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For a long time in history, natural forces such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions dominated our atmosphere on Earth, but after a century ago, human activities have surpassed nature's position in controlling and defining climatic conditions. Various human developments have had a negative effect on the planet's environment. For example, the industrial revolution has resulted in the release of toxic carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. As a result, climatic change is a troubling problem in today's climate, and there is a need to address it in advance to prevent the imminent negative consequences we are likely to face in the future. In this paper, I am going to give a book report linking the issues raised in the book: “The Weather Makers: Our Changing Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth” with issues facing us currently and Chemistry in our daily lives.
The key underlying issue the book touches on is the issue of emission of Carbon dioxide from industries to the environment and the impact it has. This can be attributed to the industrial revolution we have witnessed in the past century. Carbon dioxide is emitted when fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas under combustion in the industry machinery. Some of this gas dissolves in oceans due to its high solubility while some of it is utilized in photosynthesis by plants and some is fed back into the geochemical carbon cycle, and the rest is mixed by action of convection and is existent in the atmosphere. The level of Carbon dioxide in the environment and ocean waters has kept rising with increased industrial activity over the years. This raises concern with the interaction with infrared radiation since the gas absorbs the radiation energy and maintains more than it emits back. The resultant effect is that the earth’s temperature rises to cater for the imbalance in the incoming and outgoing radiations. This is referred to as the atmospheric “greenhouse effect” which makes the earth warmer and unbearable. (Flannery, 2006).
The absorption and emission of infrared radiation by carbon dioxide determines the greenhouse effect; increasing emission of carbon dioxide increases its concentration and by extension, the greenhouse effect. This would mean that the earth retains a lot of energy than it radiates back. This energy has gone to cause various impacts on the planet such as the melting of ice in glaciers and the polar regions, high heat capacity in the oceans and increased warming of the land. The effects on the environment include increased sea levels since the oceans heat up and expand in volume and the melting ice further raises the water levels. (Flannery, 2006). This leads to loss of the Arctic sea ice hence the atmospheric jet stream, and the weather patterns in the northern hemisphere are interfered with. The overall grand effect of this is the abnormal increase in the temperature of the surface of the earth, referred to as “global warming.”
The impact of the rising ocean levels is the sinking of the low-lying islands and coastal areas like the Nile, Mississippi, and the Tigris-Euphrates. Millions of lives of people and property are at risk of elimination due to this effect. Predictions are that this would cause more severe cyclonic storms, expansion of arid areas and wet areas as well. (Crist, 2007). Additionally, Carbon dioxide, once dissolved in water ionizes to form hydronium and bicarbonate ions. A high hydronium ion concentration results in the decrease of the ocean pH hence the ocean waters become more acidic. This threatens marine life as most of the organisms depend on calcium carbonate deposits to build their structures. Some of these organisms are the phytoplankton that forms the basis of the food chain in the marine set up. Other marine life like fish and whales may also be endangered by the increasing acidity of the ocean. (Flannery, 2006).
Besides Carbon dioxide, other chemical causes of climate change in the book are Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Ozone and Chlorofluorocarbons. Methane and Nitrous Oxide exist as stable gases in the atmosphere. They are produced through both natural and human means such as fossil fuel extraction, transport and agricultural activities. Ozone is an unstable gas in the Troposphere. It is produced as a result of chemical reactions between Nitrous Oxide and emissions from fuel combustion. It traps heat, hence making it a potential greenhouse gas. At the ground level, it is a pollutant and causes respiratory problems. In the Troposphere when its concentration is diminished, it allows penetration of harmful cosmic rays from the sun that can cause skin cancer. On the other hand, Chlorofluorocarbons include aerosols, pesticides, foaming agents and liquid gas used in fire extinguishers. These long chain Carbon compounds cause, among other effects, the depletion of the ozone layer. (Crist, 2007).
In conclusion, the book tackles the topic of climatic change in a very detailed manner. It underscores the role of Carbon dioxide in the change. Carbon dioxide emission is at the centre of all these changes, but it is not the isolated causative agent; other chemical compounds like methane, ozone and Nitrous Oxide share in the role. What stood out as important to me in this book is the harm the common aerosols we use to have on climate change. We tend to assume their harm, but the book provokes our thoughts on their usage. Indeed, the harm we face with the worsening climate is imminent, and there need to be steps taken to remedy the situation before it completely eludes our control.
Flannery, T. F. (2006). The weather makers: How man is changing the climate and what it means for life on earth. Grove Press.
Crist, E. (2007). Beyond the climate crisis: a critique of climate change discourse. Telos, 141, 29-55.
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