The Bad and Good of Climate Change

A resent research conducted as part of the Australian Climate Change Science Program and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy shows that global warming is intensifying the hydrological cycle more than scientists have so far expected [1]. As a result, more scenarios of extreme weather due to changes in evaporation and precipitation patterns are expected in the future, causing for dry regions to become even drier and wet regions to become even wetter.

The study uses historical salinity data (50 years observation data) from the oceans to build a model which predicts that the global water cycle will be intensified at a rate of 8 ± 5% per degree of surface warming [2]. This means that this rate is twice the rate projected by current climate change models and if these estimates hold, the hydrologic cycle could intensify up to 16 to 24% [2].

The strong scientific evidence represented by the research not only shows that climate change is for real and should be taken seriously, but it also rings the alarm that the effects of climate change will be much more accelerated than the ones predicted so far. How is this going to affect our planet? While we are already aware of the negative impacts of climate change and logically a lot of attention is given to these effects, climate change might also have some positive effects.

Studies show that Arctic is warming much more than the rest of the world. However this might not be as bad in this case. The air pollutants usually tend to travel from the industrially developed region in Arctic resulting in high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Comparing levels of carbon monoxide which is a pollutant not removed by the rainfall, with the levels of soot and sulfates, which can be removed by rainfall, scientists have concluded recently that rainfall is already cleaning the Arctic [3]. This means that an accelerated precipitation due to climate change could benefit Arctic by helping remove the air pollutants which in the same time are the greenhouse gases that drive the global warming.

Warmer winters on the other hand could benefit many people living in cold areas such as Russia and other parts of the world by lowering the number of deaths usually caused by the extreme below zero temperatures [4]. In addition, generally speaking warmer winters would bring also an economical benefit by reducing the amount of energy consumed for heating and therefore reducing the associated costs. However these positive impacts would be offset by the other side of the story which is increased deaths due to heatwaves and increased costs for cooling because of hotter summers.

Scientists also suggest that climate change will bring a positive impact in the global agricultural productivity. Studies show that the agricultural productivity in regions in the high-latitudes will increase during the first three degrees Celsius of warming. This effect however is not expected to be the same in the tropical areas, where productivity is expected to fall and if the temperatures increase more than three degrees Celsius, the global food production will be negatively impacted [5].

Another biased aspect of climate change related to Arctic is that warmer Arctic would also bring some commercial benefits by allowing a better and easier access to the energy and mineral resources [6]. While this would bring benefits to the economy, it would certainly threaten polar bears by the negative impacts in their habitat.

These examples are just a few to show the controversy effects of climate change. They demonstrate how the positive benefits can cause negative ones. Comparison of specific positive and negative impacts should be done in a broader time scale in order to account for the long term effects, as well as taking into account the location being considered. However, speaking for the net effect, even though climate change might provide some “benefits” in some cases, it is likely that its effects will damage and cost a lot to our planet and will affect our way of living.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/27/world/study-hints-at-greater-threat-of-extreme-weather.html?ref=science
[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6080/455.full
[3] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/09/110923-global-warming-soot-air-pollution-science-environment/
[4] http://www.hpa.org.uk/hpr/archives/2007/hpr1907.pdf
[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/11/climate-change-good-thing-benefits
[6] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/297/5586/1490.summary

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Bad and Good of Climate Change

  1. lbissey

    This is good coverage of both sides of the debate and ties back to what Dr. Webber said in class – that it’s not a question of whether climate change is happening, but more a question of do we care and what are we going to do about it? There are a lot of uncertainties on how the world can be affected. Yes, the obvious warming temperatures, melting glaciers, etc, but as you’ve mentioned there’s the question of agriculture, animals, people, and more. Will it just be a matter of adjusting? Drastic effects of climate change do not happen over night. Will animals start to migrate to different areas to escape the unwanted conditions (or migrate TO the warmer areas because it matches their desired habitat)? It could be a slow transition for agriculture too, where regional crops start to shift. Climate change presents its problems, but they could be issues that we either adapt to or solve over the long period of climate change.

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