How to help mitigate climate change?
Climate change is quite literally, a ‘hot topic’. Tackling climate change requires everyone to know how it occurs, how it affects the planet, and its effect on us. Here’s a bit about it and how individuals can aid in mitigating climate change.
What is climate change?
To understand climate change we must first understand what the greenhouse effect and global warming are.
The greenhouse effect is a phenomenon through which the Earth’s atmosphere traps the sun's energy and keeps the planet warm. This effect enables our planet to have a relatively hospitable environment (as opposed to freezing temperatures at night and extremely hot day temperatures), at an average of 15 degrees Celsius, and allows life as we know it to thrive. If this phenomenon did not exist, the Earth would be around 30 degrees colder. The greenhouse effect is caused by greenhouse gases. Some of these include carbon dioxide, water vapor build up, and methane. These gases absorb and emit radiation in the thermal range and increase the temperature of the atmosphere.
When the concentration of greenhouse gases increases above a certain threshold in the atmosphere, it causes extraordinary (possibly long-term) temperature increases on Earth. This is referred to as global warming.
Although used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between global warming and climate change. Current climate change may be a direct consequence of global warming. Climate change includes global warming but also involves other events such as rising sea levels, change in fruiting and flowering time of plants, changes in precipitation patterns, etc. All these events lead to a changing climate that sets in motion long term effects.
Why do global warming and climate change matter?
Temperature fluctuation of Earth due to natural causes, has been occurring for millions of years and is a fairly normal process. The Earth has become hot (not just tolerably warm) and frigid (not just acceptably cold) in 100,000-year cycles over the last 1 million years, due to natural causes. However, there is a noticeable difference in this pattern now.
Human activities have produced more greenhouse gas emissions than ever before. This is leading the natural warming cycle to accelerate at an alarming rate. Since the industrial revolution began in 1750, the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased to more than 30%. As a consequence, temperatures between 2014 to 2018 were the warmest ever recorded. By the end of the 21st century, experts expect that the planet is likely to be 3-5 degrees warmer. Not only does this mean that we will see hotter summers, but it also means that severe knock-on effects will ensue. An increase in the occurrence of extreme weather events, changes in rainfall patterns, severe heatwaves, droughts in some years and floods in others, reduced agricultural yields and wildfires may all be caused by global warming and the resulting climate change.
Poorer countries which may be less equipped to deal with swift changes would be the ones most severely impacted. If the current level of warming continue and increase by 35.6°F (2°C), it is estimated that more than 70% of the earth's coastlines will see a rise in sea levels, greater than 0.65 feet (0.2 meters). The current rise has already led to 5 islands in the Solomon Islands being submerged underwater and six more presently experiencing a reduction in coastlines. Sea-level rise would lead to a dire reduction in the coastlines of ocean or sea bordering countries, displacement of coastal communities, and also risks the very existence of many island nations. If the current rates of global warming and related climate change continue unabated, a third of all species on Earth could be extinct in 50 years. Alarmingly, this also includes many crop species. Food-crops like wheat, almonds, peaches, and maize may be severely and negatively affected.
Mitigating Climate Change
With baseline calculations, the UN goal is to keep planetary warming contained at 35.6°F (2°C) above preindustrial levels. That means preventing more than a 34.7°F (1.5°C) increase in Earth’s temperature. Obviously, this means that governments and individuals must work together to achieve this goal. The positive news on this is that most of the world has understood this harsh reality. With the help of world summits and international protocols, there are various emissions targets in place for different countries and methods to achieve these targets.
Although large-scale mitigation can only be done by governments, and only by implementing rigorous policies, targets, and measures; we as individuals can also do our bit in mitigating global warming and slowing climate change. Here are some things individuals could do:Identify the highest sources of emissions in your lifestyle - by week and month
Whether it be cutting down your consumption of foods associated with high greenhouse gas emissions or minimizing air travel, recognizing every source of emission is the first step to reducing them.Making buildings, vehicles, and processes energy efficient
The burning of fossil fuels is one of the largest sources of greenhouse emissions. Encourage organizations that you are part of to switch to renewable energy like solar, wind, or geothermal energy whether it be your city, school, or even home.Avoiding waste, especially food waste as much as possible
Not only does food waste, further waste the energy that went into growing, harvesting, transporting, and processing the food, the waste itself if not composted properly, ends up producing methane a greenhouse gas in landfills.Being an eco-conscious consumer
Consumers hold the power to influence the market and regulate what comes into the market and what doesn’t. You have the power to refuse single-use plastics, reject products that have negative environmental impact ingredients like those produced through deforestation or heavy emission producing processes.Holding governments accountable
The governments of all countries are responsible for bringing in regulations that monitor the emissions of industries, which in turn enables the country to meet their emission targets. It’s essential for everyone, everywhere to get involved.Participating in climate movements
Educate yourself and help in educating others about climate change, it’s causes, and the steps required to mitigate climate change. Once all people are both aware and actively contributing towards positive change, only then will mitigation become uniformly achievable.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
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