Eco Talk: Understanding global warming first step to addressing it – Auburn Citizen
There seems to be some confusion about various terms related to weather, climate and warming. During conversations we will interchange these terms, and then it seems to really muddy the waters regarding what is happening to our environment.
“Global warming” is a term that many shy away from using, but in reality it is used to tell us what is happening globally. In this case, the increase of the average temperature globally. While there may be locally or even regionally colder places, it is the global average that is meaningful.
“Climate” refers to average weather over a longer period of time, usually 30 years. Those of us living in the Finger Likes for the past 30 years may reflect back and agree that our climate is changing. We seem to have an earlier spring warmup, and then summer seems to linger into what was traditionally the fall.
“Weather” is actually the changes we experience daily such as temperature, precipitation, is it sunny or cloudy, etc. Even the wind factors into our daily weather.
Global warming occurs when the atmosphere surrounding the earth accumulates increased levels of dangerous gases. When these gases become trapped in the atmosphere, they are referred to as greenhouse gases. Yes, there is a “normal” level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere without which the planet would be completely frozen, such as it was millions of years ago.
The correct level of greenhouse gases is necessary to keep heat inside our atmosphere. Science tells us the average global temperature should be around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. With the beginning of the industrial revolution, the level of greenhouse gases has been rising at a rapid rate, resulting in the rising of the average global temperature.
There are six primary heat-trapping or greenhouse gases found in the earth’s atmosphere. It seems we hear the most about carbon dioxide and methane, but nitrous oxide, ozone and chloro- and hydro- fluorocarbons (Freon) are also of concern. The last one is, surprisingly, water vapor.
When the industrial revolution began there was slight warming from the 1880s through the 1920s. Most likely, no one noticed. Then an acceleration is seen starting in the 1930s and continuing through the 1970s. A few scientists noticed this, but no widespread action or notice was taken. A dramatic increase is then seen in the 1980s to present. Much of this increase is related to our use of fossil fuels. It is estimated that the average car in the U.S. produces 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide each year. In 2018, there were 273.6 million registered vehicles in the U.S.!
As we continue to extract natural resources from the earth, more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. There are costs associated with consumption. Some of these costs are environmental, such as water quality while others are more ethical, such as fair payment and workplace practices.
In spite of the changes we are experiencing in our climate, there are still people who deny the changing climate or that mankind and our consumption-driven economy and lifestyles are contributing to it. I have had conversations where something similar to this is said: “This does not impact me or my everyday life, and the politicians can sort this out.” This, in my opinion, is kicking the can down the road, and I want to think we are better than that, for future generations really will have to deal with the consequences of our actions.
So as we enjoy this scaled-down holiday season, perhaps take some time to reflect on how we can reduce our impact on the environment and climate. Keep in mind that weather is what we are seeing outside our window today and the next few days. Climate is the accumulated weather over the longer term of many years. Climate change is the shift in the long-term average, and global warming or global climate change is the significant shift in worldwide temperate average. Let’s all take steps to stop kicking the can down the road in 2021.
Judy Wright is the senior agriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. For more information, visit senecacountycce.org or call (315) 539-9251 ext. 109.
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