The study and science of climate change dates back as far as the late 1800s, but major developments did not occur until the 1950s when scientists discovered that carbon emissions were not immediately absorbed by the ocean. In the later portion of the decade, scientists began to argue that carbon emissions from anthropogenic sources could become a problem in the future and severely impact climate. Climate change science progressed rapidly in the 1970s. It was during this time that scientists used past and new research from the 1950s and 1960s to develop a strong prediction for future global warming due to an increase in atmospheric CO2. Charles Keeling collected carbon samples throughout the later portion of the 1950s and concluded that atmospheric carbon emissions were increasing by establishing the now-famous and recognizable “Keeling Curve.”
Throughout the 1970s, more and more scientists began to support the global warming instead of global cooling. A general consensus concluded that more research needed to be conducted in order to put more support behind the concept of global warming or global cooling. Recent cooling trends began to taper off by the early 1980s. In the later portion of the 1980s, Dr. James Hansen, a famous climate scientist, began to make some of the first initial analyses regarding anthropogenic climate change and eventually concluded that global climate was already significantly impacted. In order to address global climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established with the mission to collect ongoing climate change research, including model projections. Today the IPCC has an important role in providing collective information to almost all climate change debates, including governmental decisions (Knight, 2008).
Although the science behind climate change has been very sound for several decades, U.S. government acknowledgment and action has been laggard. Global warming was acknowledged during the Nixon administration. President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December of 1970. While the creation of the EPA marked an important event in environmental awareness and action, much of the agency’s focus then and now is more so to address air, water, and other pollution issues. Although the EPA does recognize climate change, most of their initiatives are in the form of partnerships and programs as opposed to actual laws. While government response to global warming has been drawn-out over the decades, an important opportunity presented itself to the U.S. and other developed countries in 1998. The Kyoto Protocol created a legally binding international agreement between all ratifying parties. Specifically, the agreed target was an average reduction of 5.2% of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2012. In 2005, the agreements outlined in the Kyoto Protocol became binding. Even though the U.S. signed the Kyoto Protocol ceremoniously, it was never ratified by either the Clinton or Bush administrations (Weart, 2007).
The impacts of climate change are being felt all over the world and with the temperature projects for the next decade, there are serious global effects that could follow. With even a few degrees of warming increased evaporation occurs, specifically targeting freshwater sources in areas where supplies are already limited, including coastal towns and agricultural regions. Average temperature increase has also negatively impacted air quality in many major cities. Sea level is also rising due to the expanding of ocean water and the melting of land-based ice. The rise of sea level threatens low-lying coastal cities and ecosystems. Increasing temperature is expected to impact key crops. Warming can alter growing seasons and cause issues in areas where crop production is already limited by heat in the summer. Finally, global warming has impacted weather severity. Periods of droughts and downpours are now more common and are increasing in intensity as well (EPA).
As temperatures are projected to keep increasing, consequences are likely to follow. Sea level is predicted to continue rising to dangerous levels in numerous parts of the world. Native species could be easily wiped out from changes in seasons and the introduction and thriving of pests, disease, and invasive species. Whole ecosystems could become obsolete, especially already-fragile prairies and wetlands. Declines in freshwater sources could be extremely detrimental to local and regional economies. Over all, increases in average temperatures are impacting the environment and with the projected temperature rise over the next few decades only predict more issues on a local, regional, and global scale (U.S. Global Change Research Program).
Climate Change- Health and Environmental Impacts. (2010 July 16). Retrieved from
Knight, M. (2008 March 31). A timeline of climate change science. CNN.
United States Global Change Research Program: Global Climate Change (n.d.) Retrieve from http:/www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/
Weart, S. (2007 January 31). A History of Climate Change Science. Retrieved from