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What is the Climate Change Debate?

Indiscriminate logging is believed by many to contribute to climate change.
A map of the polar ice caps, which are thought to be affected by global warming.
Article Details
  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Lars Johansson, Lunar And Planetary Institute
  • Last Modified Date: 15 April 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The climate change debate is an overwhelming and complex set of arguments regarding the effect of human consumption on the global environment, the proper steps and time frame to correct an effect if it exists, and whether humans even have the capability to positively affect the environment and protect it from harm. With nearly as many opinions as there are experts, the debate is largely unsettled and looks to be a conversation that will continue endlessly. The climate change debate is fueled by a determination to continue the safe existence of humans on the planet, an existence that may be threatened by the general lifestyle of the species.

The climate change debate originally centered around the existence and cause of an abnormal warming trend on the planet. Beginning in the mid-20th century, some scientists began to note the potentially severe effects of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere, warning that it could lead to devastating warming trends. The largest question in the early days of the climate debate asked whether increased global temperatures were a naturally occurring global trend, or if it was heavily influenced by human activity.

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Since the dawn of the 21st century, scientific opinion has mostly shifted to agreement that warming is occurring, and that human industry has played a part in the trend. Gathered evidence has clearly depicted that climate change is occurring throughout the world, leading to increased ocean temperatures, melting of the polar ice caps, and ecological change caused by unusual weather pattern shifts. As data has been collected and studied, the focus of the climate change debate has altered, asking not if warming is occurring, but how bad the trend will get, and what, if anything, can slow or stop its effects.

Another major concern of the climate change debate is the potentially disastrous effects of the global warming trend. In some estimates, climate change will warm seas, causing massive destruction to marine ecosystems and changing weather patterns across the globe. Additionally, sea level may rise significantly, causing the inundation of coastal areas and disrupting life along sea borders. Some worry that warmer-than-normal areas will have vital nutrients baked out of the soil by increased sunlight, creating vast deserts and increasing starvation levels as cultivatable land becomes scarce. These predictions are only theoretical, but many scientists and experts agree that at least some major effects on human life are likely.

Since the 19th century, human existence has heavily relied on technology and industry that may contribute to global warming and climate change. The heavy use of fossil fuels, combined with increased use of chemical products and an expansion of non-biodegradable products all may have contributed to climate change. In addition, human activity such as overgrazing, non-renewable forestry, and even agricultural pursuits may have affected climate change at a ground level by destroying nutrient-rich topsoil, which in turn has led to the creation of climate-impacting desert areas.

How or if these practices need to be changed is an issue debated on all levels, from those concerned with the local ecosystem around a meat plant, to industry executives that make their living from practices deemed unsustainable. The climate change debate asks primarily what changes to human activity must be made, how the necessary results of the harmful industry will be replaced, and at what rate changes must be implemented. Some experts believe that the climate change debate is the most important question facing the human species, as the possible outcomes of global warming scenarios do not exclude the chance that human life could end on Earth if nothing is done to change the situation.

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