In Chapter 7, we learned how the build-up of heat-trapping pollution caused by human activities is destabilizing Earth's climate. This phenomenon - referred to interchangeably as "global warming" and "climate change" - has more recently been called "climate disruption" and even (by sustainable business guru, Hunter Lovins) "global weirding". Primary human causes of heat-trapping or "greenhouse gas" pollution include the burning of fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, natural gas), detailed in Chapter 6. They also include land use changes such as the conversion of forest ecosystems to industrial agriculture, as detailed in chapters 3 and 4.
In this lab you will use a computer model to explore how human activities are creating a blanket of heat-trapping pollution in Earth's atmosphere. The model illustrates sources of top heat-trapping pollutants and their general impacts on Earth's temperature. In the lab questions, you will reflect upon how destabilizing Earth's climate not only impacts ecosystems and biodiversity, but also critical elements of human well-being such as fresh water supplies and agricultural production.
Earth's climate is becoming increasingly unstable, resulting in more frequent and intense storms (hurricanes and tornados alike), droughts that fuel catastrophic wildfires, deplete water supplies and devastate agriculture, and wars over increasingly scarce natural resources. Still, given that greenhouse gases are invisible and that the slow-moving nature of climate change makes the problem difficult for people to "see", many people remain unconvinced that global warming is an urgent issue.
As an environmental scientist in training, you know why and how this situation needs to change. You attend a workshop of the National Academy of Sciences - the All-Star Team of U.S. Scientists. This organization recently joined with the National Academies of 12 other leading industrial nations to call on world leaders to take bold action to solve climate change. You are part of a new generation of environmental scientists learning to understand and effectively communicate the seriousness of climate change.