Rise in global temperatures may cause environmental disaster

Sydney Ford

As the political debate of “does climate change exists” continues, scientists take a look at what the end of the century could look like for the human race.

While climatologists study global warming, greenhouse gas emissions fill the atmosphere daily and the effects could cause significant impact on a global scale, said Cameron Lee, an assistant professor in the department of geography.

Sustaining the environment can be impactful, but people may not see the consequences of human emissions within the next five years. In fact, it may take up to twenty years to see some of the results, Lee said.

“The way we’ve built this planet is largely dependent upon the climate being roughly similar to the way it has been in the past,” said Scott Sheridan, a professor in the department of geography.

So, the question remains: What is at risk if humans don’t stop their impact on greenhouse gas emissions?

It starts with the clustering of extreme weather patterns, Lee said. What people refer to as “winter whiplash” will start to clump into consecutive days of freezing temperatures or the temperature might skyrocket to 100 degrees Fahrenheit for days on end, Lee said.

When exceptional weather patterns take place, Lee said they cause a spike in human-related deaths due to freezing temperatures from lack of shelter or deaths caused by heat waves.

If the global temperature increases, people will become more susceptible to Lyme disease, West Nile Virus and Malaria, Lee said. In the next 50 years, humans are potentially at risk for more vector borne diseases carried by insects.

“Diseases like Dengue and Zika are carried by mosquitoes,” Lee said. “Suddenly, if you make an area much more inhabitable to them due to these temperatures, conditions mosquitoes have a tendency to thrive in, you open the population to these potential diseases.”

A lot of these diseases are most prevalent in tropical reasons. People could increase outside of both hemispheres of the tropical regions, Lee said.

According to Lee, “there have been rises in Zika in southern Florida and the southern tip of Texas.”

However, diseases are not the only issue to look out for, he said. Increased global temperature can also have a dramatic impact on agricultural productivity. Every crop has a range of tolerance in terms of temperature and dearth of water it can tolerate.

“It’s going to change where certain crops can go and if certain crops can grow,” Lee said.

While climate has changed over time, it can be difficult for scientists to directly pinpoint if the fluctuation in temperature is caused by human impact, Sheridan said. Some effects might be natural, and shifts in weather are caused by undulation in the atmosphere.

“The jet stream is the really strong current of air that is concentrated around four to six miles above the Earth’s surface, and in the middle latitudes it doesn’t just flow west to east, but rather for a number of reason it has waves of undulation,” Sheridan said.

This means that when the jet stream dips south, it brings colder air to places in middle latitudes like Ohio, and when it dips north it brings warmer air from the south. Most climatologists believe it is one of the main determinants for weather, Sheridan said.

If humans fail to decrease emissions in the atmosphere, the end of the century could expect a rise in global temperature that alters how and if the environment can sustain itself all together, Lee said.  

“We (scientists) are as sure about climate change as we are about cigarettes causing cancer,” Lee said.

Sydney Ford covers sciences. Contact her at [email protected].