How Do We Know CO2 is Affecting Our Planet?

In the article, “Climate change: How do we know?”, the author discusses just how prominent of the effects of global warming are today, specifically the effects that CO2 has played in getting us to where we are. The overall warming trend of the planet has been due to the result of human activity over the past years, specifically the increase in the levels of greenhouse gases being released into the environment.

Greenhouse gases are those that are released into the environment and trap the heat radiated by the sun, causing the warming effect that has led to the intense climate change we are experiencing. One of these very effective greenhouse gases is Carbon Dioxide. As shown in the chart attached to this article, CO2 levels, in units of parts per million, have reached new and astonishing levels where our planet is currently. Prior to 1950, the highest the CO2 levels ever reached was around 300 parts/million. However, today levels have reached numbers as high as 400 parts/million.

Everyday effects of global warming have been seen in the global temperature rise, of approximately 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century. In addition, there is the warming oceans, the shrinking ice sheets, the glacial retreat, the decreased snow cover, the rise in sea level, and many others.

Overall, this increase in CO2 levels, along with other greenhouse gases, proves to be resulting in a number of detrimental effects to our planet.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide’s Effect on Marine Life

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide rates are now higher than at any point in the last 800,000 years. According to a study conducted by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, CO2 concentration in Earth’s atmosphere has not been this high since Earth’s average temperature ranged from 2-3 degrees Celsius, which is equivalent to 3.6-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Because Carbon Dioxide is a gas that absorbs heat, it also releases this heat gradually over time. As more fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, are burned annually for energy, the CO2 is being released at a higher rate, thus heating up the earth more quickly, and contributing to climate change. The NOAA predicts that this increase in atmospheric CO2 is likely responsible for two-thirds of the total energy imbalance that is causing Earth’s temperature to rise.

Throughout the NOAA’s report, they explained how Carbon Dioxide plays an interesting role in Earth’s system because it dissolves into the ocean. When CO2 reacts with these molecules of water, it produces Carbonic Acid, which lowers the ocean’s pH. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the ocean’s pH has shifted from 8.21 to 8.10. This ocean acidification drop of approximately 0.1 is extremely vital in the survival of marine life. This very small change in pH creates a 30 percent increase of acidity to the ocean.

Ocean acidification goes into the idea of measurements we had previously discussed in class. Looking from an outside perspective, without knowing the consequences, we would assume that a 0.1 acidity increase is virtually nothing. However, it’s effect is more detrimental than we think.  The 30 percent acidity increase makes it more difficult for marine life to extract calcium from the water to build their shells and skeletons. Therefore, through our study of scales and measurements, the context of each situation is extremely important when analyzing sustainability issues.



Source: Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

What sustainability means to me

One of my favorite classes I took in high school was AP Environmental Science. On the first and last day, my teacher gave a very in-depth explanation of the greenhouse effect. He did this to ensure that if we were to only take away one thing from that class, it would be how this process worked. It was that very first day of class that sparked my passion for environmental sustainability, and I have been doing things to help the environment ever since. For example, it only took until the APES midterm for me to completely change my diet. As soon as I learned about how disastrous the factory farm industry was to global climate change, I essentially decided to boycott the concept of factory farming as a whole. I stopped consuming all animal products immediately. I then did my own research outside of class that only validated my decision to live a vegan lifestyle.
To me, environmental sustainability means being able to generate power, get rid of waste, etc., with minimal detriments to our planet. We live in a world that may, on a basic level, appear alright, however the number of excess greenhouse gases that are trapping the heat in our atmosphere is skyrocketing. With advancements in technology, and an expanding knowledge of the root of environmental problems, I believe a healthy planet should be sustained, and that all life on earth can and deserves to thrive.