Understanding Global Warming: Key Facts, Causes, Effects, and How to Combat It

Global warming is a term that’s become a staple in our daily conversations, news headlines, and even casual chats about the weather. But what exactly is global warming? At its core, global warming refers to the gradual increase in the Earth’s average surface temperature, largely due to human activities. This phenomenon has been shaping our planet for decades, and its effects are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. From scorching summer heatwaves to unseasonably warm winters, the fingerprints of global warming are all around us.

Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the global average temperature has climbed by just over 1 degree Celsius, or approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit. From 1880, the year when reliable temperature records began, to 1980, the average temperature increased by 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 degrees Fahrenheit) every decade. 

Rise in average temperature resulting in global warming

 While this might seem like a small change, it’s significant enough to disrupt weather patterns, melt polar ice, and raise sea levels. Scientists have meticulously tracked these changes, noting that the rate of warming has accelerated alarmingly over the past few decades. For instance, since 1981, the planet has been warming at a rate of 0.18 degrees Celsius (0.32 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade, more than double the rate observed in the previous century.

This rapid warming is primarily driven by the increase in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Climate scientists now stress the urgency of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 to avert the most severe and devastating impacts of climate change. While everyone feels the effects of climate change, the most vulnerable populations—such as the underprivileged, economically marginalized, and people of color—bear the brunt, facing increased risks of poverty, displacement, hunger, and social unrest. Understanding global warming is not just about grasping the science; it’s about recognizing the urgent need for action to mitigate its effects and protect our planet for future generations.

How is Global Warming Linked to Extreme Weather?

Scientists unanimously agree that the rising temperatures on Earth are contributing to longer and more intense heat waves, more frequent droughts, heavier rainfall, and stronger hurricanes. For instance, in 2015, researchers determined that a prolonged drought in California—the worst water shortage the state had experienced in 1,200 years—had been exacerbated by global warming by 15 to 20 percent. They also noted that the likelihood of such droughts occurring in the future had roughly doubled over the past century. 

Rise in average temperature resulting in global warming

The oceans are warming as well; in fact, 90% of the warming is happening in the ocean, which means tropical storms can gather more energy. This implies that global warming can escalate a category 3 storm into a more perilous category 4 storm. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season saw a record 30 tropical storms, 13 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes. With greater storm intensity comes increased damage and fatalities. In 2020, the United States experienced an unprecedented 22 weather and climate disasters, each causing at least a billion dollars in damage.

The effects of global warming are evident globally. Extreme heat waves have led to tens of thousands of deaths in recent years. Alarmingly, Antarctica has lost nearly four trillion metric tons of ice since the 1990s. Some experts warn that if we continue burning fossil fuels at the current rate, the ice loss could accelerate, causing sea levels to rise several meters over the next 50 to 150 years, which would devastate coastal communities worldwide.

What are the Causes Global Warming?

Global warming occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, absorbing sunlight and solar radiation that reflect off the Earth’s surface. Normally, this radiation would escape into space, but these pollutants trap the heat, causing the planet to warm. These heat-trapping pollutants, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and synthetic fluorinated gases, are referred to as greenhouse gases, and their warming effect is known as the greenhouse effect.

While natural cycles and fluctuations have caused the Earth’s climate to change multiple times over the last 800,000 years, the current period of global warming is directly linked to human activities. It’s important to understand both natural and human-induced causes of climate change. Below are some of the major causes of global warming:

  • Burning Fossil Fuels: Machinery that relies on coal, natural gas, or oil to run releases carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.
  • Deforestation: Deforestation removes the trees that act as a natural GHG filter, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into our atmosphere.
  • Agricultural Practices: Modern farming accounts for more than 10% of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to livestock and rice cultivation.
  • Consumer Goods: The energy used in the manufacturing and transportation of consumer goods leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Mining: Operations that rely on fossil fuels emit significant levels of GHGs.
  • Waste Disposal: When plastics and other non-biodegradable waste decompose, it releases toxic gases into the environment.

To mitigate the dangers of climate change, significant reductions in emissions and a global shift to alternative energy sources are essential. Encouragingly, nations worldwide have committed to lowering their emissions by setting new standards and developing policies to meet or exceed these goals. However, the progress has been slow. 

Scientists warn that to avoid the worst effects of climate change, global carbon emissions must be cut by up to 40 percent by 2030, which was one of the core aspects of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Achieving this requires immediate and substantial actions: transitioning from fossil fuel-based electricity generation to renewable sources like wind and solar, electrifying transportation, and maximising energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, and industries.

What are the Effects of Global Warming?

As climate change intensifies, causing more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, and floods, communities suffer, and death tolls increase. If emissions are not curtailed, experts predict that climate change could result in the deaths of over 250,000 people annually and push 100 million people into poverty by 2030.

Here are some of the most prominent effects of climate change:

Higher Temperatures: Since 1900, the Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), with projections indicating this trend will continue due to global warming.

Rising Sea Levels: By 2050, sea levels along the U.S. coastline are expected to rise by 10 to 12 inches, potentially submerging islands and coastal cities.

Extreme Weather Events: The link between global warming and an increase in extreme weather events, such as floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, is clear, leading to deaths, famine, and disease.

Plant and Animal Extinction: Rising temperatures can render parts of the planet uninhabitable for many native species, leading to extinction.

Ocean Acidification: Increasing carbon dioxide emissions are making oceans more acidic, which harms marine life.

Dirtier Air: Hotter temperatures contribute to more smog, exacerbating respiratory problems and other health issues.

Disappearing Polar Ice: Melting polar ice contributes to rising sea levels and accelerates global warming by increasing ocean temperatures.

While climate change affects everyone, its impact is not uniform. Indigenous people, people of color, and economically marginalized communities suffer the most. Structural inequities in housing, healthcare, and labor make these groups more vulnerable to climate change’s worst effects, even though they contribute the least to the problem.

Can We Do Anything To Stop Global Warming?

The general scientific view today is that any rise in global temperatures of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius would be an unacceptably high risk, potentially resulting in major extinctions, more severe droughts and hurricanes, a watery Arctic, and an increased toll on human health and well-being.  While we can’t win the fight without large-scale government action at the national level, we also can’t do it without the help of individuals who are willing to use their voices, hold government and industry leaders to account, and make changes in their daily habits. 

Wondering how you can be a part of the fight against global warming? Reduce your own carbon footprint by taking a few easy steps: Make conserving energy a part of your daily routine and your decisions as a consumer. Think about the environmental impact of your decisions. For example, when you want to buy a car, look for one with the highest gas mileage and the lowest emissions. You can also make a direct and actionable impact by protect and conserve rainforests with Fund The Planet.

To avoid major changes to life as we know it, global action must be taken. At the Paris climate conference, all countries committed to a target of keeping the temperature change to well below 2 degrees and to make efforts to prevent a change greater than 1.5 degrees. Unfortunately, the current reality is that the  emissions gap, is still dangerously between where we should be and where we need to be. Every tenth of a degree matters, and we cannot prevent this unless we act immediately to cut emissions deeply.

Share on Facebook
Share on X
Share on LinkedIn
Share on WhatsApp
Picture of David Imolore

David Imolore

David Imolore is a content writer with FundThePlanet, with a passion for writing on crucial topics such as rainforest conservation, climate change, and sustainability for people and businesses. His passion lies in raising awareness about the importance of preserving our planet's vital ecosystems. Through his writing, he strives to inspire positive climate action and foster a deeper connection between individuals, communities, and the environment.
Picture of David Imolore

David Imolore

David Imolore is a content writer with FundThePlanet, with a passion for writing on crucial topics such as rainforest conservation, climate change, and sustainability for people and businesses. His passion lies in raising awareness about the importance of preserving our planet's vital ecosystems. Through his writing, he strives to inspire positive climate action and foster a deeper connection between individuals, communities, and the environment.
Share the Post:

Learn More:

Rescue Rainforest Now

At the click of a button you can save a personal piece of the Amazon rainforest and ensure it stays safe from deforestation. You will immediately receive access to your piece of rainforest and will be able to track it to the square meter.