Global warming is a scientifically observed change in the Earth's climate, characterized by an overall increase in temperature all over the world. While the effects of global warming are not fully understood, most scientists suspect that drastic climate change may result in a catastrophic situation. Many scientists have suggested that the recent spike in global temperatures has been caused by human activities, and many organizations are lobbying consumers to modify their practices before it is too late. Numerous consumer practices have been shown to contribute to global warming, and huge global change is necessary to at the very least, halt, global warming. Much larger scale changes would be needed to reverse global warming.
Global warming is caused by an increase of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” in the Earth's atmosphere. These gases trap warmth within the atmosphere, rather than allowing it to escape, and this is slowly causing the global temperature to rise. Global warming has been blamed for the global shrinkage of glaciers and ice caps, with some scientists predicting complete disappearance of many glaciers by 2050. Global warming has also been suggested as the cause for many catastrophic weather events, as changes in the Earth's atmosphere alter weather patterns.
If global warming continues, it could devastate global agriculture by causing drought conditions in some regions and flooding in others. In addition, it is feared that global ice melt will cause a rise in the sea level, flooding many port cities, some of which have very large populations which would be forced to relocate. Most scientists agree that the recent spike in global temperature is uncomfortably correlated with the Industrial Revolution and the accompanying radical changes in human lifestyle.
Global warming became a subject of hot debate in the late twentieth century, with varying groups exaggerating or dismissing the effect of human activity on the environment. It does seem clear that increased human activity has resulted in a historically unusual amount of greenhouse gases, as ice cores tens of thousands of years old have indicated. Consumers are often confused about their role in global warming, and are unsure about what they can do to reduce their footprint on the earth.
Consumers produce greenhouse gases, sometimes directly by burning fossil fuels in their vehicles and sometimes indirectly by supporting industries which create greenhouse gases. For example, millions of acres of South American rain forest are burned every year to support the beef industry, which is responding to consumer demand for cheap meat. It is generally agreed that if consumers would take steps to reduce their carbon emissions, it would have profound effects on global warming.
The first step in reducing man's carbon footprint is to use carbon emitting technology less, and to promote alternative forms of energy. Solar, wind, and hydroelectric power are all excellent alternatives to coal and petroleum burning energy generation. In addition, consumers can reuse and recycle products rather than throwing them away, causing the market for new goods made using carbon emitting technology to shrink. Furthermore, recycling reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released while objects decay in landfills.
Better management is also needed for agricultural and forest lands. In addition to creating carbon when land is burned, biomass which could filter the carbon is also reduced. Trees and plants are an important part of the carbon conversion system, along with marine algae, and could help to correct the situation if allowed to flourish.
Additionally, consumers can pressure companies to engage in more environmentally sound business practices, including reduction of carbon emissions. At the same time, citizens could encourage their nations to enact more stringent laws in regards to greenhouse gas emissions, in the hopes of promoting a society with minimal carbon emissions. Purchasing from “green” companies indicates that there is a market for ecologically sound products, and more companies will follow suit if encouraged to do so.
Some nations are also promoting the idea of carbon offsets. A carbon offset is usually an investment in tree planting, development of alternative energy, or some other carbon reducing activity. A consumer could determine, for example, that he or she is going to fly from London to New York, an activity that will result in a heavy carbon emission from the engines of the aircraft. A carbon offset could be purchased, whereby trees are planted somewhere else in an attempt to compensate for the carbon emission created. While carbon offsets do not actually reduce the carbon emissions of one person to zero, they do help to mitigate the effects.
Consumers can have an impact on global warming by reducing their footprint and thinking consciously about the decisions they make. Simple actions like taking public transit instead of a car, or purchasing goods from a green company, can make a huge difference, especially when magnified globally.