Climate Change: An Emergent Threat

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Climate change scarring Earth past hope (Source: NASA)

Having the potential to irrevocably disturb the composition of the atmosphere, dreadfully raise the death toll, and seriously reduce our food supplies, climate change is regarded by many as one of the most gargantuan problems facing humanity in the twenty-first century. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time” (Glossary of Climate Change Terms). In essence, any alteration that permanently scars the climate of Earth, which had once become optimal for sustaining life by evolving over billions of years, could be labeled as a climate change. Since it can change precipitation patterns and weather conditions––especially the extreme ones––in highly unpredictable ways, climate change is very likely to wreak unforeseen havoc on not only the environment but also the multifarious species––including humans––that inhabit it, rendering Earth incapable of being called a living planet. Astonishingly, as real and devastating as climate change is, a lot of people––refusing to subscribe to scientific evidence––deny it, emphatically calling it a hoax. It must, however, be realized that although climate change occurs but imperceptibly and currently seems too slow to cause any significant harm, it is indeed a considerably dire problem because it can disrupt natural balances by interfering with the water cycle and diminish our food supplies by ruining agriculture.

The Water Cycle

To understand how climate change interferes with the water cycle, one must first fathom the water cycle itself. Defined as “the cycle of processes by which water circulates between the earth’s oceans, atmosphere, and land….”, the water cycle, also known as the hydrological cycle, constitutes an exceedingly important part of sustaining life on earth, for it ensures that water reaches and nourishes almost all animals and plants. Nature maintains a nearly perfect balance between the two most important processes involved in the cycle, namely evaporation and precipitation; in other words, the amount of water that leaves Earth’s surface as water vapors roughly equals the amount that returns to it in the form of rain.

However, when the ambient temperature soars as a result of climate change, this natural balance gets terribly disrupted: higher temperatures cause more water to be evaporated. Since a heated atmosphere precludes effective condensation, the amount of precipitation decreases. Consequently, the quantity of water vapor in the atmosphere becomes abnormally high while the earth grows excessively dry, becoming cracked and impervious. On one hand, a large amount of moisture in the air provides rain-bearing clouds “with their ammunition for torrential rainfall” which causes flooding (Wheeling), and on the other hand, parched soil coupled with high temperatures drastically heightens the risk of drought. Clearly, by disturbing the water cycle only, climate change completely destroys the natural balance between rainy and dry seasons, between hot and cold days, and between normal and extreme weathers. It was probably climate change that “supercharged [hurricane Harvey’s] extreme rainfall” (Greshko), and it is, in all likelihood, climate change that has brought Cape Town, South Africa under so severe a drought that “authorities will have to cut off water to three quarters of the population” (Gabbatiss).

Agriculture

Climate change can ravage agriculture, grievously impacting crops and livestock. With an accompaniment of a rampant increase in carbon dioxide levels, climate change induces “the growth stimulation effect of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, [an effect that] has a disproportionately positive impact on several weed species [and can] contribute to increased risk of crop loss due to weed pressure” (Hatfield et al. 157). Moreover, climate change can impact crops via really extreme temperatures, which “are damaging and occasionally lethal to crops” (Powell and Reinhard), and calamitous events, such as flood and drought, which simply make crop yields plummet badly.

Precipitous declines in crop yields not only instigate financial problems but also plague humanity by acute famines; for example, when a parlous drought afflicted East Africa in 2016, “[that] ravaged crops, disrupted water supplies and driven up food prices, leaving 31 million people needing food. . . . African leaders [had to request] more than $1.5bn [to provide food to their people]” (Vidal). The way climate change affects livestock is no less devastating. That even the slightest damage caused to livestock could impinge on a country’s economy could best be elucidated by the fact that “livestock . . . account for over half of U.S. agricultural cash receipts, often exceeding $100 billion per year” (“Animal Products”). Therefore, it could be said that when climate change affects livestock, it might put serious constraints not only on the economic growth of a country but also on the food that it supplies to its people.

Rebutting the Critics

Although “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree [that climate change is real]” (“Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming.”), some people are still not prepared to give credence to anything corroborating the premise that Earth’s climate is changing. To bolster their claims, views, and assertions, these people propound such arguments as “Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee. . . . [Climate change] is a total, and very expensive, hoax” (Trump)! Such statements might seem persuasive in a sense that they adduce things that are obvious––for example, ‘ice storms’––to discredit phenomena that are not particularly palpable––for example, ‘climate change’––but it should be noted that not based on any sound evidence, these statements do not constitute a valid, compelling argument.

Calling climate change a hoax merely because it is not easily observable is tantamount to asserting that gravity––contrary to what scientists contend––does not exist, for one cannot see it. Moreover, arguments like the one cited above verge on the logically fallacious because they misrepresent what the scientific community says about climate change; for example, the argument cited above suggests that according to scientists, climate change has already become so grave and severe that no more ice storms would be seen anywhere on Earth. However, the sole argument scientists make as regards to climate change is that although climate change has not become uncontrollably fierce, it is indeed occurring, and if we do not handle it right now, it would spiral wildly out of control. That the deniers of climate change resort to specious arguments to substantiate their stance illustrates their untenable position.

Some critics decry the efforts being made to prevent climate change, maintaining that the slow rate that climate change occurs at makes adapting to it much more practicable than preventing it. However, as pragmatic as this argument seems, it is not. Because it uses only the fact that climate change occurs really slowly to infer that adapting to it is easy, demonstrating a total ignorance of a salient feature of climate change: uncertainty. The uncertainty related to climate change implies that it is very difficult to foretell whether the climate of a place would become drier or wetter as a result of climate change, a fact that renders the aforementioned argument entirely ineffective. “Adaptation is place and context specific, with no single approach for reducing risks appropriate across all settings” (Reilly), and “this fact alone raises the cost of adaptation, because to some degree each recipe needs to be invented anew. What worked in the past likely won’t work in the future…. And we need to process a lot of highly uncertain climate projections in developing the new recipe” (Reilly). Evidently, given the high cost of adapting to climate change, anyone would concede that it is much more reasonable and realistic to prevent climate change altogether than to adapt to it once it has foisted the catastrophes that it comes with upon us.

The Takeaway

Once one becomes cognizant of the destructive power of climate change, which can horribly jeopardize the future of humanity by disrupting the all-important water cycle and diminishing the agricultural output, one begins appreciating the fact that “no challenge poses a greater threat to [our] future generations than climate change” (“Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address | January 20, 2015”) and that taking a prompt action to deal with climate change does indeed need to be one of our prime concerns. Moreover, it becomes immensely clear that those who remain adamant that climate change is a fraud need to realize how unfounded their claims are and those who argue that it would be better to adapt to a changing climate than to prevent it must understand how the unpredictability associated with climate change makes adaption completely uneconomical. Our beautiful Earth, its atmosphere, and its climate constitute one of the most precious things that one generation of humans bequeaths upon the next, and we must realize that it is our duty––and a way of our proving ourselves humans––to pass this world to posterity as unsullied as it was when we received it from our forefathers.

Printed Work Cited
Hatfield, J. et al. “Ch. 6: Agriculture.” Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (2014): 150-174. Print.

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