The world emits around 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, an exponential increase since the 1980s. Changes in the climate are causing significant environmental damage to countries all around the world. We’ve seen a frightening increase in natural disasters, the extinction of species, as well as economic unrest.
You may have heard both terms used in conjunction with one another, and though similar, they refer to slightly different aspects. Climate change is the term used to describe the long-term change in the Earth's climate (over decades) and it's this time scale that differentiates it from natural weather variability. Global warming is the increase in Earth's average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases.
In 1896, a paper by Svante Arrhenius, a renowned Swedish scientist, first predicted that changes in the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide could substantially alter the Earth's surface temperature through what we now call the greenhouse effect. Scientists had previously speculated that carbon dioxide levels could change, but in 1896 this was finally established.
When energy from the sun is reflected off the Earth via clouds and ice back into space, the planet cools down. When the Earth absorbs the sun's energy, or when naturally occurring atmospheric gases like carbon dioxide and methane prevent the heat released by the Earth from radiating up into space (the greenhouse effect), the planet heats up.
What can we do to mitigate climate change?
To fight climate change, we must reduce carbon emissions. Here are some tips to help inspire you to cool down the planet.
- Control your energy usage in the home and workplace. Turn off lights, unplug and be mindful of how often you use the dishwasher and boil the kettle.
- Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot where possible. Do you really need to buy something new or can you repair what you already have? If you are purchasing new products, check their sustainability credentials and ensure they come in sustainable packaging. Brands listen to your wallet.
- Plant trees. Mother Nature's ultimate carbon capture machine. Woods and forests absorb atmospheric carbon and lock it up for centuries through photosynthesis. In this natural process, plants take in C02 and release oxygen, literally making the air we need to breathe. By investing time in a garden, you can help the collective effort to reduce the amount of carbon in the Earth's atmosphere.
- Choose your transport mindfully. Walking and cycling are really good for you (as well as the planet).
- Reduce the carbon footprint of your food. Think about where your food has come from. If you are buying a pepper, check it is local and hasn't flown over on an aircraft that has emitted over 53 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile to get to that supermarket shelf. Shop seasonally.
- Use your voice to advocate for sustainability wherever possible. It makes a difference.
Climate change is not a problem that can be solved instantaneously, but we can all make a difference by taking small steps towards being more sustainable. We are an inherently social species that rely on co-operation to survive. With the challenges of climate change, humans face the greatest ever opportunity for collective responsibility. A collective issue that needs a collective solution.
How will you help to mitigate the effects of climate change?