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The Impacts of Global Warming

Global warming has been a popular catch phrase in political discourse for some time, leading often to heated debate and a lack of agreement on establishment of many otherwise basic facts. This resource guide provides a broad based survey examining the science, the circumstances, and the relative impact of climate change on several fronts. This article also provides links to additional resources, targeting multiple specialized areas of possible interest.

Basic Information

Global temperature is determined by a measurement of Earths ocean temperatures as well as the air, in zones nearest to the earths' surface. Global warming, indexed under the topic of climate change, refers to the increases of global temperatures over the course of the 20th century. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this increase is attributed to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting from a variety of human activities. The said assertion by the IPCC, is accepted as fact by the major international centers for the study of atmospheric science and climatology.

There are several human activities contributing to the climate change of the 20th century and today. The primary contributor is often claimed to be the burning of fossil fuels, including oil, natural gas, and coal. Other contributors are animal byproducts at feedlots, deforestation in tropical zones, and certain aerosol propellants. In the past, the largest contributors to climate change were industrialized western Europe and the United States. However, with rapid industrial development in many areas of the world, especially east Asia, ongoing increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are expected in the coming years.

Tracing the history of climate change is an unusual undertaking because the issue itself is an odd mix of science and politics. When the trend was first observed, in the form of o-zone depletion during the mid 20th century, there were many skeptics to the hypothesis, in both the scientific and policy arenas. The call to environmental responsibility was then picked up by popular movements of the 1960's and 1970's. This however, did not result in significant legislation or policy changes in the United States. As the mounting evidence of o-zone depletion and pollution began to become more recognized within the atmospheric sciences and the political realm, action was finally taken in the United States by George H.W. Bush with his signing of the amendment to the Clean Air Act in 1990, which authorized a cap-and-trade to address acid rain. Therefore, since the beginning, the climate change issue has been a co-mingling of politics and science, trying to decipher and mutually adjust between industry motivated stakeholders, regulators, and scientists.

 Understanding Impacts

Mapping out the future impacts of climate change is a difficult task, with such scarce agreement about the facts of the matter. However, there is data that alludes to trends in a variety of areas which offers a picture of the potential impact, assuming current human contribution as being static. Below several different areas of interest are discussed.

Impacts in the Natural World:

Water Resources

The impact on water supply will vary globally, resulting in flooding of some areas and prolonged droughts in others. The important factor when considering the relationship between climate change and water supply is that climate change will result in more extreme weather patterns. Thus, areas that have dry and wet seasons will likely experience more extreme versions of both. Climate change will additionally lead to higher likelihood of hurricanes and other such extreme weather occurrences.

Non-Tidal Wetlands

Non-tidal wetlands, which lie just between land and sea, are easily impacted by fluctuations in area hydrology. Increasing or decrease precipitation levels as well as the rise in sea level both affect these particularly sensitive zones. Observed impacts have been impacts to species populations as well as drying up of area wetlands in places that exhibited more radical dry climate then normal. These trends are expected to continue into the near future.


Changing ocean conditions have led to changes in fish populations. Importantly, numbers and locations of fish are affected. This trend particularly affects cold water fish. Current projections expect this trend to continue. This will be significant to communities that are economically dependent on the fishing industry. A loss to certain fish populations also has an impact on the food supply, for communities that rely on fish as a staple food.


Agriculture will be directly impacted by the changes in water supply and weather fluctuations. Flooding in areas that would receive more water then needed will destroy crops just as droughts will also kill them. The expansion of deserts, desertification, will also result in a reduction in arable land. Thus, there is a possibility of significant social and economic disturbance in several areas of the world. Highly populated areas that have little arable land are the more vulnerable. It is important to keep in mind that such speculations assume human action as being static. Geo-engineering is one method that offers an opportunity to counter act some of the effect of climate change.

National Parks

National parks will be affected similarly to other areas sharing like environmental profiles. One impact that will be continue is the ongoing forest fire management problem in the western United States. This is attributed to the increased severity of dry season resulting from climate change. One effect of chronic forest fires will likely be eventual property depreciation in areas surrounding national parks prone to forest fires.


Tropical forests and the habitats maintained therein will also be impacted by climate change. Rapid destruction of habitats by deforestation has led to widespread species extinction. Attempts at reforestation have only been moderately effective; replacing older trees with new young trees is not a strong long term strategy. Deforestation as stated prior, is itself a contributor to climate change.

Range lands

These areas are difficult to characterize, as they often include both native and foreign species of shrubs, grasses, and often dispersed trees, such as in the prairie lands of the middle United States. Ecosystems in zones classified as such often involve a key biotic component in their ecosystems. Due to direct anthropogenic causes and increased dryness in some range land areas, disturbances to local ecosystems were observed. Impacts to these areas are of great interests to ecologists because of potential affect to livestock populations.


Because of rapid deforestation, changing temperatures, and deforestation in rain forests, many bird habitats are destroyed, therefore placing many species at risk. Particularly in danger are those which are native to tropical forests, whose habitat is on the highest and oldest of trees. Because of deforestation, these highly specialized habitats are disturbed, leaving these animals unable to locate food or forcing to try to adapt to habitats lower to the forest floor.

Impacts on Human Life & Activities:


One way that human health is affected by climate change is by increased instances of melanoma, particularly in regions closer to the equator. Increased exposure to the suns rays puts individuals living in these areas at greater risk, both relative to previous years and relative to people living in cooler areas. This is predicted of be an ongoing trend but can be offset with greater awareness of the threats UVA and UVB ray pose in those areas.

State Impact

Amount of action toward the end of countering the trend of climate change has be asymmetrical at best. However, at this time all major western European nations have passed some environmental regulation. Cap-and-trade programs are particularly popular both at federal and local levels and are applied in a large number of nations that passed environmental legislation. Future trends are likely to lead to expanded legislation and adaptation by the developing world.

International Impact

The major international action addressing climate change was the Kyoto Protocol. The success of this action is debated because of non-participation of the United States. Since that time, a trend ever increasing region cooperation has been seen and will likely continue to the future. It is however difficult to speculate on if truly global action is possible at this time. Regional cooperation is expected to continue, especially in areas where climate change presents problems across state lines.

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