Michael is an avid content writer and researcher on topical themes related to the environment and the process of sustainable development.
Global warming is undoubtedly both a common and controversial term nowadays, but have we really taken the time to fully understand all the details?
Global warming basically refers to the rise of the earth’s temperatures as a result of an increase in greenhouse gases. The subtlety of global warming is that the actual manifestation is not as immediate or dramatic as other forms of climate change like typhoons or tornados. And in our busy modern living, it is easier to underestimate or altogether ignore the impact of anything that does not pose a present and tangible threat.
The ongoing debate on global warming has resulted in a situation where individuals no longer see it as a matter worth serious consideration. People are torn between the claims of the opponents and the dire predictions of the proponents.
Some see it as a modern parallel to the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, or what is known as the Cassandra Complex. Yet parents would like to see their children and grandchildren grow up in a safe and viable environment. Failure to understand and deal with the consequences of global warming could radically change that.
True, the melting of glaciers and other effects may have been there through the course of history. However, the difference now is that the trend is increasing with time.
In this article, we will examine the impact of global warming on five levels:
- Human settlements
- Human health
- World economies
1. Impact on Settlements
Coastal flooding is already on the rise. This phenomenon is predicted to increase—not just in specific regions that have been affected in the past, but worldwide.
According to a study released by the science organization Climate Central, and published in Nature Communications, 150 million people could find themselves displaced by 2050. Up to 300 million people could also be displaced by the end of the century and the total human population affected by displacement could rise to 480 million by the year 2100.
Climate Central has created an interactive map that shows the areas that are projected to be below the annual flood level by the year 2050. The Philippines has been identified as being among the countries most prone to flooding and it has been predicted that key areas will be underwater in 30 years.
If you or your family own properties around coastal areas, it would be helpful to research the trend of rising water levels and how it could affect you in the future.
2. Impact on Wildlife
A lot of emphasis on global warming is placed on how it directly affects the human population. However, we need to understand that we are also affected indirectly owing to the impact it has on wildlife.
The situation on a global scale is such that temperature levels that were considered record high are today being shattered several times over.
We generally use various appliances, technology and facilities we have developed (from air conditioning to swimming pools) and means of transport, to cope with the temperature rise ourselves. Plants and animals do not have the same means of protecting themselves, hence they are impacted on a much larger scale.
Increasing numbers of species worldwide are becoming endangered, several already on the verge of extinction, due to the ravages of global warming. With the current global warming trends, it has been predicted that over 90% of coral life will disappear by 2050.
Polar bears rely on ice floes when they hunt for fish. Due to their size, they are unable to cover long distances over water without ice floes. So the melting of the ice impacts their ability to nourish themselves since they are no longer able to effectively swim from one spot to another. The attempt to survive leads to instances of drownings.
Birds are forced to change their migratory patterns due to the rise in temperatures. While following the unpredictable weather changes, they end up venturing out too far. This endangers their survival and reduces their populations.
Other mammals are also forced to shift from their habitats. This destabilizes the food web and affects the entire ecosystem, including the human population. Species consistently depend on the same habitat and so when they are pushed out of what they are used to, it endangers their survival.
As temperatures rise, species are now moving closer to either the North or the South Pole depending on the hemisphere they are located in. This is inevitably having an ongoing impact on the food web and the ecosystem.
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other bodies, species are moving toward the poles at the rate of 17 km per decade on land and 78 km per decade in the seas.
On land, species are also abandoning the low-lying areas and moving up the mountains. For example in the alpine areas, they are reported to be ascending at the rate of 20 feet per decade. Marine life is on the move toward the poles and eventually, when the seas and oceans become too warm, there will be nowhere else left for them to move into.
3. Impact on Health
With the food web destabilized, pests and disease-causing organisms rapidly multiply in the areas where the species that kept them in check are no longer present. Insects, rodents and other creatures begin to move into territories where they were never known to previously inhabit.
According to World Weather Attribution, the year 2019 saw temperature levels in several parts of Europe that had not been experienced before in all the years from 1950 to 2018. Temperatures went beyond 40 degrees (104 F) in several countries including Belgium and the Netherlands, where this occurred for the first time.
This is not the only time heatwaves and fluctuating temperatures have affected people, animals and the environment on a significant scale. The catastrophic heatwave in 2003 claimed the lives of at least 35,000 in Europe, with some sources placing the loss as high as 70,000.
The higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air result in increased pollen because the condition encourages the growth of more pollen-producing weeds. This results in poor air quality and an increase in asthma and allergy-related cases.
Global warming also leads to an increase in tropical diseases. By upsetting the food web and rearranging natural habitats, insects (like mosquitoes, bugs and fleas) and other pests begin to thrive in areas that were originally too cold for their survival.
Locations that were previously free of disease-carrying organisms, by virtue of their elevation or proximity to the poles, now become subject to pest-related ailments and diseases. An example of this is dengue fever which has now reached new highs in the Andean Mountains of Colombia where it never existed before.
Likewise, flooding that results from storms and rising water levels causes a proliferation of disease-causing organisms, especially in places where there are no proper drainage systems and the existing infrastructure is poor. The stagnant water becomes a breeding ground for all manner of parasites and vermin. Another after-effect of flooding is exposure to high levels of mould.
There is also a toll on human life as a result of the natural disasters that come about through global warming. Significant numbers of people lose their lives each year in flood-stricken areas and it can be difficult if not impossible, to get all the sick and injured to treatment facilities on time.
Floods also destroy the food supply, especially in agrarian societies. It also curtails the transport and distribution of food in non-agrarian societies. We'll examine the agricultural impact next.
4. Impact on Agriculture
Increase in temperatures can have some short term benefits, including the fact that it provides sufficient time for crops to mature because the growing season is now longer. This is especially true in regions where winter and autumn take up a considerable part of the year.
In warm regions, however, the rise in temperature results in crops being exposed to heat over an unhealthy period of time and this causes wilting. Significant water loss due to evaporation leads to dryness and cracking of the earth. It also results in wildfires that destroy crops on a massive scale.
Areas that are further inland may experience dry spells due to the increasing temperatures which in turn leads to droughts. Water bodies including rivers, lakes, ponds and streams begin to dry up at a high rate. This gravely impacts agriculture and the way of life of the people. The combined shortage of food and water becomes detrimental to both human and wildlife populations.
With global warming, the soil moisture levels change and this impacts precipitation. Instead of the normal levels of evapotranspiration which bring about rain in its season, loss of moisture into the atmosphere is accelerated.
This leads to heavy cloud formation and when the rain finally comes, it falls very heavily. The result of this is soil erosion, which removes the cover for the crops. Increased precipitation also leads to mudslides, landslides and avalanches.
The extra carbon dioxide in the air has some positive benefits to the crops in the sense that it leads to fertilization especially for crops such as wheat, rice and soybeans.
However, this positive effect is shortlived. As global warming pushes against the ozone layer, the carbon dioxide fertilization is offset by the tropospheric ozone. This is because as the climate changes, the ground ozone levels begin to rise in proportion to that change.
Global warming intensifies the already existing challenges to farming. The increasing instances of heatwaves, floods, hurricanes, droughts and other calamities impede the growth and development of agriculture and become more difficult to cope with.
5. Impact on Economies
Aside from carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas that has been causing concern. It is not a threat when emitted in small quantities, but when those quantities increase, they could set off negative effects on a global scale.
Due to its long life, methane tends to remain in the upper atmosphere when released and stay there suspended for 9-15 years, depending on climatic factors. It traps heat up to 20 times as much as carbon dioxide.
The molecular constitution of methane is such that it attracts infrared radiation reflected by the planet. In this way, it forms a coat around the earth, heating it up over the course of time.
Due to the fact that it will stay above the atmosphere for over a decade, the continual discharge of this gas gives cause for concern. Though nothing can be done about the natural sources of methane, there is much that can be done to curb its release and the emission of other greenhouse gases through industrial activities like the mining of coal, petroleum, natural gas and landfill systems.
We do not need to stop the activities that lead to the production of methane, but we do need to adjust them in such a way that it can be harnessed and used as an energy source. This is one quality that methane has which other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide do not have.
In addition, the reduction in snowfall due to increasing temperatures has a detrimental economic impact in the sense that winter sports, tourism and other activities are hindered in the affected areas.
Due to the shift in weather patterns, one location may either have insufficient snow or none at all, while the other may be almost completely buried. There are negative economic consequences in each of these cases as vacationing tourists and other visitors opt to head off to other places, taking their much needed foreign exchange with them.
Global Warming Checker
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Michael Duncan
Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on January 01, 2020:
Correct, I guess it is easier to live in denial until the storm breaks and reality hits. By then it is usually too late. That said, there are measures being put in place to curb negative effects and these will examine in a followup article. Thanks for your input!
Liz Westwood from UK on December 31, 2019:
Given all the evidence about global warming and the havoc it causes, I struggle to understand those who seek to dispel and disprove it.