Climate change is nothing new; in our planet’s 4.5 billion year history, there have been 5 major extinctions all attributed mainly to climate change. But in the past, these changes have happened very slowly over hundreds of thousands of years. The last major extinction was 66 million years ago when 76% of all living species were wiped out. But that wasn’t the worst; the End Permian Mass Extinction wiped out 96% of the planets species.
There is a misconception that man is going to destroy the Earth. But people overestimate the power of man compared with the unimaginable force of nature. Nature does whatever it can to keep the equilibrium and if that involves extinguishing the force that is upsetting the balance (man), that is what it will do.
The Earth will get by and flourish without us. In fact ever since around 48,000 years ago, when man started to migrate from the African continent to places like Australia, New Zealand and the American continent, it’s no coincidence that the extinction of up to 95% of native species corresponded to our invasion.
So we are destroying our own habitat and that of a number of other species but life will continue even if the human race doesn’t. Compared with other species, we have been here a relatively short period of time; around for 6 million years. The dinosaur walked the Earth for around 165 million years, Coelacanth Fish; 360 million years, Nautilus shellfish; 500Million, Jellyfish; 550 million, Sponge; 580 million and Cyanobacteria; 2.8 billion years.
The human race is a mere blip in the history of Planet Earth and we are now so detached from nature, it’s not known if we’ll survive the next major extinction.
Because the first humans appeared around only 6 million years ago, we as a race have never experienced a mass extinction although some scientists believe we are already at the start of the next one, but the climate change we are currently witnessing is happening over decades rather than millennia. Global temperatures are now at their highest since records began 140 years ago. In fact, 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2001.
Other evidence includes:
- Warming of the troposphere (the lower part of the atmosphere)
- Acidification of the oceans
- Rising sea levels
- Declining glaciers and sea ice
- Slowing of crop productivity
- More extreme weather
The sun is the primary source of planet Earth’s heat, so relatively small changes in solar output can affect our climate. However, data recorded since the late 1970s have shown a slight decrease in the sun’s total energy output. Despite this, the Earth has warmed over this period. If this warming was caused by the sun, all of the atmosphere, including the lowest few kilometres (the troposphere) and the layer above (the stratosphere)would be warming.
Observations show that the stratosphere is in fact cooling while the troposphere warms. This is consistent with greenhouse gas heating and not solar heating. Research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that it is 90% likely that current global warming is anthropogenic.
If you would like detailed information and data on climate change, please follow the links below
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides the most comprehensive summaries of the latest research on climate science and the impacts of climate change
- The UK Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences are fellowships of the world’s most eminent scientists. Together they have published a joint statement on the science of climate change.
- The Geological Society has published a document setting the evidence for (and risks of) climate change from a geological perspective.
- The American Institute of Physics hosts a detailed history of the discovery of global warming.
An increase in the average global temperature corresponds with levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which have been steadily increasing since the industrial revolution around 1760. So, when we refer to climate change today, we mean anthropogenic (man-made) climate change. This is mainly down to the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy for our homes, industry, and transport.
CO2 levels are currently the highest they have been for 800 thousand years. Ironically the forests that absorb a huge amount of CO2 are being destroyed at an alarming rate which isn’t only destroying the habitat for many living things including people, but destroying a natural atmosphere regulator.
Natural vs Anthropogenic Climate Change
Data shows that over the last 800,000 years, there have been natural cycles in the Earth’s climate with ice ages and warmer periods. After the last ice age around 20,000 years ago, the average global temperature rose over a period of about 10,000 years by about 3°C to 8°C. It is now 14.9°C. Rises in temperature over the last 200 years correspond to rises in atmospheric CO2 levels and are now well above the natural cycle.
Global CO2 emissions from human activity have increased by over 400% since 1950. As a result, the concentration of CO2 in the air has reached more than 400 parts per million by volume (ppm), compared to about 280ppm pre-industrial times.
Global warming is causing the Earth’s average surface temperature to increase. This is not only making heatwaves and droughts more likely but it’s also causing changes to our natural climate systems. These changes are making extreme weather events more likely and more severe. For example, hurricanes and storms are becoming more intense, moving slower and taking longer to die down. Because of where the UK & Ireland are situated, we’re likely to get more rain and wind as a result of climate change while New York will see more snow.
This is no longer an excuse not to act on climate change and push the burden onto future generations. Last year, the world’s leading climate scientists warned we only have 12 years to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5C and avoid climate breakdown.
We’re already seeing the effects of climate change on global food supplies and this will only get worse if we don’t act now. Anthropogenic climate change is the biggest environmental challenge of our time. It threatens our survival and we’re the last generation that can do something about it.
The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world, causing sea ice to melt earlier and form later each year. This is impacting on the native wildlife such as polar bears, seals and penguins as their habitats melt away. Polar bear populations for example, are predicted to drop by 30% by the middle of this century. Wildlife will have to migrate or adapt but many species will not adapt fast enough and it’s increasingly difficult to find new habitats as roads, towns and cities expand.
Like any new technology, renewable energy was initially inefficient and expensive but the cost of renewable energy has fallen faster than predicted and now, solar power and onshore wind are the cheapest ways of generating electricity; cheaper in fact, than nuclear, gas and fossil fuels. It’s also becoming more reliable as generation and storage techniques advance.
A lot of green energy suppliers guarantee that for every unit of electricity you take out of the grid, they’ll put the same amount of clean energy back in, helping to clean up our energy supply. The Climate Change Act (2008) made the UK the first country to establish a long-term legally binding framework to cut carbon emissions. It contains a target requiring emissions reductions by at least 100% by 2050. A wider legal commitment – The Paris Agreement also exists, spanning the UK, the EU and globally to address climate change, although the US Government has just opted out.
Despite this, the UK government are still subsidising fossil fuels by 10.5bn a year: the largest amount in the EU, while renewables are subsidised by only £7.2bn. Despite being one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, China is currently one of the largest investors in renewables. The increase in investment has been in response to the rapid growth of green business and the need to clean up air pollution in its major cities.
When entrepreneurs and companies come up with a new product idea, the first question they normally ask is; is this going to make money. They should now be asking – How is this going to affect the environment? We also, as consumers, should be asking the same question when we’re making purchasing decisions. Only by doing this as a global community can we reverse the damage that has been done so far.
Climate change is a global issue and we all have a responsibility to step up to the climate crisis. Action on it will need serious investment but has the potential to deliver huge benefits for nature and people. We all need to raise our voices and fight for the future of our planet!
There are significant benefits of the UK acting now to reduce its emissions:
- The world has committed to global action on climate change. By reducing its own emissions, the UK is supporting wider international efforts.
- In a future world where greenhouse gases are restricted, the cost of emitting those gases (i.e. carbon price) will be high. Early action to reduce emissions – here and elsewhere – can help reduce future costs.
- Investment in and development of low-carbon technologies will put the UK at the forefront of new and expanding global markets.
There will also be a need to adapt to climate change that cannot be avoided. The UK will need to prepare for more flooding, greater pressure on water resources, damage to natural habitats, and risks to human health from heat waves. At the same time, there could be opportunities, including reduced energy demand and fewer cold-related deaths due to milder winters.
What can be done to adapt
We can all do things to reduce our energy consumption such as:
- Fit low energy light bulbs
- Turn off lights in empty rooms
- Reduce central heating temperatures and times
- Spend less time in the shower
- Wash clothing at lower temperatures and less frequently
- Don’t make unnecessary journeys
- Walk and cycle instead of driving where possible
- If you can, drive an electric or hybrid car
- Don’t leave devices on charge or in standby mode
On a larger scale, the Committee on Climate Change is working on building a low carbon economy. Priorities for early action on adaptation include measures that provide benefits in today’s climate and in a range of future possible climates, known as ‘low-regret’ actions. For example:
- Installing water saving devices not only reduces household water consumption but also saves energy and carbon emissions and reduces water and energy bills.
- Improving ventilation and providing shading, builders and home owners can reduce the risk of overheating in homes, improve comfort levels for occupants and avoid the need to invest in alternative cooling measures, such as air-conditioning.
It is also important to ensure decisions with long-lasting consequences do not create obstacles for future adaptation, known as avoiding ‘lock-in’, and to ensure that adaptation measures with a long period between concept and deployment (long lead times) are started now. For example:
- Ensuring adequate ventilation and the orientation of windows to reduce the risk of overheating in homes should be done at the new build stage to avoid the need for costly retrofit later.
- Siting new buildings and infrastructure in low flood risk areas where possible, will have a long term benefit, but decisions on siting now need to take into account future risk given the long lifetimes of these assets.
- New technologies or large infrastructure projects can take decades to develop, and planning for what is needed in the future climate is needed now.
More details about adaptation priorities for England are available in the Adaptation Committee’s progress reports to Parliament; the latest report can be found here. The Adaptation Committee has also reviewed progress in adaptation in Scotland and Wales at the request of those Governments.
A Tide of Change
Climate change is getting a lot of media attention right now and rightly so. People need to be made aware of how serious this issue is. Thankfully, industry and governments (apart from the likes of the USA), are getting on board and making major changes. This is in no small part down to public pressure and we need to keep the pressure up by campaigning, lifestyle changes and careful purchasing decisions. We need to keep the momentum going, to ensure the changes continue. Before it’s too late.