Climate change refers to a change in global or regional climate patterns over time. It includes changes in temperature, wind and ocean patterns and precipitation. While the Earth’s climate always has been changing, the recent century has seen the fastest increase of global temperature. According to U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information, 2011–2020 was the warmest decade on record for the globe, and the global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.08°C (0.14°F) per decade since 1880 and over twice that rate (+0.18°C / +0.32°F) since 1981. July 2021 was the world’s hottest month ever recorded.
Despite lock-downs in multiple regions globally caused by COVID-19 in 2020, every month during the year except December was in the top four warmest on record for that month. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “climate change is real and human activities, largely the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuel (coal, oil, gas), is the main cause.” The World Economic Forum puts extreme weather, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage on the list of the highest likelihood risks for the next ten years.
Certain gases that are naturally present in the atmosphere help our planet maintain its comfortably warm environment: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour. However, in the 120 years since industrialization we have been rapidly increasing this natural greenhouse effect. By burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests which absorb CO2 and other greenhouse gas, we have been dramatically increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases while adding new ones such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The results are rising global temperatures, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, rise of sea level, and an increase in extreme weather events, such as intense tropical storms, floods and droughts. Clearly climate change is a global emergency that requires coordinated solutions at all levels and international cooperation to quickly transition toward a low-carbon economy.
For decades, researchers reported that the global temperature rise must be kept below 2°C by the end of 21st century to avoid the worst impacts. 189 countries signed on to the Paris Agreement (2015), pledging to keep temperatures “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C “. Scientists now agree that we actually need to keep temperature rises below 1.5°C or risk devastating consequences. The Paris Agreement also aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, through appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building. So far, progress has been inadequate, with many national targets unmet.
What are the worldwide implications?
- The average global temperature will rise 1.7 to 4.0 ∞C by the year 2100 if current emission trends continue, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- At the current melting rate, accelerating since the early 2000s, the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free in the summer as soon as the 2050s, according to the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee. Species will be lost, fragile ecosystems threatened and traditional cultures disrupted by countries competing for resources and sovereignty.
- Oceans are predicted to rise 13-94 cm during the 21st century, swamping several ocean states and threatening coastal and delta areas around the world.
- Weather patterns will shift and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, tornados, floods and droughts will become more common, causing food shortages, destroying buildings and infrastructure, threatening human lives, and increasing environmental refugees
- Malaria and other insect-borne diseases will spread, respiratory problems will become more common, and thousands more people will die annually from heat, disease and pollution.
- Local ecosystems will change, threatening animal and plants populations and our food supply.
- If air pollution were halted instantly, it would take an estimated 200 years for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to return to pre-industrial levels.
- Climate change will worsen deforestation which accelerates habitat loss. Loss of habitat and increasing global temperatures will force many animals into relocation to survive or extinction. Pathogens can be transferred to new hosts when animals relocate, potentially causing pandemics.
Transportation Fast Facts
- Globally, transportation accounts for 15-20% carbon emissions each year.
- In 2017, the U.S. transportation sector accounted for 29% of the nation’s total emissions of 6.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
- Every litre of gasoline fuel produces almost 2.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide. The voluntary fuel efficiency standard is only 8.6litres/100km for passenger cars, and 11.4 litres/100km for SUVs. Pickup trucks and SUVs are taking us in the wrong direction.
- In 2010, the average meal travelled 6,750 kilometres from where it was produced to North American stores, while fruit had the lowest average of 2,035 kilometres, red meat had the highest average of 21,400 kilometers. Eating local is heathier for people, the economy and the environment (https://www.kohalacenter.org/HISGN/pdf/carbofoodprint.pdf).
Energy Fast Facts
- An oil furnace has low energy efficiency. Choose the most efficient method of heating in your area, which causes the least environmental damage.
- Air leakage accounts for up to 40% of household heat loss.
- Incandescent bulbs create 4,500 lbs. of CO2 per year. Compact fluorescents (CFLs) create 1,050 lbs. of CO2 year. Replace incandescent light bulbs with CFLs.
- It takes 2/3 less energy to make a recycled aluminum can than it does to make it from virgin materials, and 50% less energy to make recycled paper and plastic.
Other Things You Can Do
While climate change requires government and business to make big changes, in what they produce, how they operate and what gets funded, every individual can play a role too. Here are somethings you can do:
- Drive less, walk or bike more, or take public transit.
- Reduce long distance travelling when possible. Try videoconferencing.
- Insulate homes.
- Buy certified energy efficient appliances.
- Eat less meat and dairy products.
- Buy locally produced and sourced food.
- Reduce waste.
- Replace gas-powered lawn and garden equipment with electric ones.
- Support environmentally responsible businesses doing their apart, avoid others.
- Consider shipping ( fuels) and packaging (trees, non-recyclables) when you shop online.
- Curious about your diet’s carbon footprint? Check it out here (Link to https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46459714)