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Blowin' in the Wind, Issue #092 What Causes Climate Change - Mar 1, 2012
February 29, 2012
Hello ,

Who Changed My Climate?

It seems, climate change is the new name given to global warming. Why? You might ask...Because it was confusing to laymen. Unless you deal with closed systems on a regular basis, the term 'global warming' would cause you to think linearly - everything getting warmer at the same time. The reality is that although the planet as a whole is getting warmer, some areas will actually see drops in temperatures and increases in snow or moisture.

So it's getting warmer...

It's only a few degrees - what's the big deal?

Anyone who has ever tried to keep a small fish tank balanced, grow plants from the wrong growth 'zone' or dealt with a 'brittle' diabetic already knows what a difference of just a few points can do. Due to the size of the object involved, changes happening now continue to affect the planet far into the future.

The easiest way to show this effect is to look at the seasons. Winter does not 'officially' start until the winter solstice- the shortest day of the year. That means we are getting more sun every day after that, but it is the coldest part of the year. The opposite happens at the summer solstice, with days getting shorter, yet that is when it's hottest.

Doesn't climate change happen naturally?

The great Ice Ages are evidence of the cyclic nature of climate change. Studies of ice bores throughout the world show there have been 7 cycles in the last 650,000 years.

The sun also cycles, burning hotter and cooler; and the earth wobbles in its orbit. Also, geographic changes such as continental drift, massive volcanic eruptions, mountain building and subsidence are all part of what causes climate change.

If it happens anyway, why is everyone having a hissy?

Greenhouse gases and the snowball effect. A gas is considered a greenhouse gas when it has the ability to reflect heat back toward the ground rather than allowing it to escape the atmosphere. [As with most living systems, everything is a matter of degree. Some is necessary; a little more is great; a touch more than that and everything falls apart.] Anyone who has ever played in the snow on a hill knows that the cartoons are correct, make a snowball and start it rolling downhill; it will get larger and faster as it goes. If the hill is large enough, you get a snowball too big and fast to stop.

We always hear about how this plant or animal can survive in one extreme condition or another, so everything's ok, right?

Over long periods of time, plants and animals adapt to survive and even thrive in environments that seem completely unlivable. However, these changes have happened over hundreds to thousands of generations, with any individual within a generation only being able to tolerate roughly the same amount of change as any other generation; it is just slightly farther along the scale than the last.

As with the snowball, the temperature changes will speed up and the individuals within a generation will perish because the changes have exceeded what they are capable of enduring.

Because of the lifespans involved, and the immobility of plants, there may be a greater range of individual survivability, but a quicker point of no return for the species. With plants being the basis for the food chain, as they go, so goes all life.

I'll try and be a little more positive in the future.

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