Climate change has become the single biggest environmental threat of the globalized world in the 21st century. While some fluctuation of average temperature over time is normal, temperatures are now rising much faster than ever before and could potentially have irreversible effects.
In 2018, the United Nations have warned that in 12 years’ time, climate change could result in an irreversible climate catastrophe by the year 2030. However, a countdown clock installed at the Times Square in New York suggests that we now have a little over 7 years to act before climate change becomes irreversible.
Why is the climate changing?
As we said before, some changes to temperatures have been observed through history – but they were never as quick and severe as they are now, leading to the scientific consensus that our activity and increasing reliance on activities that produce greenhouse gases are responsible.
Greenhouse gases are, put in simple terms, gasses that heat up the atmosphere. There are many different ones, but CO2 is by far the most frequent, followed by methane (which is much more potent within a short timeframe), N2O and Fluorinated gases. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted by a person, industry or group can be measured as their carbon footprint, usually expressed in CO2 equivalents – a figure which takes the differences between the effects of different greenhouse gases into consideration.
Where are greenhouse gases coming from?
Each greenhouse gas has different origins, so let’s discuss where each of them comes from and subsequently, how their production can be limited.
CO2 is emitted during a wide variety of industrial activities. It is most frequently associated with the burning of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil), for the purpose of travel or energy production. However, it is also produced when other materials are burned, including solid waste, wood or other biological materials. CO2 is a co-product of some chemical reactions, such as those occurring during the manufacturing of cement.
Methane (CH2) is produced when coal, oil and natural gas is extracted and transported. One of the largest emitters of methane is animal agriculture since animals, especially cows and sheep, emit it while they digest food. Lastly, food waste sent to landfills emits methane as it lacks access the oxygen and cannot decompose properly.
Nitrous oxide (N20) is emitted during a range of industrial and agricultural activities, including the combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste. It is also a by-product of the treatment of wastewater.
Lastly, fluorinated gases are synthetic gases emitted during a range of industrial activities. They are often used in place of even more dangerous ozone-depleting substances but have a large impact on the environment of their own.
What can you do about climate change?
Now that you know why climate change is happening and accelerating, what can you do to slow it down? Firstly, start with your own footprint. Consider the abovementioned sources of greenhouse gas emissions such as travel, electricity production, animal agriculture or food waste sent to landfills. Make the appropriate changes to limit your impact in those areas (take the bus instead of a car, switch to renewable energy suppliers, eat more vegetarian meals or start composting). Remember that every little change counts.
Then, we can focus on making changes in the system that will help whole communities reduce their impact. Propose changes to the local and national government and support organisations centralising this activity.
Lastly, one of the ways that we can get rid of CO2 which is already in our atmosphere is by planting more trees and reducing deforestation. Plant a tree in your garden, or support a charity fighting deforestation of tropical forests!