Climate Change Research Paper

Free Research Paper on Climate Change:

Climate is the set of features of the weather perceptible to us such as temperature, windiness, rainfall, and humidity (Climate Change, Encyclopaedia Britannica). These factors change and vary naturally over time, there are no two years with identical weather profiles, yet there is reason to believe that in recent years the rate of warming of the planet has been alarmingly rapid. The issue of the fast increase in earth’s temperature over the past decades is one of global importance and disputed origin. There have been tens of explanations which attempt to determine the cause of the warming. They point out various proven natural phenomena, such as cyclical events (Milankovich variations), the increase in the sun’s brightness and heat, as well as volcanic activity. All these justifications for the change in the earth’s temperature are valid, but there is reason to believe that human activity and CO2 emissions are a great part of the causes for warming of the earth.

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The boom of industrial development and technological progress may be responsible for the economic success of a large part of earth’s population, but there is also a reverse side of the issue. All the industrial activity and transportation we use in our modern society is pumping the atmosphere in which we live with poisonous emissions. This fact cannot be disproven by any number of opposing theories. Our best bet when analysing climate change is to take into consideration the complex set of factors which influence the earth’s atmosphere without excluding our involvement in this occurrence. This is crucial to our survival. The earth’s atmosphere and the climate within it is our home, and if there is no sustainable view as to how we can balance our activity with the impact we have on the environment, there will be dire even fatal consequences. If humankind is to counteract global warming, there needs to be a clear and sober outlook as to its origin.

As our knowledge of the world we inhabit increases we draw closer to perfecting medicine, nutrition, protection from harsh conditions, and many other factors crucial to human survival and growth. (Nature of Science, J. Terfil) All these are increasing our numbers, making our houses warm, and decreasing the chance that we will die prematurely. As the success of humankind suggests, the more knowledge we have about the world around us, the more equipped we are to make changes and advance. Thus it is necessary to examine the issue of climate change from a scientific and unbiased point of view.

There is much to be said about the climate change phenomenon, but the best way to go about the examination of the matter is by starting with the simplest explanation. The atmosphere is a protective layer of gasses surrounding the earth. It is transparent and therefore admits the radiation coming from the heated surface of the sun (5000oC), which provides warmth and light for the survival of all living organisms on the planet. (Nature of Science, J. Terfil) The atmosphere’s property however is not only to allow radiation to enter and warm the earth, but to allow the infrared energy generated by the objects on the earth’s surface to escape. The atmosphere is not as transparent to this infrared energy and thus water particles and CO2 retain it, not permitting it to radiate out into space (Nature of Science, J. Terfil). This effect is exaggerated by the build-up of additional gasses, which causes a malfunction in the “ventilation system” of the planet earth. As the alternative denomination “greenhouse effect” suggests, the more CO2 emissions are produced, the harsher and thicker the “glass” of our atmosphere will become. This causes not only the warming of the earth’s surface, but a whole array of environmental problems. There is a necessary amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but once its balance has been disturbed by introducing excessive quantities of greenhouse gases, nature begins to act out in unexpected and dangerous ways, causing hurricanes, floods and other events which endanger life on earth.

All these issues make climate change a topic of great importance to society and the scientific world. The research efforts in the field of global warming were sparked by Joseph Fourier, a French physicist who first described the “greenhouse effect” in one of his papers. His formulation of the concept set the stage for further research and nearly four decades later an Irish colleague of Fourier, John Tyndall explored the retention of infrared energy by CO2 and water particles. He postulated that the atmosphere admits solar heat, but does not allow all of it to escape again, thus causing the gradual increase in earth’s temperature. This discovery contributed to the building up of the concept of climate change, but it was not until 1896 that the issue of the human impact was raised. (A timeline of climate change science, www.cnn.com)

It was the Swedish chemist Svante Arrheinus who first suggested that climate change was a man-made phenomenon. While he proposed that the increase in coal burning of would raise the amounts of carbon dioxide contained in the atmosphere and thus raise temperatures, he considered this a desirable event in light of the threat of another ice age. The first statistical comparison of temperature and CO2 levels was carried out by Guy Stewart Callendar in 1983. His research yielded conclusive results. It showed that there was a ten percent increase in levels of CO2 over the past century, and that average temperatures had risen noticeably. (A timeline of climate change science, www.cnn.com)

The year 1955 was an important milestone in the development of climate change science, Professor Gilbert Plass proved that increased carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere could cause temperature increases. In the same year chemist Hans Suess detected the fossil carbon produced when burning fuels. Three years later Suess and the director of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography Roger Revelle employed Charles Keeling to conduct measurements of CO2 levels. The measurements showed a visible increase and lead to the formation of the Keeling graph, which is used to this day to document increases in levels of carbon dioxide. (A timeline of climate change science, cnn.com)

Prior to the documentation of the hottest year to date in 1878, the scientists at the World Climate Program conference in Austria predicted that the continued increase in CO2 emissions would cause a significant rise in the mean surface temperatures of the planet. In 1988, after the setup of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr. James Hansen of NASA delivered a testimony to the US senate (www.climatecrisiscoalition.org). In it he stated that computer models and temperature models unambiguously prove that the human caused greenhouse effect is already underway. Shortly after this, the IPCC presented its first report, which predicted a 0.3 °C increase, during each decade in the 21st century which is a greater rise than any documented in the last 10 000 years. In light of all these events there were a number of summits and attempted regulations of the level of emissions each country is allowed to produce. Results were not significant, as it was necessary to sacrifice some of the economic prosperity of developed countries in order to achieve emission targets. (A timeline of climate change science, www.cnn.com)

Almost all conclusions in the field of climate change are linked to experimentation and scientific discoveries. A classic example of this is John Tyndall’s experimentation and findings in the field of the capacity of gasses in the atmosphere to transmit and absorb radiation. Tyndall’s scientific question was: “How is radiant heat absorbed at the molecular level?” He determined the question of his study on the basis of observations of the natural world. His hypothesis was that light and heat radiation have the same properties and that gasses in the atmosphere absorb radiant energy. Tyndall’s experiments proved that there is indeed absorption of infrared energy by gasses in the atmosphere. He was the first to measure the absorption potential of water vapour, CO2, oxygen, etc. (“John Tyndall: Irish Physicist, Naturalist, and Educator.”) All scientific findings in the field of climate change serve to prove that: (1) The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing (2) The increase of carbon dioxide causes surface temperature on earth to rise. These two hypotheses have been proven time and time again and emphasise the human impact on climate change and how it is progressing.

The findings of Tyndall and other researchers in the field are constantly subject to speculation and intended refutation. Nature protectionists and sustainability specialists focus primarily on the human contribution to global warming, and what science can do in order to save the environment. This approach seems to be the most appropriate, because it provides humanity with the chance to analyse and amend its actions and find solutions. This direction of thought is however highly dependent on a misconception about the nature of science, namely that science is eventually capable of answering all questions, providing solutions for all problems (Misunderstanding the Nature of Science MSTA Journal Spring, 2007). This is untrue especially when dealing with human beings. Science might have gotten us so far, but it is unlikely that it will be able to provide us with an appropriate course of action in salvaging the climate. There are many non-testable aspects of human behaviour and social structure. Science can help, but it will not be able to provide an answer to the climate crisis, because it is primarily of social character, thus, science does not have an answer to all questions.

Another misconception about the nature of science which we may disprove in the context of climate change is that science can only confirm events which have been observed unfolding (Misunderstanding the Nature of Science, 2007). How is it then possible for scientists to be sure that we are experiencing the most rapid temperature rises for 10 000 years? How can scientists’ predictions as to the future rise in temperatures be so accurate? These questions prove the idea that science can be based on historical observations and evidence and these are sufficient to produce a valid (yet refutable) conclusion.

The greenhouse effect and its social aspect are issues which have gathered head in international society. The functioning of the economy and the world as a whole make it seemingly impossible to find a solution. We are so stuck in our ways that it is hard for us to imagine that it is possible to restructure society into a more environmentally friendly form. This perspective has a great deal of truth to it, but it leaves out a very important detail: Society is made up of human individuals who have the capacity to influence each other and be influenced. Although world leaders are more concerned about the economy of their countries than the environment, and people are often blind to the big picture, there is always a means of getting to the heart of society. This means are the young. Those who will continue the fight against climate change and bring new strength, ideas, and educate the future generations.

It may seem naïve to turn to the clichés of: “The children are the future of the world!”, and “It is easy to influence the young.”, but the truth is that there is a way of getting to young people today via the educational system. Why should schools be only a venue for theoretical learning? The science classrooms have no more pressing tasks than to educate the children of today on how to live sustainably or there will hardly be a future for their children.

Using school as an instrument for sustainability awareness and issues concerning global warming is the easiest and quite likely most effective method for reaching out to the students and their families. If the technique is to be successful however, it should incorporate something new for the learners, an experience which will encourage them to feel the magnitude and importance of the issue. The campaign should employ a number of lessons which will allow children to feel involved and give them the opportunity to get in touch with the effects of global warming and what they can do to help.

The best way to involve students is to show them the reality of the issue and allow them to get involved in its solution. The most important message to deliver is that: every little helps, and it is up to them to make a difference. The functioning of the earth is a massive concept to understand and therefore needs to be broken down into more realistic and manageable ideas.

The class should start with a practical demonstration, something the children can identify with. In this case an appropriate alternative could be a demonstration of the cycle of heat energy using a greenhouse model and a heat bulb. This will allow the children to see the “greenhouse effect” in action.

After this demonstration the students will be asked what they saw and how they can explain it. After a few of them answer it will be easy to start a discussion about the parallel between what they just saw and earth as a whole. The process of global warming will be presented in an easy and accessible manner with many examples and illustrations.

Once they have a clear idea about the process, the students will be given real life examples of activities which increase carbon emissions (these should be: one everyday example such as switching off the light and unplugging unused electrical appliances, and a bigger example about a factory). They will brainstorm about possible solutions (with the help of the teacher) and their further task will be to make a mini campaign at home and at school about what they learned during the session. They will prepare materials and set up a notice board. In order to establish continuity of their efforts, there will be two students responsible for updating the notice board each week. It will include information and events in the field of sustainability and global warming (each class could be responsible for a part of the board).

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