Climate change refers to a “statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period”. In the last century, the temperature of the earth rose by 1.40F. In the United States, atmospheric temperature rose by 20F in the last five decades. Additionally, the country’s temperature is expected to increase by 110F in the next fifty years.
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The rapid increase in atmospheric temperature is already causing adverse climatic conditions in the USA. The signs of changing climatic conditions in the US include frequent heat waves and hurricanes.
Additionally, changes in precipitation level are causing frequent floods, storms, and droughts in the country. This paper will analyze the causes and effects of climate change in the US. Additionally, it will present recommendations for abating climate change.
Causes of Climate Change in the USA
Climate change occurs due to anthropogenic activities and natural processes. The natural processes that contribute to climate change in the USA include volcanic eruptions, as well as, changes in reflectivity and solar output. These processes mainly accounted for the climate change that occurred before the industrial era. The US has over 160 volcanoes of which eighteen are considered to be extremely dangerous.
Some of the major volcanoes that have erupted in the last three decades include Akutan Volcano, Augustine Volcano, Makushin Volcano, and Redoubt Volcano. Volcanic activities have led to the destruction of vegetation through lava flows and mudflows.
Moreover, they have led to significant air pollution through excessive emission of greenhouse gases that have contributed to the increase in greenhouse effect and climate change. Nonetheless, scientists believe that volcanic activities have only short-term effects on climate change because they usually occur in irregular episodes.
The effect of solar output on climate change depends on the changes that occur in the sun and the earth’s orbit. Changes that take place “within the sun determine the intensity of the solar energy that reaches the surface of the earth”. Strong solar intensity warms the earth by causing an increase in atmospheric temperature.
By contrast, weak solar intensity cools the earth by reducing the temperature of the atmosphere. The amount of solar energy that reaches the earth is likely to increase when the earth’s orbit is near the sun and vice versa. However, the variation in solar intensity is considered to have little effect on climate change.
Reflectivity determines the amount of sunlight that is absorbed by the earth. Approximately 70% of the sunlight that reaches the earth is absorbed by water bodies, land, and the atmosphere. An increase in the aerosols that absorb sunlight will raise atmospheric temperature, thereby causing global warming and climate change. On the contrary, an increase in the aerosols that reflect sunlight away from the earth will have a cooling effect.
Anthropogenic processes lead to climate change through emission of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming. Greenhouse gases include “carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and water vapor”. These gases trap large amounts of energy in the earth’s atmosphere, thereby causing global warming. Changes in the earth’s temperature as a result of global warming leads to adverse climatic conditions.
Approximately 6,702.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses were emitted in the US in 2011(EPA). In the ten years to 2011, emission of greenhouse gases in the US increased by 8.4%. However, the emission decreased by 1.6% between 2010 and 2011due to the reduction in the use of coal to generate electricity, as well as, an increase in the use of natural gas and hydropower (EPA).
The anthropogenic processes that lead to greenhouse gas emission in the US include the following. To begin with, transportation activities lead to emission of large amounts of carbon dioxide in the US due to increased use of gasoline. In 2011, the transportation sector accounted for 33% of the total carbon dioxide emission in the US (EPA). Industrial production accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas emission in the US.
Emission in this sector stems from increased use of fossil fuels in factories. However, emission in the industrial sector has been declining since 1990 due to increased production of clean energy and the transition from manufacturing-based to service-based economy. Domestic use of fossil fuels accounts for 21% of the greenhouse gas emission in the US (EPA).
Shifting land use from forestry to agriculture and real estate development also leads to climate change. This is because destruction of trees leads to high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In future, changes in climate will depend on the extent to which “temperature, precipitation, and sea level will respond to the expected increase in greenhouse gas emission” (EPA).
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Effects of Climate Change in the US
Coastal communities in the US are likely to continue experiencing the adverse effects of rising sea level in the coming decades. The sea level is expected to rise by at least two feet by the end of the century, thereby causing the following problems. To begin with, floods will become more frequent in the coastal cities of the US.
This will lead to the damage of properties and businesses that support approximately 53 million people who live in the coastal cities. A rise in the sea level by between 13 and 20 inches will damage properties that are worth over $4.7 trillion. Moreover, large-scale destruction of insured properties will lead to high claims that will cause a financial crisis in the insurance industry.
Climate experts believe that an increase in ocean temperatures as a result of global warming will cause high intensity hurricanes in future. Strong hurricanes can strike any part of the Gulf Coast, thereby killing thousands of citizens and causing damages worth billions of dollars. In Florida, scientists believe that climate change will cause 37 hurricane-related deaths annually by the end of this century.
Finally, the cost of adapting to the effects of rising sea level is expected to increase substantially in future. In order to protect their properties from being submerged, coastal communities will have to either elevate existing structures or build dykes. In some case, they will have to relocate to inland cities.
Elevating a single residential house by 24 inches costs approximately $40 per square foot, whereas building dykes to protect vulnerable coastal areas is expected to cost nearly $5 million per mile. These costs will strain the budgets of both coastal communities and the federal government, thereby increasing poverty.
Effects on Public Health
Increased emission of greenhouse gases is expected to cause heat waves that are more severe than the ones that have occurred in the past. In 1993, a heat wave with high temperatures that lasted for nearly fourteen days caused more than 100 deaths. Similarly, the 1995 heat wave in Chicago led to the admission of over 1,000 patients. Climate change is expected to cause heat waves every year by 2100.
Additionally, the heat waves are expected to last for more than 60 days. In this regard, heat waves will cause more deaths than they have caused before. Moreover, an increase in atmospheric temperature will raise the level of low-altitude ozone. This will lead to increased lung infections and respiratory allergies in most cities in the US.
Effects on Water Supply
Climate change is expected to cause fluctuations in clean water supply in the US. Rapid snowmelt and heavy rainstorms will continue to cause oversupply of water in the flood prone parts of the country. By contrast, climate change will worsen the problem of water scarcity in the southeast region through prolonged droughts. In particular, rainfall is expected to reduce and to become sporadic in the southeast region.
Water scarcity will increase the cost of agricultural production, as well as, the cost of living in most cities. Moreover, supplying clean water for domestic use might become unsustainable in future.
Effects on Agriculture
Climate change has both short-term positive effects and long-term negative effects on agricultural production. High temperatures often boost crop yield, especially, in the Great Lakes region where fruits are grown. However, climate change has had adverse effects in most parts of the country.
Hot and dry summer seasons usually reduce crop yields. Similarly, an increase in temperature will result into an increase in the multiplication of pests and pathogens that often damage crops in the farmlands.
A reduction in rainfall is also a threat to agricultural production, especially, in the Great Plains states. For example, Dakota’s livestock farmers incurred losses in excess of $32 million in 2006 due to drought.
The production of cranberries in Massachusetts is expected to reduce significantly as temperatures rise during winter seasons. The costs of adapting to the effects of climate change in the agricultural sector are expected to be very high in the next five decades.
Effect on Transportation
Over 60,000 miles of roads and railway lines are facing the threat of destruction through flooding and storms in the coastal region. Flooding rivers are likely to destroy or degrade railroads in most parts of the country in the next three decades.
High temperature also affects transportation infrastructure by softening asphalt on highways and deforming railroads. These damages will increase road accidents and the costs of routine maintenance.
Flooding on airports will lead to costly flight cancellations, especially, in flood prone cities. Additionally, aircrafts will require longer runways in order to takeoff at high temperatures. However, expanding existing airports will be costly and can increase public debt.
Seasonal variation in rainfall will affect the level of water in major rivers such as the Mississippi, which are used to transport several tons of commodities. In particular, high water levels during floods and low water levels during droughts will complicate navigation in most rivers.
Recommendations for Preventing Climate Change
At the domestic level, Americans can reduce rapid climate change by reducing their consumption of energy and water. Strategies for saving energy include using energy-efficient light bulbs and programmable thermostats, as well as, regular maintenance of heating equipment. Sealing and insulating residential buildings will reduce the amount of energy that is used to warm houses.
Reducing heat consumption at the domestic level will reduce greenhouse gas emission, thereby preventing climate change. Moreover, reducing, reusing, and recycling of items such as packaging materials will help to reduce greenhouse gas emission through industrial production. Greenhouse gas emission can also be reduced through the use of well maintained electric vehicles.
At the national level, the government must strengthen environmental regulation in order to prevent rapid climate change. This involves formulating and enforcing policies that curb high emission of greenhouse gases. In particular, air polluters should be forced to pay for the damages caused by their activities.
The government’s energy policy should focus on increased production of clean energy in order to reduce greenhouse gas emission and its effects on climate change. For example, the government can gradually replace coal power plants with hydropower stations and wind mills.
The government should also increase investments in energy efficient mass transportation systems such as electric trains. This will reduce the number of cars and tracks on the road. The resulting decrease in the use of fossil fuels in transportation will lower greenhouse gas emission, thereby preventing climate change.
Finally, the government should focus on improving economic growth through the service sector rather than industrial production. The US is already losing its competitiveness in industrial production due to high wage and energy costs.
Besides, industrial production is the second largest source of air pollution that leads to adverse climatic conditions. In this regard, it will be in the interest of the government to expand the service sector, which usually causes low air pollution, but employs thousands of people.
At the community level, Americans can prevent climate change through effective stewardship of the environment. This involves engaging in activities that protect the environment such as planting trees to absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Additionally, community resources such as libraries should be utilized to provide public education concerning the adverse effects of climate change and how they can be prevented.
This paper examined the causes and effects of climate change in the US. The findings indicate that climate change in the last five decades occurred mainly due to anthropogenic activities in the country. These include transportation, deforestation, and industrial production. These activities cause greenhouse gas emission, which in turn leads to undesirable climatic conditions.
The effects of climate change include reduction in agricultural production, destruction of property, loss of lives, and increase in the cost of living. These effects are likely to worsen in future if no actions are taken to prevent climate change. In this regard, the government and citizens should focus on preventing climate change by reducing air pollution.
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