Everyone thinks they know about climate change. That it is the slow warming of the planet that is caused by human activity. But what they don’t know is the extent to which climate change is happening and all the factors that cause climate change. So, as it is so prevalent in the news with Greta Thumberg and Extinction Rebellion, I decided to dedicate this week to climate change.
Global warming is the long term rise in the average temperature of the earth’s temperature. This is caused by several factors. The main one being the burning of fossil fuels. We all use energy. We use it from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep. We check our phones, shower, wash our clothes, dry our hair, drive our car, watch the TV etc. All of these use energy which is acquired from burning primary sources such as coal, gas and oil. All of which are unsustainable as we are burning them quicker than they are being recreated naturally. Not only are they unsustainable, but they are warming our planet. The carbon dioxide (CO2) that is produced from burning these fuels become trapped in our atmosphere. CO2 almost acts like a blanket which keeps the surface hot. The more CO2 is created, the thicker this blanket will get as it cannot escape our atmosphere. In fact, our world is almost like a greenhouse in the sense that no heat can escape. As we add more CO2 to this greenhouse, the warmer it will get inside. In fact, since the Industrial Revolution, the planet has warmed about 1 degree. This may not seem a lot now, but the rate of warming is predicted to increase about 20 times faster in the next century, especially with more human activity. This will lead to more droughts, extreme weather conditions and the extinction of species.
As the planet gets warmer, weather conditions change. In fact, the UK, in its 2019 heatwave, broke records for having the hottest day ever at 38.7 degrees Celsius. In addition to this, in late 2019, large parts of Britain were flooded by extreme rainfall. There was a total of 53 flood warnings from the Environment Agency which required immediate action. And this was only the UK. Across the globe, even more extreme weather conditions occurred. In the first half of 2019, seven million people were displaced across the globe due to extreme weather conditions. These people came from countries like India, Mozambique, Malawi, Madagascar, Iran and Bolivia etc. Again, these were only a few countries struck. This puts 2019 as one of the worst years for extreme weather. Not only do people die from extreme weather conditions, but animals do as well. Hot, dry conditions have led certain species to extinction due to not being able to cope with the change in environment. In fact, 8% of species are at threat to climate change due to not being able to adapt to change. This in effect, will lead to the destabilisation of ecosystems. Australia, as one example, has recently experienced the largest ever wildfires. These have been able to start and spread due to the dry conditions in Australia. Among these wildfire, many animals have died and ecosystems have been destroyed. This is all due to climate change. Consequently, change needs to occur.
Another way that climate change has affected the world is through sea levels rising. 90% of the heat produced is trapped in our oceans. This has led to the melting of the icecaps. In the last 20 years, sea levels have risen 20cm. This is predicted to quadruple in the next century if actions are not taken. Places across the globe like Indonesia, the South Pacific and Bangladesh are threatened even more due to low levels of land. Small islands like the Maldives will be totally submerged in the next century if the rate of climate change continues to get dramatically worse. Plants and wildlife will also be affected. Arctic animals are losing their environment very quickly with the rate that the ice is melting. Furthermore, coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate across the globe. In the last 30 years, 50% of the world’s coral reefs have died with predictions that this could increase to 90% in the next century. Immediate action needs to be taken to save the planet before the natural wonders are destroyed.
Trees and plants are vital for our survival. They take in CO2 and release oxygen into the planet. Unfortunately, deforestation is happening at an alarming rate. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 1.3 million kilometres of forest according to the World Bank. That is larger than South Africa. It occurs because of the following reason. Firstly, it occurs because of the need for land. Due to a large demand in the meat industry, the land can be used to graze cattle for our consumption. This means that by cutting down our consumption not only are we saving trees, but we are also reducing our carbon footprint through the transport of these foods. Secondly, forests are burned for palm oil. There is a high demand for this product. It is in everything from shampoo to chocolate. As a result of this, trees are cut down for the product. Only 21% of palm oil is actually sourced in a sustainable way. This leaves almost 4/5th of the product sourced irresponsibly. Finally, deforestation occurs because of illegal logging. This exists because of the high demand for timber and paper etc. All of these reasons have one thing in common. They occur because of our demand for products. As a result of this, we need to reduce our consumption or use of products. Rather than buying a new set of drawers, go down to the charity shop to see if there are any in there. If everyone made little changes like this, then we would see a more environmentally friendly world.
In the past few years, there has been a rise in the amount of action being taken by individuals. This has come about by Greta Thumberg, a young Swedish school girl, who instead of going to school, decided to protest outside of the Swedish parliament. As weeks and months went on, more people joined her campaign. Large school strikes took place globally with hopes to stop climate change. Not only this, but the rise of Extinction Rebellion, a new movement fighting climate change, the world has begun to start listening. It has also caught the attention of political leaders across the globe. Large amounts of civil disobedience from the group in April 2019 led to the shut down of central London. Actions, like glueing themselves to the Docklands Light Railways in Canary Wharf and blocking London Bridge has made the group known across the globe. The group has three demands. They want the government to tell the truth about the reality of climate change, they want gas emissions to hit net zero by 2025 and the government must create and be led by a citizen’s assembly on climate justice.
But if the government won’t do anything, what can we, as individuals, do? Firstly, we need to reduce our use of material goods. We are a nation of greed. We want everything. However, if we start to recycle clothes and household goods, we will become less wasteful and the demand for the production of products will decrease which will be better for the environment. Secondly, we need to stop wasting food and cut our meat and dairy consumption. The meat and dairy industry is very large due to the demand for the products. The production and transportation of these products causes a large carbon footprint. Consequently, if we were to cut down on these products, we will reduce our carbon footprint. Thirdly, we need to do little things in our homes to prevent waste. Turn off that light if it isn’t being used. Don’t leave the tap running when brushing your teeth and have a shower instead of a bath. Finally, we need to stop driving everywhere. I am guilty of this. However, when I am at University, I walk everywhere because I don’t have my car. There are other modes of transport other than driving so we need to stop using our cars in a wasteful manner. All of these actions, and I know I haven’t mentioned everything, will help reduce our carbon footprint and help the environment.
On a larger scale, only the government and international organisations can do anything. The government need to create an incentive to change. Large businesses need to be pressurised, through banning non environmentally friendly products, to change their ways. For example, by banning the use of palm oil, and in effect reducing deforestation, businesses will have an incentive to change their ingredients in their products to make them environmentally friendly. In addition to this, the government need to put more funding in renewable sources of energy such as solar power and hydropower. So far, only 30% of the UK’s energy comes from renewable sources. This needs to increase though. Moreover, electric vehicles need to replace diesel and petrol cars so that they are environmentally friendly. Changes like these will see a dramatic fall in the amount of carbon produced.
On a global scale, states need to work together to hit net zero carbon. Agreements need to be made so that every individual state has their own target that they need to meet. If states fail to act, then they should be fined. By doing all of these things, we should meet our goals and survive rather than go extinct.