What Is Climate Change?
Climate change is a broad term referring to the various changes in climate patterns, weather, natural disasters, and more that have happened on Earth, namely since the end of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century. The average global temperature has risen by about 0.8°C (1.4°F) since 1880, according to NASA, with about two-thirds of that rise occurring over the past several decades. The increase has only gotten more severe over the past decade.
What Causes Climate Change?
A variety of human activities cause greenhouse gas emissions, which cause the greenhouse effect, which causes the Earth’s surface to heat up, which causes the climate to “change.” Besides climate patterns, this all has also negatively impacted many other natural ecosystems on Earth.
Is Climate Change Real?
What Is the Greenhouse Effect?
The greenhouse effect is how the Earth’s surface gets warmer. The sun’s rays naturally warm the planet’s atmosphere, and some of that is naturally reflected back into space. But when there are increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the greenhouse gases trap some of the sunlight and absorb it into the Earth’s surface.
What Causes Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
Greenhouse gas emissions are one of the greatest contributors to climate change. As detailed by the EPA, here’s a breakdown of global emissions by economic sector, based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) data from 2010:
Electricity and heat production, 25 percent: This mostly comes from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and crude oil to be used for electricity and heat.
Agriculture, forestry, and other land use, 24 percent: This comes from animal agriculture, the cultivation of crops, and deforestation. So many crops must be grown to feed livestock, before the animals are turned into meat, dairy, and eggs, which is one reason why diets filled with animal products have higher environmental impacts.
Industry, 21 percent: This sector comes from fossil fuels being burned for energy, and for the production of plastic products
Transportation, 14 percent: Transportation’s impact comes from fossil fuels being burned for all forms of transportation, including cars, buses, airplanes, trains, and ships.
Buildings, 6 percent: Building emissions come from burning fuels for heat and electricity.
Other energy, 10 percent: The remaining 10 percent of emissions comes from other things like fuel extraction, refining, and transportation.
Is Climate Change Caused By Humans?
Yes. As seen in the above breakdown, most global greenhouse gas emissions come directly from human activities, such as extracting and using fossil fuels, raising livestock, and more.
What Is Global Warming?
Global warming is the long-term average temperature rise of the planet that has been going on for at least a century, but most significantly over the past few decades, as a result of fossil fuel emissions and greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Change vs. Global Warming
Global warming is basically just one big part of climate change. Climate change encompasses plenty of other disastrous things besides the Earth’s rising temperatures, such as sea levels rising, destruction of ecosystems, ice mass loss, and natural disasters, as per NASA.
What Is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement, also known as the Paris Accord, is an agreement organized by the United Nations and signed by nearly every country on Earth in 2016. As set by the Paris Agreement, there is now a worldwide goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 2°C (or ideally below 1.5°C) from pre-industrial levels. Keeping the temperature from rising more than that would help mitigate the impact of the climate crisis.
How Will the Paris Agreement Help With Climate Change?
In order to maintain the Paris Agreement’s goal, countries, states, and cities are encouraged to increase their efforts to reduce emissions. Various locations around the world have passed bills with goals for carbon neutrality or to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, New York City has a goal of achieving a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050; and Chicago pledged to power all of its buildings on renewable energy by 2035, and to include its bus fleet in that by 2040.
What Are Other Climate Change Solutions?
In addition to legislators setting laws to curtail emissions, we will need large corporations to make changes that will make a difference. Large companies hold so much power, and if a company makes a change like changing their plastic packaging to a more sustainable material, powering their vehicles with more electric energy, or replacing animal products with plant-based ones, they can make an enormous impact.
To help get the ball rolling on your community passing bills, or on corporations instituting new policies, you can write to your local legislators or to companies with your requests and support.
How Are Scientists Curbing Climate Change?
Scientists have plenty of ideas and methods to curb the climate crisis. Many scientists believe the reforestation of the Earth, aka planting mass quantities of trees, could significantly help. That’s because trees absorb CO2, which is a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.
The late scientist Wallace Smith Broecker, known for popularizing the phrase “global warming,” has suggested scientists start seriously looking into geoengineering as a means of saving the Earth from the climate crisis. According to the University of Oxford's Geoengineering Programme, geoengineering is "the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change."
How Can I Help Climate Change?
There are so many lifestyle changes that we can make on personal levels to reduce our individual contributions to climate change. The most important thing conscious citizens can do is stop contributing to the animal agriculture industry adopt a vegan diet. A study by the University of Oxford studied the environmental impact of livestock, and found that animal products are responsible for so many more environmental problems than you may think.
“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” Oxford researcher Joseph Poore explained, according to The Guardian. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”
Additionally, you can take steps toward a zero-waste or low-impact lifestyle by reducing your consumption of single-use plastic.
Can Climate Change Be Reversed?
The more that governments, corporations, and consumers start taking the climate crisis seriously, the closer we will get to keeping the global temperature from rising to dangerous levels. While awareness is certainly rising, so is the global temperature. But hopefully, with the effort of people all over the world, the global temperature rise will slow down.
How Does Climate Change Affect Us?
Climate change has plenty of impacts on society. Extreme weather and natural disasters can destroy homes and injure or even kill humans. Additionally, poor air quality, which is related to climate change, can affect human health. Not to mention, soil and groundwater is polluted in various regions all over the world, and that can also affect food supply. As we as a society work to reduce things that are bad for the planet such as animal agriculture, deforestation, single-use plastic, fossil fuels, and excessive use of pesticides, things like pollution and natural disasters mya become less prominent.
Photo source: Ian Waldie/Getty Images
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