FOCUS: Human-caused climate change results in weather extremities throughout the world

The effects of human-caused climate change have worsened over the past decade. Wildfires thrive in fire-prone environments created by global warming. Once-rare weather extremities are becoming common occurrences, threatening people’s lives and wrecking infrastructures, and ocean ecosystems are slowly distorting due to the harms of ocean warming. 

Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more drastic. According to Yale Climate Connections, the frequency of heatwaves can be attributed to the global warming epidemic. Human-caused climate change has raised the Earth’s average temperature by one degree Celsius. 

Dry weather has caused many disasters, such as the California wildfires. Rising land temperatures are significantly worrisome to many members of the SCHS community. 

Sophomore Alexis Tan, a member of the Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action organization, cites the cause for intense wildfires to the droughts in most regions of California.

“When climate becomes drier, the plants also start to dry out and become fuel for fires,” Tan said. “In addition, as the temperature rises, fires start quicker and burn faster.”

Such large-scale wildfires cause poor air quality. The 2020 Californian wildfire season caused hazardous air conditions for weeks. Santa Clara’s blue sky was a reddish-orangish haze, which can be attributed to climate change and especially the rapid burning of fossil fuels. 

According to National Geographic, fossil fuels originate from decomposing organic matter; coal, petroleum and natural gas are all refined versions of fossil fuels. Due to the high carbon content, burning these fuels releases greenhouse gases that work to trap heat in the atmosphere.

In mid-February, a historic snowstorm swept through the Southern United States, crippling infrastructure and altering many lives. 

According to a study by Atmospheric and Environmental Research and Rutgers University, major winter storms are two to four times more likely when the Arctic is abnormally warm compared to when its poles are abnormally cold. Such a phenomenon is possible due to the erratic patterns of the polar vortex, according to SCHS science teacher Suzanne Miller-Moody. 

“The way weather worked for a long time is that the polar vortex was contained up in the northern climate and northern areas of our planet because of our predominant winds,” Miller-Moody said. “Well, now those predominant winds are shifting because of the influence of the interaction of the warming of the planet.”

Another factor of erratic weather is the decline of climate-regulating currents, such as the Gulf Stream in the northern Atlantic, which has been offset by climate change, reported. Currents also lower sea levels by sweeping away the water continuously, thus preventing the rise of sea level. A slowdown of these currents contributes to rising sea levels.

“The Gulf Stream affects Northern European weather, in fact, all of European weather,” Miller-Moody said. “And when it’s disrupted, then other factors, especially continental ones, will dictate weather.”

The Gulf Stream, the warm water current running up the East Coast, is a perfect area for hurricanes. According to the New York Times, due to climate change, hurricanes have a higher likelihood of reaching Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. 

“Warm waters and humidity are the ideal circumstances for hurricanes to form, so as world warming occurs, hurricanes increase in strength and likelihood,” Tan said.

Further, rising ocean temperatures have negatively impacted sea life. Science teacher Amanda Lease emphasized the long-term consequences ocean warming poses for in-water specimens. 

“Not only are we going to see a mass die-off of species— we’re already seeing that with corals,” Lease said. “Corals house a very large portion of the biodiversity in the oceans. You’re also seeing melting glaciers; you’re also seeing huge chunks of ice from Antarctica and the Arctic break off.”

Corals are important to ocean ecosystems as many organisms rely on them for survival. Yale reports that marine heatwaves will abolish most coral reefs by mid-century. A loss in biodiversity would harm humans as well, as it is expected to cause heightened levels of food insecurity and less universal access to clean water sources. 

Rising ocean temperatures exacerbate and speed up the melting process of continental glaciers or ice sheets. According to, the Greenland ice sheet is disappearing at a rate four times faster than in 2003. 

Many members of the SCHS community believe human-caused climate change to be the culprit behind weather extremities and other tumultuous weather related cataclysms. 

“The thing that I find way more horrifying is the rising ocean temperatures; I think that is going to be, you know something that’s going to be potentially devastating across the globe,” Lease said. “And again, it’s a huge problem.”