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Human activities and environmental impact

Mar 19,2024 - Last updated at Mar 19,2024


The Earth’s climate is rapidly changing, with rising global temperatures being one of the most prominent indicators of this transformation. While natural factors have always influenced the planet’s climate, human activities have become the dominant drivers of recent temperature rise trends. This article explores the relationship between human activities and the increase in global temperatures, outlining the key anthropogenic factors contributing to this issue and the consequences for our planet. The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii has been monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations since the late 1950s, rising from around 315 parts per million in the late 1950s to over 416 lately.

Temperature records reveal that the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by more than 1.2oC since the late eighteenth century, at the beginning of the first industrial revolution which was ignited by coal and the steam engine. This increase may seem modest, but it has far-reaching effects on our climate systems, particularly as the world best aspiration is to limit it to 1.5oC by 2050. Some observatories say that we have almost reached that limit.  However, this aspiration represents a critical target within the framework of international climate action based on the understanding that exceeding this threshold could lead to severe and irreversible consequences for the planet.

The primary driver of recent temperature rise trends is the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources. The major GHGs include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, water vapour and chlorofluorocarbons. These gases trap the heat wave from the sun electromagnetic light wave, leading to a greenhouse effect that warms the planet. Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy, deforestation, traditional agriculture, transportation and industrial processes, are the main sources of GHG emissions. Higher temperatures in the atmosphere contribute to more frequent and severe extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, change in rain intensity, droughts and wildfires. These events can result in significant health, economic and human losses.

Forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, widespread deforestation, often to make way for agriculture and animal farming, harvesting timber or urban development, reduces the planet’s capacity to store carbon.  Agricultural and farming practices, such as livestock production and rice cultivation, release significant amounts of methane and nitrous oxide. Livestock release methane during digestion, while rice paddies release nitrous oxide.

Certain industrial activities release GHGs directly into the atmosphere. For example, the production of cement involves the release of carbon dioxide during the transformation of limestone into clinker. The refrigeration and air conditioning industry releases chlorofluorocarbons, which are potent synthetic GHGs.

The warming climate has also led to the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets and glaciers, thus releasing trapped GHGs during melting. Ice melting contributes to rising sea levels too, posing a threat to coastal communities and ecosystems. It also reduces the amount of sun rays reflected which exacerbates global warming.

The world’s oceans absorb much of the excess heat generated by GHGs and gases dissolve in sea water. This warming and dissolution causes ocean acidification, reduced number of planktons that produce oxygen, coral bleaching, and disruptions to marine ecosystems. As many species are unable to adapt quickly enough to changing temperatures and habitats, this can lead to shifts in ecosystems and, in some cases, extinction of plant and animal species.

Rising temperatures and acidifying rain also affect crop yields, as many crops are sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation. Reduced agricultural productivity can threaten food security for millions of people. Rising temperatures can exacerbate health risks, especially for vulnerable populations. Heat-related illnesses, the spread of disease, and air quality issues can have a significant impact on public health and ecosystems.

Recognising the severity of climate change, the international community has taken steps to address global temperature rise trends. The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, is one of the most significant international efforts. That brings together countries worldwide, each committing to reduce GHG emissions and limit temperature increases to well below 2oC, with an aspiration to limit them to 1.5oC by 2050.

Individuals, however, can also contribute to addressing global temperature rise trends by reducing personal energy consumption to meet their needs rather than their wants, using public transportation and adopting energy-efficient technologies to decrease emissions. They can also support sustainable agriculture, reduce red meat consumption, choose products with lower environmental footprints, engage in environmental advocacy and support policies and initiatives aimed at addressing climate change.

In conclusion, the relationship between human activities and global temperature rise trends is undeniable. As our world continues to warm, the consequences are far-reaching and impactful. However, through international cooperation, mitigation, and adaptation efforts, and local contributions, we can work towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

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