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Looking at the facts of climate change

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The terms “global warming” and “climate change” have become common in everyday language. And, while some people deny the existence of global warming, this past November has made a very good case for it. According to the National Weather Service, this was the 11th warmest November in 142 years. After last year’s blizzard and predictions of an even worse winter from the Farmer’s Almanac, the mildness of November should seem unusual and indicative of a changing climate. But what does this mean for us?

First, it is important to understand global warming and climate change. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, global warming is an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns.  There are a variety of natural and human causes of global warming but greenhouse gases are most commonly associated with this term. Climate change, on the other hand, refers to any significant change in temperature, precipitation, or wind lasting for several decades or longer. The causes of climate change are both natural and human-induced and range from the sun’s intensity, natural changes in the ocean’s circulation, the burning of fossil fuels, or deforestation.

Many people are concerned about the issue of a rapidly changing climate and the students of Dominican University are no exception. Spencer Campbell, a senior studying Environmental Management, is one of the students concerned with this issue.

“Yes I believe global climate change is a real threat. Yes, we should all be concerned about our health as well as the health of the planet itself,” Campbell said. “I believe we need to remind the human race that we a part of nature and not set apart from it. Our actions both individually, and cumulatively, have a direct impact on the planet. We have a responsibility to be stewards of creation.”

The most commonly talked about issues of global warming are the melting polar caps, but, since the majority of people have never visited the polar caps, it is hard to make a profound connection on people who aren’t already concerned about climate change. Although it is true more and more sea ice and glaciers melt each year, greatly affecting global warming’s mascot, the polar bear, climate change is happening here in Chicago.

Sophomore Chellie Britt recognizes that Chicago is not an exception to the world’s climate change. “I took Native American Culture and Spirituality last spring,” Britt said. “Our project was on global climate change and how it affected not only the place we were visiting, but the globe in general. We learned that everywhere would be affected, including our Chicago home.”

In a report titled Change Climate and Chicago: Projections and Potential Impacts that was commissioned by the Chicago Climate Task Force created by the City of Chicago, Chicago is expected to have more extreme temperature differences between the winter and summer with more extreme storms. If humans continue to increase the amount of CO2 they release into the air, the average temperature in Chicago is expected to rise eight degrees by the end of the century.

Now that everyone is sweating over rising temperatures, the summers are only going to get worse. The number of days that peak at over 100 degrees F are going to increase from an average of two per year to about eight and Chicago can expect longer, more extreme heat waves resembling the heat wave of 1995 that peaked at 106 degrees F and resulted in approximately 750 heat-related deaths. In the past, heat waves like this happened twice a decade, but their frequency is expected to rise to every other year by the turn of the century. Don’t forget about the humidity, either, which is also going to increase.

While the turn of the century seems far off, think about this. As medicine improves people are living longer lives. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average life expectancy of an American reached 78 in 2007. Anyone who is 20 in the year 2012 has the potential reach 80 in the year 2072. Most of us are going to live through many of these changes in climate as Chicago becomes even more extreme than it already is.

“I don’t say I would have realized it growing up, but as I’ve gotten older and learned about the world in and out of the classroom, I’ve realized the extreme changes were coming and it wouldn’t just be my great-great-grandchildren affected. I’ve realized that this affects me too,” Britt said.

As mentioned earlier, climate change does have natural causes and is, therefore, inevitable. However, by reducing the amount of CO2 we emit into the atmosphere we can slow it down and preserve a more enjoyable or at least familiar climate. Reducing our emissions doesn’t require big changes in our lives. We don’t have to immediately run out and replace our gasoline-fueled cars with electric ones and we don’t have to immediately replace all our old appliances with more energy efficient models. These things can be replaced as they wear out and need to be replaced.

There are many other small things that we can do, though. We can use energy efficient light bulbs, turn off all lights and unnecessary electronics before leaving our homes. Instead of driving everywhere, on nice days we can walk or take bikes when possible. Another easy way to help the atmosphere is to plant gardens. It could be a conventional garden found in a yard, a rooftop garden or even just a few houseplants to help absorb the CO2 in the air and produce new oxygen for us to breathe.

“There are no magic fixes to this problem,” Campbell said. “You can plant a tree, be conscious of your waste, choose to recycle, and get active. Show your support for the Earth by getting the word out. Tell your friends, tell your family. Bring it up at the dinner table or in the dining hall. Contact your elected officials and tell them what needs to be done.”

There are many online resources and blogs dedicated to teaching people the little ways that they can help slow down climate change. A Google search for “How to go green” yields about 99,000,000 search results. If you’re concerned about the rate our climate is changing, now is your chance to do something about it.

Kelly Butler, Managing Editor

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