Earth’s climate — in other words, the average weather patterns across the world — is changing. Life has witnessed the climate changing since our home planet was formed 4.5 million years ago, due to naturally occurring fluxes caused by the sun, Earth’s orbit around it, and even the eruptions of our volcanoes. Indeed, our planet has seen a cycle of ice ages and warmer periods lasting about 100,000 years.
But the rate at which our global climate is warming is dramatically rising — and it’s not natural. According to the Met Office, the average temperature of the planet has risen by around 1°C since the Industrial Revolution and is in a state of acceleration. This may not seem like much, but an increase like this can have big effects on the global climate and our planet as we know it.
So, why is our climate changing in this way at this moment in history? Why is this climate change of such great concern? And what can we do in the way of conservation to stop our climate changing so drastically and irreparably?
The Enhanced Greenhouse Effect
Over the last century, the impact of human activity on the world around us has increased dramatically. In their latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated, with over 95% certainty, that human activity is the main cause of global warming.
As the population grows, we have expanded the infrastructure of urbanisation, food production, transportation, and exploited the Earth’s valuable resources — all while greatly increasing emissions of pollutants into our atmosphere.
Scientists call the offshoot of this human activity the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect.
The natural Greenhouse Effect actually protects the Earth and its inhabitants. Greenhouse gases cause the air to heat up by essentially acting like a blanket around our atmosphere, absorbing and trapping infrared radiation from the Sun that causes the surface of Earth to warm. Without it, Earth would be about 30°C colder and essentially uninhabitable.
But more greenhouse gases are being released than is currently safe, causing a dangerous Enhanced Greenhouse Effect and, thus, global warming.
We use a lot of energy to heat our homes, drive cars, cook food, stay entertained, and live a modern life. This is often achieved by burning coal, oil and gas, emitting even more greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the air.
There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere right now than there has been in the last 800,000 years or more. We have made the greenhouse effect stronger and, instead of keeping the temperature of the planet stable, it is causing it to heat up.
One quarter of human-made greenhouse gas emissions are caused by burning fossil fuels for electricity and heat. A second quarter comes from agriculture, forestry, and other land use. The production of cement causes 2% of our entire carbon dioxide emissions, while air travel and aeroplanes are also big contributors. To make matters worse, the forests we cut down to make way for our cities, livestock (which produce more methane, another greenhouse gas), and our infrastructure are efficient carbon dioxide absorbers.
There are natural cycles that can contribute to the global climate changing – Milankovitch cycles, solar irradiance, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and volcanic eruptions – but they cannot explain the scale and speed of the consistent warming that we see today.
Where this current climate change is concerned, the evidence is irrefutable: Human activity and how we use our planet is the leading cause of climate change.
What Will Happen If Our Climate Keeps Changing?
Scientists think Earth's temperature will keep rising for the next 100 years.
Unless we reduce emissions very quickly and drastically, our home planet might exceed 2°C of warming. By the turn of this century, warming could have reached 4°C. But that doesn’t mean an eternal summer. It would cause a variety of devastating environmental changes.
As the oceans help control the global climate, seasonal variations as a result of the climate changing could mean some places get hotter and suffer droughts, whilst others experience even colder, wetter winters. Extreme weather patterns could mean stronger hurricanes, greater storms and wildfires, displacement, food shortages, loss of biodiversity and even mass species extinction.
The consequences are boundless:
- Rising ocean levels can lead to flooding, which puts 4 in 10 people of the world at risk of losing their homes, displacement, and mass damage to our infrastructure
- More extreme weather events can cause fatalities, forest mortality, and risk of wildfires
- Ocean acidification can cause mass food insecurity due to the breakdown of fisheries
- Changes in the hydrological cycle can put our water supplies at risk
- Mass extinction of species could be observed due to changes in climate
- Changes in ocean currents can result in a loss of marine biodiversity
- Changes in seasonality allow disease-carrying pests to expand their habitats
Climate change will see several global crises emerge, and the consequences will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable with fewer resources to cope.
What Can We Do to Stop Our Climate Changing Irreparably?
Unfortunately, even if we stopped all emissions of greenhouse gases at this very moment, we cannot avoid some level of climate change and global warming.
This is because greenhouse gases can live in our atmosphere for tens or hundreds of years, so those we’ve pumped into our atmosphere already are effectively locked in and will contribute to increasing temperatures.
However, it’s not all bad news as we can slow the rate of warming. Much of this relies on governmental action across many countries to pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are some things we can do on an individual level:
- Sign a petition to get your government to commit to fewer carbon dioxide emissions, and better subsidy systems for sustainable farming, waste management and urbanisation programs
- Demonstrate against deforestation and exploitation of Earth’s resources
- Switch to a green energy provider
- Pledge to use air travel only where absolutely necessary
- Shop local sustainable brands – look out for the BCorp logo! – and ditch fast fashion
- Walk, cycle or use public transport where possible
- Support, volunteer or donate to Earth clean-up projects
- Eat less meat and consume fewer dairy products
- Continue to be open to learning about climate change
Together, we can look after our planet to ensure a happy, harmonious existence between our home and humankind. After all, there’s no Planet B.