Ask Eartha: Has climate change arrived in the high country?
Special to the Daily
I’ve been noticing lately drastic changes in the temperature and weather. Does this mean that climate change is here, and what can we begin to expect as a result?
— Mary S., Heeney
It has been a rather warm and dry winter here in the High Country, and I can’t help but feel that climate change is upon us. According to the EPA, climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. This includes major changes in temperature, precipitation or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer. The difference between the terms “global warming” and “climate change” is that global warming refers to an increase in the Earth’s average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases. While global warming was once common terminology used to describe the phenomena, scientists now understand that global warming is just one aspect of climate change.
Climate change is happening. Almost unanimously, scientists agree that the average temperature of the Earth has risen 1.4 degrees over the last century, and is projected to rise another two degrees during the next century. There are environmental factors that contribute to the change in climate such as volcanic activity, forest fires and greenhouse gas production from natural sources like wetlands. However, the vast majority of greenhouse gas emission is a result of human activity. Over the course of the last century, humans have released a large amount carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as a result of industrial activities. These gases come from burning fossil fuels, agricultural activities and deforestation. As a result, greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere has skyrocketed, increasing the greenhouse effect and causing the Earth to warm.
Rising temperatures cause potentially dangerous changes in weather patterns and climate that some areas are already seeing. Many areas have already seen changes in precipitation, either causing floods or drought conditions, or major swings in temperature, causing severe heat waves or unseasonable freezing temperatures. We also see impacts in agricultural yields, human health and changes in forests. In addition, oceans and glaciers are being affected. Ocean temperatures are rising causing acidification, glaciers and ice caps are melting causing a rise in sea levels and destroying habitat for precious wildlife.
Here in Colorado and the Southwest, climate change will have a significant impact on water resources. Warming has already contributed to decreases in spring snowpack and Colorado River flows. A reliable water supply is crucial to our area and is already constrained under current climate conditions. Water scarcity will be compounded in the future, as the population of the area is seeing a surge. Projections show that increased temperatures could have more effect on springtime snowpack levels, which will result in decreased stream flows. Here in the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains, the ecosystem is far more delicate, experiencing temperature increases three times the global average. Warmer temperatures mean changes in habitats for unique animal and plant species, premature plant development resulting in decreased yield and higher impact of insect epidemics.
I know that all of this information can lead to despair. Yet have no fear, there are ways that you can make a difference for the better. By making changes at home, work, school or on the road you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Riding your bike or walking to work, changing light bulbs to more energy efficient versions, growing some of your own food, composting your food scraps or using less energy in general are just some of the ways you can reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned. You can also begin participating in environmental events, like Earth Hour, or support organizations, like High Country Conservation Center, that are working toward environmental change. Making small changes in your everyday lifestyle can translate to making larger impacts if everyone begins to take part.
While there are some projections that utilize scientific methods to combat the effects of greenhouse gases, the only real way to make a difference in the warming effect is to reduce the energy we consume.
Ask Eartha is written by the staff of the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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