The “Ask the Expert” article provides information and insights from MSU scientists, researchers and scholars on national and global issues, complex research, and general interest subjects based on their area of expertise and academic study. They may display historical information, background, research findings, or offer tips.
Yadu Pokhrel, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan State University, discusses what climate change is and how it impacts the world. Pokhrel answers questions about the causes of climate change and what we can do to help.
What is climate change?
When we say climate change, it is basically a change in temperature or a rise in temperature. Climate change also pervades much of the wider Earth system, and the water cycle is one of them. But when there is a change in the water cycle due to climate change, it means that we are changing the basic human needs on Earth and that includes water, direct water supply for humans, food production, energy generation and so on.
What effect will this temperature change have on the planet?
With changes in temperature, basically what happens is the capacity of the air to hold moisture will increase. When that happens, the hydrological cycle intensifies. And the result is that in some places it can rain more, and in other places it can rain less.
What causes climate change?
In our recent research, we found a significant increase in extreme to extreme droughts and that is mainly due to climate change due to increased greenhouse gas emissions. One of the most striking findings of the study is that under moderate to high levels of global warming, the number of people living under extreme extreme droughts will more than double during the 21st century.
Humans directly contribute to climate change by introducing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It causes temperature changes and impacts the water cycle. But there are also other aspects of human activities related to drought, namely water management on land such as building dams or pumping groundwater for irrigation. And by doing so, humans are also directly changing the water cycle on land. When these two activities are combined, the impact can be even greater.
How do we see climate change affecting society so far?
Just to take some examples. Cape Town in South Africa experienced a severe drought in 2018, and California is currently experiencing a decade-long drought. And with climate change things will get worse, and we may see more places like this in the future. More intense droughts are everywhere. So, the problem of drought is not just a local problem — in some places it is a global problem.
what can we do to help?
Climate change will continue even if we start to significantly limit greenhouse gas emissions now. So it is imperative that we take climate change into account more and more in teaching and produce the next generation of scientists and engineers who can deal with the growing impacts of climate change.