Global Climate Change: Face Off with the Future

The earth is warming up, and scientists say it is due to greenhouse gases that are released through human activities. (Daryl Mulvihill/Flickr)
The earth is warming up, and scientists say it is due to greenhouse gases that are released through human activities. (Daryl Mulvihill/Flickr)

What does ice hockey have to do with global climate change? First of all, both use hockey sticks. On the ice, the stick slams the puck around, while in the field of climatology, scientists use a graph that looks like a hockey stick to illustrate Earth’s changing climate. The graph shows that global mean temperatures were stable for 900 years before curving steeply up (like the end of a hockey stick) during the past century. The earth is warming up, and scientists say it is due to greenhouse gases that are released through human activities.

Ice hockey is famous for clashes that occur on the ice during games, and roughing in the arena of global climate change is equally brutal. Although shorthanded on science, many people in industry denied that global warming was even occurring. Then they claimed that warming was probably due to natural, not human, causes. Now, they focus on resisting emission limits that would reduce greenhouse gases. They say regulations would cost too much and probably wouldn’t reverse warming. Meanwhile, environmentalists’ power plays have included dire and sometimes exaggerated predictions for the future.

Both ice hockey and global warming have long histories, but have only become international sensations relatively recently. Games using curved sticks date back to prehistoric times. It was not until the late 1800s that the modern game of ice hockey took form on frozen lakes of North America. Coincidentally, carbon dioxide emissions began to rise at the same time. This was the start of the Industrial Revolution, when machine labor started to replace human craftsmanship. Rapid industrial development could not be achieved with organic fuels like wood, but required fossil fuels. In the beginning, factories ran on coal, but oil and gas energized later development.

Greenhouse gases had always been around, preventing radiation from escaping our atmosphere. In fact, without greenhouse gases, Earth would be too cold to inhabit. Although water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is the most powerful insulator. Carbon dioxide is what fossil fuels emit when burned, and it lingers in Earth’s atmosphere for over a century.

People in the United States emit the most carbon dioxide, both as a country-wide total and per capita. Every time you turn on the lights, watch TV, surf the Web, or drive a Zamboni, you are using power and discharging carbon dioxide. Every time you toss something in the garbage, it goes to the dump where it releases methane, another greenhouse gas.

To compound the problem, forests have always stored vast amounts of carbon dioxide, but trees are falling to development across the globe.

Can carbon emissions be checked? Many people are pressing for local, national and international regulations. Renewable and clean energy sources such as wind and power may also provide hope, but these technologies are young. Conservation is another strategy for combating climate change.

Detractors say that global warming, like hockey, exists, but isn’t interesting. They claim resources would be better spent combating HIV/AIDS and ensuring clean water systems. Others counter that global warming could fundamentally alter weather, land configurations, ocean ecosystems, and water supplies. Even now, signs of warming are mounting: glaciers are retreating, melting polar ice caps will cause sea levels to rise, increasingly acidic oceans are threatening the base of food chains, and warmer air is intensifying storms and droughts. These will threaten food supplies and may burden health systems with increased exposure to cholera, malaria, and respiratory diseases. Such overwhelming environmental pressures, especially in poor countries, could threaten world security.

World leaders in the past decades and present seem very interested in talking about plans to avert or prepare for climate change, but significant measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are for now just hot air. Much of the discussion has to do with making rules that are fair. Given that wealthy countries with high standards of living are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions past and present, many people say that these nations should pay for mitigating disasters. Since high living standards were reached through industrialization, people in poorer countries think they should not have to restrict their emissions until the playing arena is leveled and they have modernized. Many people across the globe feel that a “carbon tax”, which would make any personal, corporate, or governmental activity that contributes to climate change more expensive, it the only viable way to reduce emissions.

With such sweeping changes possible, it is hard to predict what our world will look like in the decades to come. Today’s youth stands to inherit the world arena tomorrow, but how can you play the game if there isn’t even any ice?

Author: Heather Clydesdale