You can probably see the exciting banner at the bottom of the page. So yes, this blog is joining in the global climate strike on 20th September. The world’s warmer than it was 100 years ago and this change is at least in part due to human impact. It’s affecting our weather and environment and there’s no immediate signs that it’s going to slow down or stop.
So it’s worth doing something about.
I’m not sure climate strikes are the best way to go, but they’re certainly a way to get attention, and perhaps be able to open up a discussion. So that’s what I want to do in this post – explain about the causes and effects of climate change, particularly in relation to our dependence on fossil fuels.
Some statistics to start
Stats are an effective way to grab attention and make a point (though frequently not used correctly or explained in sufficient detail), so here’s a few on the environment today:
- Nearly 7.7 billion people live on Earth, but that population would require about 1.7 Earths for resources and waste disposal in the long term, so we’re running ourselves out of time at the moment.
- We dump about 2.12 billion tons of waste into our environment every year.
- Globally, air pollution causes 24 million fatalities per year, or one every 13 seconds. This pollution can be linked chiefly to car exhaust, and can be mitigated by using highly efficient vehicles with excellent filters, or electric vehicles.
- The world produces 33 billion tons of CO2 each year. A very high proportion of that is simply what is produced by living organisms, but the next leading producers are fossil fuel burning and deforestation.
- Airplanes produce about 4000 kilos of CO2 and other pollutants per passenger!
Climate change, the altering of Earth’s long-term weather patterns, has been occurring steadily since the late 19th century. The average temperature has risen by about 0.9 degrees Celsius since then with ocean temperatures increasing (and water expanding in volume) and ice sheets, glaciers and snow cover all melting, contributing to measurably increasing sea level rise (about 3.4 mm per year at the moment).
These data are all based on up-to-date measurement largely using satellite technologies to provide the most accurate data possible (although preventing direct comparison to pre-satellite measurement).
The influence of carbon dioxide on this temperature change was demonstrated as early as the mid 19th century, clearly showing that carbon dioxide and other gases can trap heat within the atmosphere.
CO2 is produced by all aerobic organisms as they live, but humans have been producing additional amounts in recent years. The problem is that once CO2 is in the atmosphere, it tends to stick around and spends a very long time in circulation before being naturally balanced by photo-autotroph (organisms that make their food by using sunlight, like plants and algae) consumption.
Most of the excess CO2 that humans have produced has been due to burning coal and fossil fuels for energy and transportation. Our demand for electricity and power has never been higher, with the huge number of electronics we can purchase and use for any and every situation. Cars are owned by the vast majority of individuals, and it is easy and convenient to drive them almost everywhere. Planes are becoming a massive source of air pollution and greenhouse gas production as airfares become cheaper and society has shifted to travelling overseas with greater frequency.
To fix the problem, we’ll have to make massive changes. A greater reliance on renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, will be necessary. An increase in walking, cycling or public transport and a reduction in plane trips are also important steps. Enhancing the fuel-efficiency of cars and introducing more electric, hybrid and hydrogen vehicles will also contribute.
And if we don’t?
The world will likely continue to warm. Sea levels will rise and start threatening coastal cities. Extreme weather events: hurricanes, droughts, floods and more, will become more frequent and common.
Interestingly, the financial burden of not acting on climate change now, is currently estimated to be about $15,000 billion USD in helping the world recover from the above effects. That’s a lot of money, and if we invest now into renewable energy and reduce our pollution, we could end up saving money overall, despite the considerable cost of changing our current actions.
It’s certainly worth knowing about, if this is to be one of the great issues facing our world in this century and next. And I think it’s worth saying something about now, and taking some action towards it. Being less wasteful, reducing carbon emissions by not driving when unnecessary, not over-using electricity … every little bit is important.