Climate change – An overview
Climate change, a term that scares half of the world, and makes the other half snort in disbelief, is no other thing than a long-term shift in weather and temperature patterns. These changes are natural, and expected, however since two centuries ago, human activity has triggered an acceleration in these shifts, mainly due to burning fossil fuels. This type of activity provokes greenhouse gas emissions; the Earth gets “wrapped up in a blanket” trapping the sun’s heat. Methane is a good example of greenhouse emissions; those landfills for garbage disposal are an important source of methane emissions. Many human activities are such as transportation, agriculture, and land use.
Emissions are rising continually, the last decade has been the warmest on record, and experts calculate the world is 1.1 Celsius warmer than it was in the late 1800s.
There’s a lot of mainstream confusion about what climate change means; one of the most common misconceptions is thinking it only refers to an increase in temperature, but this is just the beginning. Extreme weather shifts trigger many natural disasters such as intense droughts, heavy storms, the melting of the poles, hurricanes, water scarcity, wildfires, etc.
Another misunderstanding comes from using climate and weather as interchangeable words. Climate is measured over a long period; weather changes from year to year, from day to day, and if you live in California, from hour to hour!
The way we link these two words is by acknowledging that climate change makes weather less predictable. That’s why we are noticing snow at odd times, hurricanes in the off-season, unexpected storms, and such. The inability to predict weather makes activities such as farming and agriculture difficult to maintain.
One of the most significant consequences of climate change is the melting of the poles. As ice and glaciers melt, the sea levels rise in different regions of the planet which increases flooding and erosion.
Skeptics claim that climate change is a natural process that has happened on the planet since the beginning of time. Sure, when the process runs slowly and naturally, it takes thousands of years to make these changes perceivable. The problem comes when human activity triggers and acceleration of the changes occur.
Climate change – effects
Let’s look at the consequences a little deeper. Rising temperatures have forced half of all species on the planet to relocate due to the destruction of their habitats. This has caused more respiratory illnesses in people, and it threatens water and food security for millions around the words. How are these events affecting humans?
- A direct hit from climate change. According to an article from CNBC, “natural disasters hit roughly 1 in 10 Americans homes” just this last 2021. We will increasingly see victims of natural disasters that lose their homes, become sick, injured, or die because of it.
- Damage to the planet’s food chains. Climate change is altering most of the Earth’s ecosystems on sea or land that produce the food we nourish from. For example, in the oceans, the rise of temperatures is altering circulation patterns and making the sea’s food chains less productive. As nutrients transfer from surface waters to the deep ocean, the plankton decreases rapidly. As marine ecosystems starve, scientists believe that by 2300 the estimated global fish catch would be reduced 20 percent and 60 percent across the North Atlantic, which will represent a huge reduction in the food source for millions of people.
Threats to health and health care systems. These extreme natural occurrences represent a threat to all life. As humans get exposed to atmospheric irritants (a consequence of air contamination), wildfire smoke, and other elements, cardiovascular and respiratory ailments will increase. Extreme flooding and hurricanes leave communities without basic services -such as electricity, and water – which, combined with stagnant water, are the perfect recipe for the proliferation of animal plagues -such as the mosquito – and viruses resulting from rotten food and humidity.
- Less productivity at the workplace. The more the temperatures increase, the less the number of time people will be able to safely spend outside their homes, hence reducing working hours for those who rely on outdoor work.
- Damage to mental health. The impacts of climate change go beyond the material, and physical damages, as new reports state that it causes mental health effects. These mental ailments come from experiencing hardship – such as displacement, loss of assets, etc. – and exposure to media outlets covering climate change.
Last, but not least, climate change will impact urbanization and labor migration as communities will be forced to leave agriculture and farming and seek new sources of livelihood.
Climate change – how do we stop it?
The obvious and most crucial step to avoid the consequences of climate change is to drastically reduce global carbon emissions. But before stepping into that, we must realize that a lot of damage has already happened and we need to prepare ourselves the avoiding consequences, and learn to adapt to new circumstances. The World Wild Life organization proposes the following:
- Increase the resilience of communities in Nepal by promoting new farming techniques, community weather monitoring, and creating seed banks
- Restore beach vegetation to shade marine turtle nests in the Caribbean
- Secure access to fresh water for elephants in Thailand during periods of drought
- Identify areas where polar bears can live on solid Arctic sea ice for decades to come
The next step would be protecting forests as they are one of the most endangered wildlife. Let’s remember that trees protect the planet by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Forests can be protected by ensuring international agreements to reduce forest degradation and destruction.
Nothing can change unless our politicians put climate change high on their agenda. Government presence is key to tackling this crisis. Bills, policies, and new laws must be created and enforced to reduce carbon pollution and protect the already-vulnerable ecosystems.
After the government, businesses have a responsibility to reduce their carbon footprint, working on resources and processes that ensure sustainability.
Climate change – What can WE do?
Sometimes learning the solutions to such paramount problems feel far away from our reach. But there’s so much we can do – a lot. On average, Americans produce 21 tons of carbon per year; personal action is not only essential but urgent! Here’s what we can do:
- Learn and speak up! Talk to your friends and family about this topic. Make sure your representatives are doing something about it. Learn and understand, and go to trustable sources for information.
- Shift to renewable energy by installing wind or solar panels.
- Insulate your home, which not only will positively impact your electric bill but it will reduce your carbon footprint.
- Invest in energy-efficient appliances and energy-saving bulbs.
- Reduce water waste. A lot of energy goes into pumping, treating, and heating your water. Take shorter showers, and turn off the tap as much as possible when washing your hands or doing the dishes.
- Be mindful of the food you buy – and actually eat it! 40% of the food ends up in a landfill.
- Pull the plugs in all devices when not in use.
- Be mindful of your transportation. Opt for electric cars, do not drive where you can walk, and be consciously efficient when you run errands. Plan your trips.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle. The fast-fashion industry is one to be blamed for the insane amounts of trash we produce every year. Choose stores that care about sustainability. Purchase clothes, furniture, and other items with the idea of keeping them for as long as possible. Reduce the number of garments in your closet.
Climate change – Final thoughts…
A part of the damage we have caused is irreversible, but there are still measures to be taken to contain the problem. If we stopped the greenhouse gas emissions right now, experts believe that the rise in temperatures would flatten – they also believe we have less than a decade to turn things around.
Every bit of action we take toward this paramount task counts. The future is in our hands… what are we going to do about it?