Global warming is a phenomenon that is primarily the result of the buildup of greenhouse gases released from vehicles and processes used to create energy. A failure to adequately reduce contaminants in the atmosphere has had a direct impact on climate and weather patterns all over the world.
Citizens are direct consumers of natural resources such as electricity and natural gas, and this consumption has resulted in human-induced climate change. The EPA predicts that the climate change crisis will become worse before it gets better unless major changes are made and completed in a timely fashion.
One of the major consequences of global warming is rising sea levels, which are caused by two phenomena: thermal expansion and the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps. Due to the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions, the earth’s temperature continues to rise incrementally, causing bodies of water to heat up and leading to thermal expansion. The expansion causes the bodies of water to swell and take up more space on the earth, often covering land that was once completely dry. Melting glaciers are also a direct result of global warming caused by greenhouse gases, as glaciers and polar ice caps are melting at a faster rate due to higher atmospheric temperatures.
In cities such as Seattle, Miami, and New Orleans, as well as places around the world including China and the Netherlands, rising sea levels are a major concern, as these locales continue to witness the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels also pose an economic impact, as businesses and residences in the most vulnerable areas are constantly at risk, and city officials strategize ways to combat the sea level rise. It is estimated that by 2050, cities at high risk for elevated sea levels could lose approximately $1 trillion in revenue each year.
The Impact of Rising Sea Levels
In the past, researchers as well as citizens may have underestimated the seriousness of global warming and the resulting rise in sea levels. However, as more concrete evidence continues to be presented, the threat of rising sea levels is being taken much more seriously.
Rising sea levels are predicted to contribute to more extreme weather patterns, including extreme heat in the summer and abnormally high levels of precipitation in the winter months. In addition, rising sea levels can adversely impact the water supply and animal habitats, as well as increase the risk of extended drought in some regions of the world.
Humans aren’t the only ones directly impacted by climate change induced by rising sea levels. Animals that rely on the frigid temperatures of the Artic are slowly losing their natural habitat. Plant life is also at risk, according to the EPA, and it is projected that up to 25 percent of animal and plant life could become extinct in the next 100 years.
Another problem caused by elevated sea levels is an imbalance of saltwater and freshwater on Earth. Saltwater could rapidly take up a larger surface of the Earth. Should saltwater begin to overtake freshwater, it could spell disaster. Sediment that lines the shores in coastal regions is continuously eroded, and eventually natural flood barriers are obliterated. Seattle is a coastal region that has seen a 6-inch rise in the sea level over the last 100 years. It’s expected that the sea level will continue to rise over the next few decades.
The same is true for the Gulf region of the United States. The situation there is even more critical. Not only is water swiftly rising in places like New Orleans, but this region is also home to many of the country’s oil refineries. More frequent natural disasters and storm surges could not only mean the displacement of millions of residents, but it also could disrupt the energy supply for the majority of the United States.
What Can Governments and Citizens Do?
Now that the effects of climate change are clearly seen and the impact is being felt all over the world, officials in affected low-lying areas have begun to take steps to combat rising sea levels. Revamping storm water systems, raising road levels, and other infrastructure modifications are crucial for combating this issue, while the larger causal issue of global warming is addressed. These modifications will be costly, but are necessary to protect citizens, animals, and businesses.
Across the globe, many countries have not only invested in infrastructure enhancement, but they have also made a concerted effort to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. The reduction of greenhouse gases through the use of fossil fuels could conceivably prevent rising sea levels by up to 50 percent.
Government regulation on energy consumption are a start. However, it is imperative that citizens become proactive about their energy consumption and waste management on a personal level, as well, in order to have long-term impact. The EPA estimates that if the recycling rate increased to 35 percent, greenhouse gas emissions could be significantly reduced, thus highlighting the direct link between recycling rates and pollution.