Planet Earth is our home and the only known place in the universe capable of supporting life. It’s a truly remarkable place for many reasons - the lush Amazon rainforest, the mighty Mount Everest, and, of course, the humble smartphone. However, the actions of humanity over the last 200 years have changed our beautiful home, and it’s now reaching the point of crisis. We take a look at what’s causing this crisis, what the future may hold, and what you can do to help.
What is climate change?
Climate change is the long-term, large-scale shift in temperature and weather patterns across the planet. Over millions of years, Earth’s climate has been continually changing, with huge swings in average temperatures. Over the last 10,000 years, after a global ice age, average global temperature have risen by about 3°C to 8°C. However, over the last 200 years, global warming is happing at a faster pace than ever before, threatening to destabilise life as we know it. That’s why it’s now a climate crisis.
Human-driven climate change is a very real phenomenon. There is undeniable evidence demonstrating this fact, and around 97% of climate experts agree that we are causing this crisis. Anyone who claims otherwise is either misinformed or has an agenda to push (or, in some cases, both).
Who and what is responsible?
The main contributor to climate change is humans. More specifically, it’s our reliance on coal, oil, and gas to fuel our lifestyles. We’ve been burning these fossil fuels since the industrial revolution in the early 1800s. When burned, they release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases into the atmosphere. In turn, these gases trap heat from the sun and warm the planet – a phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect.
A breakdown of global emissions shows that it’s our electricity and heat production that releases most CO2. Industry, agriculture and transportation also contribute significantly. As the world’s population reaches 7.7 billion people, our energy, food and transport requirements are incredibly demanding.
Why is it a crisis?
If you take a quick glance at the news, you’ll no doubt see a story related to climate change. There are several reasons why we’re now at crisis point:
- Global temperature rise. Since the late 19th century, the average temperature on land has risen about 0.9°C globally. Most of this warming has occurred in the last 35 years, and the 20 warmest years on record occurred over the past 22. This had resulted in an increase in heatwaves, wildfires and drought.
- Melting ice. Arctic ice and glaciers act as air conditioners for the Earth. They regulate heat and reflect sunlight. At the current rate of climate change, it’s estimated the Arctic will be ice-free by 2050. This mass melting could release greenhouse gases trapped in the ice and contribute to a huge rise in sea levels.
- Sea-level rise. Global sea levels have already increased around 23cm since 1880. This places several countries at risk. For example, five entire pacific islands were recently completely lost. The rising sea-level causes flooding, damages coastal and in-land habitats, and forces hundreds of thousands of people to migrate.
- Ocean acidification. Since 1850, the acidity of ocean waters has increased by around 26%. This is because the oceans absorb much of the CO2 we produce. They also absorb much of the increased heat. This negatively impacts marine life and damages coral reefs.
- Loss of species. Climate change is happening too quickly for many species to adapt. Not only is human life in danger, but many other species are under threat of extinction.
It’s clear to see that the climate crisis is threatening our way of life. Extreme weather conditions, flooding, and habitat destruction and loss are very real dangers to us all.
What does the future hold?
If left unchecked, the climate crisis will continue to get worse. Global temperatures will continue to rise, we’ll see more droughts and heatwaves, and hurricanes will become stronger and more intense. Additionally, sea levels are predicted to rise another 1-4 feet by 2100.
The website CarbonBrief has an infographic that shows the potential impacts of global increases in temperature due to climate change. A rise of 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels would be significant. A rise of 2°C would be disastrous, causing irreversible losses.
What’s being done about it?
Thankfully, there are those who are taking a stand. We now know the dangers that the climate crisis poses, and scientists, politicians, charities and activists are taking steps to halt it.
Here are some of the current initiatives that are helping to tackle climate change:
- The Paris Agreement. This global commitment aims to keep a global temperature rise ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.’ Countries must set targets and dates detailing what they’re doing to reduce emissions. For example, France plans to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040.
- Renewable energy. Our planet already provides us with lots of clean energy, and we’re getting better at harnessing it. Wind, solar, and hydroelectric power are becoming more widespread and efficient. For example, in the UK, offshore wind will generate over 10% of UK electricity by 2020.
- Rainforest conservation. Our rainforests are some of the best defences against climate change. Various charities are working towards protecting, regenerating, and sustainably managing these precious lands.
- Carbon reduction projects. CO2 emissions are the major contributing factor to the climate crisis. There are various projects aimed at reducing emissions and helping businesses become carbon neutral.
What can you do?
Regular people are also making changes to their lifestyles and helping to raise awareness about climate change. You’ve likely heard of Swedish student Greta Thunberg. She has become a figurehead for raising awareness about the current crisis.
We go into more detail about the subject in our article on How to reduce your carbon footprint. However, for now, here are some quick ways you can do your bit to reduce your carbon footprint (the amount of CO2 your lifestyle releases):
- Reduce car journeys. Try walking, cycling or taking public transport if your destination isn’t too far.
- Eat less meat. Meat and dairy are responsible for around 14% of climate-changing emissions. Try introducing more plant-based protein into your diet.
- Save energy at home. Turn off appliances, use energy-efficient bulbs, and encourage your household to switch to green energy suppliers.
- Buy sustainably. Try and buy locally-grown produce that isn’t shipped from across the world. The same goes for fashion – try and choose brands that put sustainability at the forefront.