While we are all busy in our daily lives and routine, climate change continues to be a threat to the balance of the environment and the natural world. So-called natural disasters such as floods, heat waves, forest fires, extreme winters are actually not at all ‘natural’ and have been greatly influenced by changes in the world’s climate. That said, understanding more about what climate change is and learning what small contributions each of us can make, will collectively go a long way in hopefully repairing climate change and bringing the world’s climate back in to alignment.
What exactly is climate change?
According to NASA, climate change is a variation in the average weather patterns, which occur over a long period. This is at the local, regional and global levels.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its 6th assessment report which the UN chief called “a code red for humanity the report highlighted the last five years to be the hottest ever recorded since 1850 and human activities are 90% responsible for the reduction in Arctic sea-ice.
How is climate change happening?
To some extent these changes in the Earth’s climates are naturally bound to happen. The British Geological Survey highlighted some of the natural causes of climate change which include: strength of the sun, changes in Earth’s orbit and axial tilt, ocean currents, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions.
Although climate change happens naturally, it is also accelerated by human activities. So, although changes in the earth’s climate are to be expected over time, the rate at which these changes are occurring currently at mainly due to our (human) activity.
How are we (humans) the major driver of climate change?
- Burning of fossil fuels: Fossil fuels – crude oil, coal, natural gas- are burned to release energy in large amounts which are used to power our industries, factories, homes, cars, planes and the rest. Now through the combustion of these fuels, high concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere. Their presence over time causes heat from the sun to be trapped in the earth’s atmosphere resulting in increasing surface temperatures, hence global warming and ultimately climate change. In other words, the planet is cooking up.
- Agriculture: In the agricultural sector, various activities such as livestock rearing, fertilizer application, and use of machinery result in the release of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide and methane), which are responsible for climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, this sector is responsible for 19-29% of all greenhouse gas released, with livestock rearing accounting for 14.5% of methane, another greenhouse gas that is more dangerous than carbon dioxide.
- Deforestation: Deforestation is another human activity that significantly contributes to climate change. According to The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 10 million hectares of forest are lost globally every year, and 11% of carbon emissions are linked to deforestation and forest degradation. There are fewer trees to absorb the ever increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the air.
When it comes to trees, forests and large green spaces are great sinks for carbon dioxide. As trees require carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, they naturally become great banks and storage for the carbon dioxide around the world. Unfortunately, with the clearing of land for agriculture, urban development and other industrial activities, trees are often cut down in vast numbers.
As trees are cut down and natural carbon dioxide sinks disappear, the carbon dioxide that is normally absorbed and stored by these trees are stuck in the inner layers of the atmosphere, trapping even more heat closer to the surface of the earth.
Is There A Way Out?
So, all these facts, bring us to the question: is there a way out? Well, thankfully yes, there is.
The (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) IPCC also reported that in terms of the effects of global-warming, scientists believe and are hopeful that if emissions are cut in half by 2030 globally and net-zero is reached utmost the middle of the century, there is the possibility of stopping and even reversing the planet’s increasing temperatures.
What can we do as individuals to cut down emissions?
There are definitely things we can do as individuals and as part of a larger group to work towards collectively cutting down our emissions. The immediate goal is to reduce the now-rising earth’s surface temperature and hopefully reversing the effects of climate change overall.
Here are some actionable steps, each of us can take.
1. Make use of renewable energy
The UN Environment Programme reported that fossil fuels supply about 80% of energy globally. These fuels are non-renewable energy sources, and to eliminate them, we need to switch to renewable sources which are clean and environmentally friendly. You can invest in solar panels and/or wind turbines to power your homes and businesses in place of fossil fuels.
If you live in a cold or temperate country where heating is a necessity, it’s also worth looking in to alternative forms of heating such as heat pumps, heat batteries and high heat retention storage heaters.
2. Consciously use less energy
You can use less energy or conserve energy by using energy-efficient bulbs, unplugging your gadgets, switching to energy efficient household appliances, air-drying your clothes and hand washing your dishes. Simple things like turning off lights, heaters, and cooling systems when not in use go a long way to reducing energy consumption.
Keeping your house slightly cooler in winter, that means lowering the thermostat even by just 1 degree can make a significant difference to your overall energy consumption and consequently your energy bills.
3. Plant more trees
Trees are important now more than ever. As deforestation of the earth’s natural carbon dioxide sinks continue to rise, planting more trees help to make up for the ones that are lost. You can partner up with tree planting organizations like One Tree Planted, Trees for the Future, Arbor Day Foundation to plant trees, or even organize tree planting events in your area.
Even if you live in a smaller home and planting trees are not easily done, you can continue to contribute to ‘green-ing’ the earth by keeping a small urban garden or house plants in your home.
4. Reduce food waste
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) stated that of all the food produced globally, over one-third ends up as waste. If food waste is reduced, 6-8% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions could consequently be decreased. Food waste can be reduced by planning your meals, buying just what you need when shopping and cooking just that, preserving your remnants properly, understanding dates, shopping locally, and many more. All these will go a long way to prevent food from ending up in landfills.
5. Reduce, reuse and recycle
The 3Rs of waste require us to consider our impact on the environment. To reduce overall waste, means to be conscious of what we buy and the packaging it comes in. Where possible aim to buy local, as this will reduce travel miles of the items you purchase and will also help support and grow local businesses.
To reuse and recycle wherever and whenever possible means to consider what you already have and whether it can be reused either in its original capacity or in a new form. For example, old towels can often be reused as floor mats.
6. Consider your transportation options
Most of our transportation means are fuelled by fossil fuels, one of the main sources of green house gases. If you fly often, try cutting down on that, schedule more zoom meetings where possible. Leave the car at home and walk or bike short distances instead. Use more public transportation like buses and trains – preferably electric trains and low emission buses. If you can, invest in an all electric vehicle or car-pool with friends.
7. Share your knowledge and awareness
Nothing beats going out there and spreading the word. Educate others. Create more awareness on the issue of climate change and ways individuals can work towards reducing emissions.
8. Make your voice heard
Hold your leaders and representatives responsible. Urge them to take the relevant action against big corporations and the oil giants about their use of fossil fuels and their responsibility towards climate change. Vote with the climate in mind. Participate in climate conversations around you or organize one if there are none. Sign petitions calling on representatives to do more.
The current climate issues that we collectively face all over the world may feel overwhelming. It does not mean we should just shrug our shoulders and continue as we were. We all have the ability to contribute no matter how small. Just start small and do your best.