Written 12/05/2019


There is little doubt that most everyone has heard of climate change and/or global warming. However, most people do not realize that the earth is warming faster than ever, with nine of the top ten warmest years on record occurring after 2005. In fact, the warmest year ever recorded was 2016, followed by 2015, 2017, and 2018. For this year, 2019, "the odds slightly favor that [it] will end up being the second-warmest year" since 1880 (Freedman). Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, human impact has affected the natural earth in more ways than one. The creation of modern factories, gasoline cars in the 1900s, and the dramatic rise in the human population since the late 1700's all contribute to the rising numbers associated with global warming. Humans have negatively affected the global environment as the number of humans has increased, creating a larger demand for food and agriculture, thus leading to deforestation in order to create new farmland, and in turn not only releasing more carbon emissions but also leaving fewer trees to take in the excess carbon dioxide.

The rise in the human population—7.7 billion today, according to the World Population Clock—creates a need for more agriculture, urbanization, and industrialization to accommodate the vast amount of people in the world. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, the world population was approximately 770 million, according to Worldometers. The carbon footprint made by individuals was much less not only because the use of coal and other non-renewable resources had just begun, but also because there were fewer people to make a carbon footprint in the first place.

World Population Balance has stated that the human population rises by approximately 220,000 people every day. More and more people gravitate toward cities, increasing the need for more urbanization. More and more people learn to drive each year, increasing the number of cars on the road. These same people also need to eat and buy other necessities such as clothing, which increases the need for farmland and industrialization. Humans are always searching for ways to make life easier, which eventually led to the use of single-use dishes, utensils, water bottles, bags, and the like, These items, among many others, have produced an ultimate 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean by 2019. According to National Geographic, "269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea" (Parker). This number is only rising.

The Industrial Revolution started in England in 1760 when people started to come up with faster and more efficient ways to produce things, such as cloth by using the flying shuttle, woolen thread by using the spinning jenny, and clean cotton fibers by using the cotton gin. When the steam engine was improved by James Watt in the 1760's, it "made [the engine] far more efficient" (History). When Watt collaborated with Matthew Boulton and created a steam engine with a rotary motion, it "allow[ed] steam power to spread across British industries." Unfortunately, while the steam engine improved working conditions by requiring far less time and human labor to produce the same amount of material, it also meant that more coal was needed to power the engines.

Another downside to the Industrial Revolution was that it created unsafe working conditions in the factories that sprung up, especially because not only were there no laws regarding labor, but also because in 1900, 18% of the American labor force was made of children under the age of sixteen. These children had to skip their education in order to work long, gruelling hours in hot, dangerous conditions. On top of this, factories started to dump waste products directly into streams and rivers, and the amount of pollution produced by burning coal rose dramatically. From there, the statistics went downhill.

Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have released approximately 35 billion metric tons of CO2 into the earth's atmosphere, increasing the amount of natural insulation the earth has in order to keep the global temperatures relatively constant. By 1950, the level of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere (measured in parts per million, or ppm) had surpassed 300 ppm. Prior to this year, within the past 800,000 years, this level had only been reached once before, approximately 325,000 years ago.

Now, as of 2013, the CO2 levels have overtaken the 400 ppm mark. This can be attributed to "the simple premise that about 60 percent of fossil-fuel emissions stay in the air" (NASA). NASA also states that "If fossil-fuel burning continues at a business-as-usual rate… CO2 will continue to rise to levels of order of 1500 ppm. The atmosphere would then not return to pre-industrial levels even tens of thousands of years into the future." At that point, and well before that, Earth would no longer be suitable for the habitation of living things for thousands, perhaps millions, of years.

"Living things," as stated previously, includes everything from humans to animals to plants and single-celled organisms such as bacteria. Trees would no longer be able to take in sufficient amounts of carbon dioxide in order to keep the global temperature at a normal level. Part of this is due to the amount of deforestation humans have inflicted on forests all over the globe. In 2016, The World Bank estimated that the world has lost "1.3 million square kilometers of forests since 1990 - an area larger than South Africa" (Khokhar). This is the equivalent of 502,000 square miles, or 1,000 football fields worth of trees being lost every hour. Most of the time, deforestation occurs in tropical areas to create more room for agricultural purposes.

Surprisingly, only four products are accountable for most of the need for additional farmland: beef, soy, palm oil, and wood products. Other, more minor, commodities that also contribute to deforestation include coffee, cocoa, rubber, and sugar; however, these are only small contributors compared to the major products considered daily, everyday use items. Beef cattle "ha[ve] by far the largest impact. Converting forest to pasture for beef cattle… is responsible for destroying 2.71 million hectares of tropical forest each year… in just four countries" (UCS). That's nearly 6,700,000 acres of tropical forest being destroyed to create cattle pastures. Just this past August, thousands of fires occurring in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil have been started purposefully by ranchers looking to expand their pastures. Cattle ranching is blamed for "80 percent of the Amazon's deforestation in recent years… [and] a fast, and illegal, way to transform dense jungles into fields fit for grazing" (Krauss). These ranchers also typically live in big cities, away from the actual ranches and hundreds of miles away from smoke.

Palm oil, another large contributor to deforestation, is used in thousands of food and personal care products as it is cheap to produce and extremely versatile. The versatility of palm oil leads people to wanting to grow more palm trees, leading to the destruction of over 270,000 hectares of older, native trees each year as well as the draining of peatlands, which are areas of carbon-rich soils that can contain "up to 28 times as much carbon as the forests above them" (UCS). The draining of the peatlands doubles the harmful effects on the environment.

Forests provide homes for countless species of animals around the world. The Amazon alone houses over 10 million species that most often cannot be found anywhere else. Trees also provide clean water, give nutrients to the soil, and take in carbon dioxide from the air. Economically, forests also provide people with jobs, medicines, and fuel all over the world. Globally speaking, "13.4 million people with jobs in the forest sector, and another 41 million people have jobs related to forests" (Derouin). Trees also keep the soil in place and prevent it from blowing away, which was what happened in the Great Plains in the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression. The Dust Bowl displaced over 2.5 million people, forcing them to move further west from Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

While there are countless amounts of evidence revealing the high probability that humans are the root cause of the rapid increase in carbon emissions (95% probability, according to NASA), approximately 3% of scientists remain skeptical, including Roy Spencer, a research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. In July of 2016, Dr. Spencer wrote a thirteen-point paper attempting to prove that climate change is not humans' responsibility. The paper's topics are long-disproved climate myths, causing Dr. Spencer's paper to be merely a stack of useless arguments.

All of Dr. Spencer's claims are debunked by the website Skeptical Science, which provides a list of 197 myths all disproved by scientific facts. Examples include, "Carbon dioxide is a trace gas", "Climate has changed before", and "Claims of 'slow' ocean warming" (Nuccitelli). Nuccitelli then goes on to say that Dr. Spencer's paper ends with the claim that "the 97% of climate research that's consistent with the expert consensus is all politically biased." However, this is a rather ironic statement, considering he had also stated in 2011 that "[he] view[s] [his] job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government" (Romm). Skeptical Science's list compiles the most common arguments against climate change, supporting them with real, scientific evidence and disproving the myths completely.

The growing demand for farmland, cities, and factories has led to a rise in deforestation and in turn results in more CO2 into the atmosphere. Several factors are contributing to climate change and global warming, but the biggest come from humans deforesting the land, overpopulating the earth, and releasing more and more carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere at alarming rates. People today need to take action and work toward solving this ongoing issue. The world is not yet beyond all hope of saving. Humans just need to work together to restore it.