What causes climate change?
We know that climate change is real and that the planet is getting warmer. Scientists have established that the reason that the planet is warming is because of human activities such as burning fossil fuels (e.g. coal and gas) which release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous monoxide into the air.
These gases have built up over time and now the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 40% and is currently higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years. The greenhouse gases that have collected in the atmosphere form a blanket that traps the heat from the sun and causes the planet to heat up. As well as burning fossil fuels other human activities also cause climate change such as cutting down trees, commercial large-scale farming and even use of cement. How these things produce carbon, which in turn warms up the planet, is explained here:
- The more trees, forest and rain forest we cut down the fewer trees we have left to absorb carbon dioxide via photosynthesis. Humans cut down around 7 billion trees a year for timber, agriculture, mining and roads.
- The farming of animals causes warming due to cutting down trees to create land to farm the animals and to grow crops to feed the animals. Some animals (cows and sheep) also produce methane which as a gas is twenty times worse than carbon dioxide.
- Using cement to construct buildings and infrastructure also results in significant CO2 emissions, this is due to the large volumes of CO2 created during the process of manufacturing cement. If the cement industry was a country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
By living the way we do; burning fossil fuels to power, heat and light our buildings, power our vehicles, equipment, factories, televisions, computers and smartphones, cutting down forests, intensively farming animals for food and using cement we are causing the planet to warm up.
Some of us enjoy warm weather over the summer, so it can be hard to understand why the planet warming is a concern. Climate change is a problem because the impacts on the planet will make it unsafe for us and the animals we share the planet with. If the warming continues the resulting changes will affect where we can live, our safety and our access to food and water. Climate change is the biggest environmental challenge we have ever experienced and problems that we face as a result of climate change include:
- Increasing temperatures and worse weather including extreme weather events.
- Forest fires.
- Loss of the earth’s ice (e.g. Artic ice and glaciers).
- Sea level rise and flooding.
- Disruption of the global ecosystem including ocean acidification.
- Extinction of animals.
- Increase in serious diseases (e.g. malaria) and health problems to due heat and poor air quality.
- Lack of food and drinking water due to impact on food production.