion of carbon dioxide continues to rise.
The serious consequences of climate change can already be seen: The ice masses are melting, the sea level is rising, storms and droughts are increasing. It is all the more important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially CO2. Because this trace gas remains in the atmosphere for a long time. Only if we blow less of it into the atmosphere can man-made climate change at least be slowed down.
Some industrialized countries have therefore committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and certain CO2-Values not to be exceeded. But despite a series of climate summits, the global community has not yet succeeded in curbing the rise in carbon dioxide in the air.
What pollutes the air?
A thick cloud of haze hangs close to the floor. Such a gray veil of fog can often be seen, especially in large cities and metropolitan areas. Here the air quality suffers from the fact that a lot of dust particles are floating around. Because they are too small to be seen with the naked eye, these suspended particles are also known as particulate matter. In addition to fine dust, there are also toxic gases such as carbon monoxide or sulfur dioxide, which float in the lower atmosphere and pollute the air.
A large part of these exhaust gases are produced when crude oil, coal and other substances are burned. Cars, power plants, waste incinerators and heating systems in residential buildings blow loads of dirt into the air. In addition, there is the blown up dust - from streets, but also from factory farming, for example. The “exhaust gases” from the livestock also contribute to the fact that the air is getting worse and worse. But it is not always humans who pollute the air: volcanic eruptions can also contribute to higher levels of fine dust in the atmosphere.
The more pollutants there are in the air, the worse it is for our health: the respiratory tract can become ill, and the circulatory system and brain are damaged. Not only humans and animals suffer from the polluted air, plants are also damaged: If too much carbon dioxide and sulfur oxide are suspended in the air, acid (carbonic and sulfuric acid) forms in connection with water. The result is what is known as “acid rain”, which makes the soil acidic. Plants growing on such soil become withered and die. We are talking about "forest dieback". This can also happen far away from where the exhaust gases get into the air, because the wind carries the acid rain clouds away for hundreds of kilometers.
Air pollution is particularly bad in metropolises in India, Pakistan and Iran or in Mexico City. In Germany there are regulations on how heavily the air can be polluted. But here, too, the values are not always adhered to and car traffic continues to increase.
In order to keep the pollutants in the air low, it is therefore particularly important that enough forests and parks clean the air. Because trees, like all green plants, absorb carbon dioxide from the air and produce the oxygen that is essential for us. “Green lungs” in large cities, i.e. green spaces and forests close to cities, are therefore particularly important for our health. And those who often get on their bikes instead of driving the car also help to keep the air clean.
Global carbon dioxide emissions have never been as high as they are today. In 2010, it even rose more sharply than ever before. This has now been announced by the US Department of Energy. The numbers exceed even worst fears.
For years, experts have warned of the speed of global warming. Apparently without success: The proportion of the climate-damaging gas carbon dioxide in the air is increasing rapidly. In the industrialized countries in particular, it gushes continuously from chimneys and exhaust pipes. The new numbers are frightening: In total, the world emitted over 33,500 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2010. That is 1,900 million tons more than in the previous year, an increase of six percent!
According to the US study, China and India are primarily responsible for the increase in horror. The two countries are on a growth path economically. They get their energy primarily from coal-fired power plants - and thus produce a lot of CO2. Overall, China is the record holder for greenhouse gas emissions, followed by the USA, Russia and India.
The policy for global climate protection has so far failed completely. China and the US refuse to sell their CO2- Reduce emissions. Russia, Canada and Japan also no longer want to comply with guidelines if the main polluters are reluctant to comply with international limit values. Bad for the climate, as the new study clearly confirms on the basis of the figures.
The Keeling curve
The first CO2-Measuring station in the world was opened far away from car exhaust fumes and factories: In 1958, the American climate researcher David Keeling began to regularly measure the carbon dioxide content of the air on the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii. This place was chosen deliberately. Because neither chimneys nor forests influenced the result, an average value of the trace gas in the air could be measured here. A second station in Antarctica also met these conditions. After two years, Keeling presented his results to the world: The level of carbon dioxide in the air rose! In the following years, Keeling continued to fight for regular CO2-Measurements of the atmosphere. With success: The result is the so-called Keeling curve, a collection of data that continues to record the carbon dioxide content of the air and the significant increase in CO2 documented.
The greenhouse effect
In a greenhouse, vegetables or flowers can thrive even when it's cold outside. That's because greenhouses are built out of glass. The glass - or a transparent film - allows the short-wave rays of the sun to enter the interior unhindered: the air warms up. On the other hand, the glass is impermeable to long-wave heat radiation, so the heat can no longer get out. That’s why it’s cozy and warm in a greenhouse.
Something similar is happening on a large scale on earth. The greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor are naturally present in the atmosphere. Water vapor enters the air through evaporation, carbon dioxide through the exhalation. Volcanic eruptions also contribute to the natural carbon dioxide content of the air. Both gases have the same effect as the glass in a greenhouse: They allow the short-wave rays of the sun to penetrate to the earth. At the same time, like an invisible barrier, they hinder the long-wave thermal radiation on its way back into space. The heat builds up and the atmosphere heats up.
Without this natural greenhouse effect, life on earth would hardly be possible, because it would be far too cold for most living things. Instead of the current average temperature of plus 15 degrees, it would be an icy minus 18 degrees Celsius. The surface of the earth would be frozen!
The problem starts when we increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is mainly done by burning oil, natural gas and coal. Heating the apartment, driving a car, burning rubbish: all of these processes emit carbon dioxide. This CO2 has the largest share in the man-made greenhouse effect. But the cultivation of rice or cattle farming also increase the effect: Large amounts of methane (CH4) - also a greenhouse gas. In addition, nitrous oxide, ozone and fluorocarbons are among the greenhouse gases. Because all these gases slow down the earth's heat radiation, the temperatures on our globe continue to rise.
The tropical rainforest is the most biodiverse area on earth: a green wonder of giants of the jungle, lianas and ferns, inhabited by colorful birds, butterflies and many other animals. However, huge areas of the rainforest are cleared every day. That doesn't just mean the end of many species. Clear cutting is also a big problem for our climate!
Around two percent of the land area is still overgrown by tropical rainforest, especially in the Amazon region, in the African Congo Basin and in South Asia. But the unique ecosystem is dwindling: individual giant trees are felled in order to obtain precious tropical wood. Large areas of forest are being slashed and burned to create pastures for cattle or fields for growing coffee, oil palms and soy. Every year around 200,000 square kilometers of rainforest are destroyed in this way. This area is larger than the West African state of Senegal!
Every day, around a hundred animal and plant species disappear with the rainforest. And deforestation is also changing our climate. Because large amounts of carbon dioxide are stored in the forests. If they are destroyed, the stored carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. As a greenhouse gas, it ensures that the earth continues to heat up. To prevent this, it is important to preserve the tropical rainforest.
Biofuel is harmful to the climate
Biofuels made from palm oil, soybeans or rapeseed have a greater impact on the climate than previously assumed. Scientific studies have proven this. Because rainforests are cut down for the cultivation of energy crops. And with the destruction of the primeval forests, gigantic amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the air. This in turn increases the greenhouse effect - a reaction that biofuel should actually slow down. For this reason, the European Union now wants to restrict the use of biofuels.
The consequences of climate change
Climate change is already clearly visible in the polar regions. Just a few decades ago, the Arctic Ocean was largely covered by ice. But this ice sheet is melting due to the rising temperatures: in the last 30 years its area has almost halved. At the same time, the ice layer is getting thinner and thinner. Climate researchers have calculated that the ice could melt completely in the next 20 years. The sea level would rise by a few meters as a result. But it's not just the ice sheets on the poles that are melting. The high mountain glaciers are also losing mass.
Because the sea level rises as the ice melts, ever larger coastal areas are flooded. Low-lying island states, such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean or Tuvalu in the Pacific, are therefore increasingly threatened by storm surges. And not only the sea level, the water temperature also rises with climate change. As a result, more water evaporates and more water vapor is stored in the air. This increases the greenhouse effect, which further heats the atmosphere. This also increases the risk of severe weather such as heavy rain and hurricanes.
In arid regions, the deserts are spreading due to rising temperatures. More and more droughts are causing rivers to dry up and areas of land that were previously green wither. In the south of Spain, for example, the usual rainfalls that are urgently needed for agriculture have been absent for years. And the water shortage in southern Europe continues to intensify.
All of these consequences of climate change can already be observed. Climate researchers are trying to calculate how things will continue with the help of computer models. But the future is difficult to predict because so many influences determine our climate. The salty sea water is diluted with fresh water by the melting of the glaciers. However, the salinity of the sea drives the ocean currents. So what could happen if the warm Gulf Stream breaks off due to the lower salt content? Will it be colder instead of warmer in Europe? What would happen if the permafrost thawed in the far north? Do tons of the greenhouse gas methane then escape from the ground? And will it accelerate climate change?
So far nobody can answer that exactly. With all the unanswered questions, one thing seems certain: if we don't drastically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, the temperatures on this globe will continue to rise.
Who will be hardest hit by climate change?
We already have less snow in winter than there was a few decades ago. In return, the plant growth begins earlier in the year and we can now bathe well into autumn. But the lack of white splendor and the longer bathing season are among the more harmless consequences of the rise in temperature.
No country on earth will be spared from climate change. When the sea level rises, large areas of land on all coasts of the world will be flooded. For rich countries like Germany or the Netherlands this is expensive, but not an insoluble problem. Here dams are built against the floods, which can withstand a strong rise in water.
The situation is different in poor countries: large parts of Bangladesh, for example, are only a few meters above sea level - and the poor country cannot afford expensive coastal protection. If the sea level rises by one meter, many millions of people lose their homes and have to relocate. The Maldives and the South Sea islands of Tuvalu can be even worse: These islands protrude only a few meters above sea level and could be completely flooded - an entire country would then have to move.
Regions that depend on the glaciers' freshwater reservoirs are particularly affected by climate change: If these glaciers thaw, there is a risk of flooding at first and then, in the long run, of severe drought. Areas in the Himalayas and the Andes are particularly at risk. In the future, over 200 million people could sit there on dry land, will have hardly any drinking water and will not be able to irrigate their fields.
Increasing water shortages also threaten the arid regions, which are spreading further on earth. In 2011, for example, East Africa experienced a drought from which hundreds of thousands of people had to flee. Thousands were killed in the disaster. Many countries lack the money to protect themselves from climate change and its consequences. And it is often precisely the countries that produce only a few greenhouse gases that are particularly hard hit by the effects of climate change.
The frozen soils of the Arctic are thawing faster than previously thought due to climate change. This could release huge amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. That would additionally accelerate the warming of the earth.
Permafrost soils extend over huge areas in the northern hemisphere. They are mainly found in large parts of Siberia and Alaska. Their name comes from the fact that they are frozen all year round - at least so far. But the temperatures on earth are rising. For some years now, the frozen soils in the far north have been warming, starting to thaw and turning into huge swamps.
Scientists suspect that the thawing permafrost could accelerate climate change. Because the soils contain methane, a gas produced by microorganisms. This greenhouse gas has about 20 to 30 times more impact on the climate than carbon dioxide. In addition, large amounts of carbon are stored in the frozen ground. A devilish cycle begins here with rising temperatures: If the permafrost thaws due to climate change, methane and carbon dioxide are released into the air. The greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, the earth heats up, the ice melts - and climate change is exacerbating itself.
So far, researchers have disagreed about how quickly the permafrost will thaw. The question of how many greenhouse gases are actually released has not yet been clarified.
Koala bear in climate change
Gloomy prospects for the koala bear: The cute marsupial is massively threatened by climate change. Because the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide makes the leaves of his favorite food inedible: eucalyptus leaves become inedible by the rising CO2-Content in the air leathery and inedible.Because their nutrient content is reduced, the koala has to eat significantly more eucalyptus in order to be satisfied. This also applies to other marsupials and marsupials similar to them. Many other animal species are also directly at risk from climate change, especially in the polar regions. Ringed seals and emperor penguins are losing their habitat due to the receding ice. And the arctic beluga whale is finding less and less prey. What to do? The World Conservation Union (IUCN) emphasizes that the individual is not powerless. Everyone can reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and stand up for climate protection.
The rise in sea levels could soon doom the Maldives. If climate change is not stopped, much of the islands will be submerged by 2100. President Mohamed Nasheed wants to draw attention to this threat. So he went to a diving station with his cabinet.
It was a spectacular action: Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed jumped into the turquoise blue sea in a diving suit, followed by his eleven ministers. The cabinet held a climate conference on the ocean floor. The message to the rest of the world: Save the Maldives from ruin!
The Maldives are best known as a vacation paradise. But the islands in the Indian Ocean are threatened by climate change: their highest point is only two and a half meters above sea level. And if the water continues to rise due to global warming, that will soon mean “land under” for the dream islands. According to climate researchers, an increase of 20 to 60 centimeters would be enough to make the Maldives largely uninhabitable. In addition, storms and storm surges are becoming more frequent due to climate change - the situation for the island nation is getting worse.
The coral reefs around the islands form a protective barrier against storm surges. But these too are suffering from climate change and some of them are already badly damaged.
Corals in danger
A colorful underwater world is what makes the Maldives so special. Coral reefs, which are home to many marine animals and plants, surround the islands. The reefs are a natural protective barrier from the tides. With a gently rising sea level, the reefs could even grow with it - provided they are healthy. But this is where the problem begins: the reefs themselves are threatened by climate change and are already severely damaged. This is due to the so-called coral bleaching, also known as "coral bleaching". The coral sticks initially bleach and eventually die. This disease is caused by the warming of the sea. Because coral bleaching occurs not only around the Maldives, but already in many places, it is considered a global threat to reefs.
The ice bear melts the clod from under his paws. As a result of global warming, the sea ice around the North Pole is disappearing, and faster and faster. This is due to the greenhouse effect, which is caused by the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases that are harmful to the climate.
In 1980 the Arctic Ocean was still frozen over 7.8 million square kilometers, an area about the size of Australia. Within 30 years the ice surface has shrunk to about half! The ice sheets are already thawing in spring. If it continues like this, the "eternal ice" will soon be completely gone.
This is a disaster for the polar bear. Environmental organizations fear that polar bears and seals will become extinct in the next 20 years. Migratory birds are also losing their breeding grounds in the Arctic due to the changed climate.
Another sea predator, on the other hand, is already finding a new habitat: Because the ice continues to recede, the killer whale can now also search for food high up in the north.
Short cut through the Arctic Ocean
The ice in the Arctic Ocean is melting dramatically. This has opened up a trade route between Europe and Asia: the Northeast Passage. This sea route runs along the north coast of the continents of Europe and Asia. In the past, large transport ships could only pass this route in midsummer. Because the Northeast Passage was frozen over most of the year and was much too dangerous because of the ice masses. Ships traveling between Rotterdam and Tokyo therefore took the long route through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and around India.
New satellite images show that the path through the Arctic Ocean is becoming more and more ice-free. This makes the journey easier for ships - even without an icebreaker. This saves time and transport costs, because the route through the Arctic Ocean is several thousand kilometers shorter than the old route through the Suez Canal.
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