Global climate change, has already seen some major effects on the environment. But the shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels and increasing temperature of the Earth are nothing to worry about – right?
If the changes to our climate are not on your list of concerns, maybe it’s something you should be adding to it right this moment. Human induced climate change is now the biggest risk facing our planet, surpassing terrorism, nuclear war, and an economic collapse.
According to NASA, during the 20th century the Earth’s average temperature has increased by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. This seemingly small change may not sound like a lot, but this unusual event in our planet’s history is having a major impact. Small changes in temperature have meant enormous changes in the environment. An example of this impact can be seen by looking back at the end of the last ice age, at this point the Northeast United States was covered by more than 3,000 feet of ice and average temperatures were only 5 to 9 degrees cooler than today.
There are many factors that contribute towards climate change, but the scientists agree that the main cause is human activity, which they refer to as anthropocentric climate change.
The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. This process makes Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere.
The lifestyles humans lead, can change the delicate balance of the natural greenhouse. Throughout the last century, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). These changes in the natural greenhouse can lead to effects such as the earth becoming warmer.
This warming could in turn lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall. This may also have an effect on our ocean temperatures and may partially melt glaciers which could lead to an increase in sea levels.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world, concluded in its Fifth Assessment Report that there is more than a 95% probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.
Other occurrences that could lead to climate change is the strength of the sun, changes in the Earth’s orbit, plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions, ocean currents, vegetation coverage on land, and meteorite impacts.
Without a change to our current lifestyles and the slowing down of the current damage being impacted, global warming is likely to be the greatest cause of species extinction in the 21st century. To narrow down the effects more specifically would be an impossible task, so let’s look at some of the different areas:
Climate change and global warming is the key impact in habitat disruption for different species of wildlife. This means that the ecosystems that animals have spent millions of years adapting to are undergoing some swift and major changes in response to climate change. According to scientists each day around 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct.
In response to the changes in their habitats, animals have attempted to move to new areas in order to adapt and survive. Unfortunately with the continuous growth and expansion of the human population many areas that were once suitable for wildlife have now been reconstructed into residential and industrial developments; therefore preventing animals and plants from moving into alternative habitats.
The oceans are the largest ‘carbon sinks’ in the world, meaning that they absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide and prevent it from reaching the upper atmosphere. But warmer temperatures means more acidic oceans, which has lead to a number of unfavourable events.
The trend in ocean acidification is about 30 times greater than natural variation. This means that many ocean species are unable to properly form their skeletons and shells; it’s also majorly effecting ecosystems such as coral is about 30 times greater than natural variation. This means that many ocean species are unable to probably form their skeletons and shells; this also has a major impact on ecosystems such as coral reefs, which are particularly sensitive to increases in temperature.
Climate change is just one of the issues facing our oceans. The damaging effects caused by the dumping of waste such as chemicals and plastic have also had a detrimental effect on this ecosystem.
Scientists have already documented the impacts of climate change, and if we continue at the current rate we can expect to see this decline at an even faster rate. Precipitation (rain and snowfall) has increased across the globe. On the opposite end, some regions are experiencing more severe drought which increases the risk of wildfires, lost crops, and drinking water shortages.
Rising temperatures leads to more evaporation, which leads to more moisture in the air and increases the intensity of rainfall; therefore creating floods, storms and even more intense hurricanes in certain regions. These are just some examples of how climate change can and already is affecting our planet.
Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment. It negatively impacts wildlife, their habitats and humans. Plastics that act as pollutants are categorised into micro-, meso-, or macros debris, based on size. Plastics are inexpensive and durable, and as a result, levels of plastic production by humans are high.
Large volumes of plastic waste have been shown to be harmful to our environment. In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic. In 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. This is set to double by 2034.
A large majority of plastic waste, such as plastic bags, straws, bottles and fishing nets end up in our Oceans. The currents then end up bringing plastic waste to places without human inhabitants.
Of the 260 million tons of plastic the world produces each year, about ten per cent ends up in the Ocean, according to a Greenpeace report (Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans, 2006). Seventy per cent of the mass eventually sinks, damaging life on the seabed. The rest floats in open seas.
Unfortunately, plastic is forever and we currently do not recycle and reuse all our plastic waste. We have become used to using an item and simply throwing it away. The issue with plastic is it will never degrade and go back to nature. After around 700 years it will start photo-degrading and breakdown into micro particles,.
Although plastic pollution is a separate threat to this planet on its own, new research shows that there’s a link between plastic and climate change.
Research carried out by the University of Hawaii led by Sarah-Jeanne Royer has demonstrated that many plastics actually give off powerful greenhouse gases as they break down, therefore contributing to climate change.
Links between climate change and plastic are already known – six per cent of global oil consumption goes towards creating plastics – but this is believed to be the first time a study has demonstrated that plastics actually release greenhouse gases after being created.
But the basic consensus is that over time, the amount of gas that these plastics release increases – this leads to a feedback loop: as the climate changes, the planet gets hotter, the plastic gives off more methane, increasing the rate of climate change – it’s just a never-ending circle!
HOW CAN I HELP?
There’s so much advice that you can use as a guideline on how to combat climate change, so sometimes it may be hard to figure out where to start. We have the resources and knowledge in order to turn around the effects of climate change and people around the world are working towards reducing and stopping the processes that cause changes in the climate – but much more needs to be done.
MAKE YOUR HOME ENERGY EFFICIENT
Our homes contribute a large proportion of the UK’s overall carbon emissions. Over half of home energy is used for heating, so ensuring that your home is well insulated is one of the best steps homeowners can take. Make sure that the walls, roofs and windows are insulated so that you can cut back on heat waste.
Another important step would be to switch your energy provider to one who offers renewable energy.
MAKE A CHANGE IN YOUR DIET
After fossil fuels, the food industry – in particular, the meat and dairy sector – is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US.
This doesn’t mean that you need to switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet, simply just cutting down on the amount of meat and dairy products can really help make a difference. According to the World Resources Institute, by reducing your consumption of animal protein by half, you can cut your diet’s carbon footprint by more than 40%.
You probably saw this one coming, but it’s one of the largest sources of global warming emissions. Transport now accounts for 26% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 25% coming from energy supplies. The main sources were petrol and diesel cars.
I know that you may not want to switch to cycling to work – especially with the unpredictable weather we have in this country! So you’ll be pleased to hear that there are other options.
Fuel-efficient vehicles use less gas to travel the same distances as their less efficient counterparts; cleaner fuels produce fewer emissions when they’re burned; there’s also the option of using an electric vehicle that produces even fewer emissions than their conventional counterparts, and when the electricity comes from renewable sources, all-electric vehicles produce zero emissions to drive.
Make a big impact by getting involved in local groups who are already taking action to combat climate change. Learn about the communities getting involved – Clean Our Patch is a great example of a local community of dedicated litter pickers getting involved to clean our streets. Clean Our Patch is a city-wide group and although they live in Keyham, they are happy to tackle difficult litter across Plymouth. Clean Our Patch is working closely with local councillors and Plymouth City Council to clean our city.
The group meets every weekend during term time and more often during the holidays. Their Ambassadors in Keyham, Plympton and Plymstock hold clean ups at different times and the best way to find out when and where to meet is by checking the events on their page (facebook.com/CleanOurPatch/events).
Clean Our Patch’s bag count update is 1885.5 bags collected since 5th January 2019, equating to roughly 14 tonnes of litter!
Being close to the seaside, there are already plenty of groups getting involved in beach cleans to help tackle plastic pollution. There are endless amounts of ways to make a difference, it’s just about educating yourself on the matter and learning more about how to solve and combat climate change.