By Theresa Ficazzola The numbers are in and they’re not good. Recently released data is further proof that global warming does exist. 2016 was the hottest year on record since temperatures were first recorded in 1880. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, 2016 was the third year in a row to break a record. And 16 of the 17 hottest years have occurred since 2000, suggesting that even the speed at which the atmosphere is heating up is increasing.
There is no doubt that global surface temperatures are rising. The most likely culprit is greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels which is wreaking havoc on our ecosystems. Since 1911, greenhouse gas emissions from smokestacks alone have added 1.4 degrees to the earth’s temperature. In the US, emissions of heat trapping gases are 21 tons per capita—that’s four times the global average.
The US Department of Energy estimates that houses and office buildings are responsible for 39% of the country’s energy consumption and about the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Warmer Oceans Are Also a Threat
In addition to warmer surface temperatures, oceans are warming, too. The deep ocean absorbs large amounts of heat and carbon dioxide, helping to mitigate some of the earth’s heat. Unfortunately, this results in an increase of ocean temperatures, which stresses fish, coral and other marine wildlife, among other issues.
According to Polar Bears International, we are seeing an unprecedented loss of sea ice extent and volume due to rising temperatures, leading to a loss of habitat and food sources for polar bears and other arctic wildlife. According to the NY Times, the ice melt from Greenland alone has raised global sea levels by more than a quarter inch in the past two decades.
As ice sheets melt, ocean levels rise, causing damage to coastal towns as flood waters invade their property. For some small island nations, coastal residents have nowhere else to live. The increase in ocean temperatures is also causing a problem for the fish and other aquatic creatures that call the cool waters their home. For example, the lobster that live in the northeast part of the US in the Atlantic Ocean, are migrating further north, looking for deeper, cooler waters.
While ice sheets in Antarctica, Alaska, Canada and Greenland are melting at an alarming rate and new ice is having trouble forming, we cannot give up hope. Worldwide organizations, such as Polar Bears International, which sponsored International Polar Bear Day on February 27, are continuing to educate people about ways to help the bears and the planet.
So, What Can You Do?
Make smart choices about the things you purchase, the car you drive, the way you heat and cool your home, what you eat, the appliances you choose and how you use them, the products you purchase, what and how much you recycle, the organizations you support, and the politicians you vote for.
Planting trees and other plants can also help stop global warming because they utilize the carbon dioxide in the air, thereby reducing its negative effect. Each tree absorbs one ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The loss of trees from the Amazon Rain Forest and other forests to produce lumber, paper, cardboard, furniture and many other products have reduced the number of trees on the planet, leaving behind a lot more carbon dioxide, which is heating the earth. You can help by purchasing furniture that is produced through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes responsible forest management. Or, purchase Scotties Tissues which plants three trees for every one they use to make their products.
You can also make a significant difference by choosing an alternative energy source, such as solar power, which can help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. A local, solar energy company, such as SI Solar, can help you understand the benefits of installing solar panels on your roof—cost savings for you and a more ecofriendly planet for everyone.
So, what are you waiting for?