These days, who hasn’t heard about global warming, radical temperature changes, melting icecaps, droughts, hurricanes, etc.? Hardly a week goes by without the news featuring some item linked to the famous climate change phenomenon.
In fact, right now this is probably the environmental problem that is most concerning to society in general. People are worried that April no longer means there’ll be April showers or because we can no longer say that a cold winter will be followed by a hot summer.
But do we really know what climate change actually means? What used to be the spearhead in the battles waged by NGOs has become a conundrum for governments and companies, who have to respond to the concerns of the general public.
What is climate change?
Scientists explain it as being a gradual increase in the temperature of the Earth caused by the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly CO2, as a result of human activities.
How does this warming of the Earth occur?
The so-called ‘greenhouse effect’ is a natural process in which certain gases that make up the atmosphere (greenhouse gases) retain part of the radiation we receive from the sun. This allows the temperature ranges to remain more or less stable. The problem arises when there is an increase in these gases, which leads to more heat being retained and therefore, an increase in temperatures.
What are the consequences of global warming?
The effects of this process are causing significant changes in the climate and environment, which will affect our own generation and those yet to come. Therefore the main consequence of this phenomenon is that climate is affected, because there is an increase in temperature, which in turn triggers other effects in terms of agriculture, water availability, the sea, the planet as a whole and the various species.
What is causing this increase in temperatures?
For the most part, the use of fossil fuels such as oil or coal, which contain carbon that when burned releases CO2 into the atmosphere. However, there are other greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4), which is produced, for example, in agricultural and livestock farming activities; nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are used in nitrogen-rich fertilisers or industrial processes; hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), which are used as coolants; perfluorocarbons, which are used to produce aluminium and, to a lesser extent, in the manufacture of semiconductors; and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), which is used as an insulator in electric circuits. On the other hand, there are also natural factors at play, such as changes in solar radiation, volcanic eruptions and the natural fluctuations in the climate system itself.
What greenhouse gas levels are considered to be adequate?
These gases are measured in parts per million. Their current levels in the atmosphere are equivalent to some 430 ppm of CO2, compared to 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution. The latest studies highlight the need to limit global warming to 2º C higher than the pre-industrial age, around 550 ppm.