Our planet is no stranger to change, experiencing everything from fiery infernos to ice ages on its way to today’s relatively happy medium. Throughout geological history, the planet has had repeated cycles of heating and cooling. However, as humans have multiplied across the planet and become increasingly addicted to the burning of fossil fuels in the past few centuries, releasing heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the process, the world has been warming at an unprecedented rate.
The disastrous implications of disrupting nature’s delicate balance include extreme weather, rising seas, and loss of habitat. While the first evidence of human-induced climate change was discovered in 1896, it wasn’t until the 1980s that a widespread consensus concluded that human-caused global warming represented a major threat to international security. Scientific evidence regarding our climate system’s warming is unequivocal, demanding urgent action to shift our society’s consumption behavior.
Unity College has been a higher education leader in championing divestment from fossil fuels and our students are proudly part of the solution as advocates of sustainability. It’s important to separate the facts from the fiction about climate change, to overcome the campaigns of misinformation actively propagated by defenders of outdated industries and progress towards meaningful mitigation before it’s too late.
A Brief History of Climate Change for Students in Environmental Science Colleges
Climate is often misidentified as weather, which can be quite variable and unpredictable. Climate change, on the other hand, is the measurement of average temperatures at the global or regional scale over time. Scientists have assessed our planet’s average temperatures since the 1880s by collecting data from weather stations, and can analyze biological phenomena such as tree rings to estimate historic conditions.
By studying air bubbles trapped in ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland, scientists can both demonstrate the correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and temperature over 800,000 years, and the sharp rise in this concentration since the Industrial Revolution. Future climate conditions can be projected under various scenarios through complex computer models but it’s harder to estimate how melting permafrost and warming oceans could trigger a series of feedback loops, which may further intensify the rate of climate change.
What Graduates of Environmental Science Colleges Can do About Climate Change
As the United States has historically been one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide and methane, many would argue that it bears the greatest responsibility to counter its effects. Research from NASA reveals extensive present evidence—rising sea levels and global temperatures, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, declining glaciers and sea ice, and ocean acidification. A recent study by climate scientists projected that 2 degrees Celsius of warming could raise sea levels by as much as 3 meters (nearly 10 feet) in 50 years, submerging many nations and coastal cities.
While scientists estimate that 70% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from burning coal and oil, students in environmental science colleges know that loss of trees and soil also contribute to the increase of carbon in the atmosphere. Even if warming can be stabilized there will be significant negative impacts, but a rise of more than a few degrees above pre-Industrial levels will likely destroy most of the ecological and meteorological conditions that support society.
Sustainability specialists with a Professional Science Master’s can use their understanding of climate change facts to positively influence environmental policies, applying their transdisciplinary skills to develop nuanced mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies to reduce human emissions and protect ecosystems. No doubt there will be resistance from the deniers and the complacent but there has never been a more important need for catalysts of change.
Interested in learning more about climate change in Environmental Studies Graduate Programs?
Contact Unity College Online for more information about our Sustainability Studies Master’s programs.