What is Climate Change?
Climate change refers to long-term changes in the Earth’s climate patterns, including changes in temperature, precipitation, and weather events. These changes are primarily caused by human activities that release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, such as burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation, deforestation, and agriculture.
Greenhouse gases are gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat and contribute to the greenhouse effect, which causes the Earth’s temperature to rise. The main greenhouse gases include:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Methane (CH4)
- Nitrous oxide (N2O)
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
- Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
- Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
- Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
Carbon dioxide is the most well-known and abundant greenhouse gas, primarily released by burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and land use changes. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, and it is primarily released by agriculture, livestock farming, and natural gas production. Nitrous oxide is mainly released through agricultural practices such as fertilizers and manure management. CFCs, HFCs, PFCs, and SF6 are synthetic gases used in various industrial applications, such as refrigeration, air conditioning, and electronics.
The accumulation of these greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the Earth’s temperature to rise, leading to a wide range of environmental and social impacts, including rising sea levels, more frequent and severe weather events, changes in ecosystems, and health risks to humans and other living beings. Addressing climate change is considered one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today.
Causes of Climate Change
1. Energy production:- Burning fossil fuels to produce electricity and heat is responsible for a significant portion of global emissions. The majority of electricity production still relies on coal, oil, or gas combustion, which emits carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, potent greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, account for just over a quarter of global electricity generation, but unlike fossil fuels, they do not release greenhouse gases or pollutants.
2. Economic activities:- Manufacturing and industrial sector produces a significant amount of emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy for making various goods that is responsible for running country’s economy. Mining, construction, and industrial processes also release gases, and machines used in the manufacturing process often run on coal, oil, or gas. Materials like plastics are also made from chemicals obtained from fossil fuels. Overall, the manufacturing industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally.
3. Deforestation:- When forests are cut down to make way for farms, pastures, or other purposes, the stored carbon in trees is released, causing emissions. Every year, around 12 million hectares of forests are destroyed, which limits the ability of nature to absorb carbon dioxide and prevent emissions in the atmosphere. Deforestation, in addition to land use changes and agriculture, accounts for approximately 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
4. Transportation:- The majority of transportation vehicles such as cars, trucks, ships, and planes rely on fossil fuels, leading to significant greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide. The main cause of these emissions is the combustion of petroleum-based fuels, like gasoline, used in internal combustion engines of road vehicles. Even though ships and planes also contribute to emissions, road vehicles are the major source. Transportation accounts for around 25% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, and future trends suggest a substantial increase in energy usage for transportation.
5. Production of food:- The production of food leads to the release of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in several ways. These emissions occur due to activities such as deforestation and land clearing for farming and grazing, digestion by livestock, the use of fertilizers and manure in crop cultivation, and the use of fossil fuels to operate farm machinery and fishing boats. Furthermore, the production, packaging, and transportation of food also result in greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, food production is a significant contributor to climate change.
6. Over consumption:- More than 50% of the world’s electricity consumption is used by residential and commercial buildings, which mainly rely on fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas for heating and cooling, resulting in substantial greenhouse gas emissions. The surge in air-conditioner use, along with growing energy demand for lighting, appliances, and electronic gadgets, has led to a rise in energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions from buildings in recent times.
Your home and use of power, how you move around, what you eat and how much you throw away all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. So does the consumption of goods such as clothing, electronics, and plastics. A large chunk of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to private households. Our lifestyles have a profound impact on our planet. The wealthiest bear the greatest responsibility: the richest 1 per cent of the global population combined account for more greenhouse gas emissions than the poorest 50 per cent.
Effects of Climate Change
1. Rise in temperature:- The global surface temperature increases as the concentration of greenhouse gases rises. The warmest decade on record is 2011-2020, and each decade since the 1980s has been warmer than the previous one. Heat waves and hot days are becoming more frequent across nearly all land areas, which can lead to heat-related illnesses and make outdoor work more challenging. Hotter temperatures also contribute to more frequent and intense wildfires. The Arctic has experienced temperature increases at least twice as fast as the global average.
2. Cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons:- In many areas, destructive storms are becoming both more frequent and more severe. The increase in temperature leads to more evaporation of moisture, which worsens the effects of extreme rainfall and flooding, ultimately resulting in more destructive storms. Furthermore, the warming of the ocean affects the frequency and severity of tropical storms, with cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons thriving on warm water at the surface. These storms can cause enormous economic losses, devastate homes and communities, and result in fatalities.
3. Drought:- The impacts of climate change are affecting water availability, leading to a decrease in water availability in many regions. In areas that are already experiencing water scarcity, global warming is intensifying this issue, which is causing agricultural droughts that can harm crops and ecological droughts that can harm ecosystems. Droughts can also result in harmful sand and dust storms that can move vast quantities of sand across continents, and as a result, deserts are expanding and reducing the land area available for agriculture. The situation is so severe that many people are now facing the risk of water scarcity on a regular basis.
4. Danger to marine life:- Global warming is causing the ocean to absorb most of the heat. The warming rate of the ocean has increased significantly over the last 20 years, at all depths. As the ocean temperature increases, its volume also increases because water expands as it heats up. The melting of ice sheets contributes to rising sea levels, which poses a threat to coastal and island communities. Furthermore, the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, which prevents it from entering the atmosphere. However, more carbon dioxide results in increased ocean acidity, posing a danger to marine life and coral reefs.
5. Endangering species:- The increasing temperatures caused by climate change increase the risks to the survival of land and ocean species. The rate at which species are disappearing is 1,000 times higher than at any other time in recorded human history, and one million species are at risk of becoming extinct in the next few decades. Climate change contributes to various threats, such as forest fires, extreme weather, and invasive pests and diseases. While some species may be able to move to other locations and survive, others will not.
6. Food security:- The global increase in hunger and malnutrition can be attributed to changes in climate and an increase in extreme weather events. This is because such changes can lead to the destruction of crops, fisheries, and livestock, or cause them to become less productive. Furthermore, the ocean’s increasing acidity puts marine resources that are important for feeding many people at risk. Melting snow and ice in the Arctic have also affected food supplies by disrupting herding, hunting, and fishing. Heat stress can reduce water and grazing land for livestock, which can lead to lower crop yields.
7. Health risks:- Climate change is the most significant danger to human health worldwide. Health is already being negatively impacted by climate change through factors such as air pollution, disease, severe weather events, forced displacement, mental health strain, and increased hunger and malnutrition in areas where food is scarce. Environmental factors contribute to roughly 13 million deaths annually. Changes in weather patterns are spreading diseases, and more frequent extreme weather events are causing deaths and overburdening healthcare systems.
8. Poverty & displacement:- Climate change exacerbates the conditions that cause poverty, as extreme weather events can destroy homes and livelihoods, and heat can make outdoor work challenging. Water scarcity can also impact crops, further affecting the livelihoods of those in poverty. In the past ten years, an average of 23.1 million people per year were displaced by weather-related events, leaving them vulnerable to poverty. Most refugees come from countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change and may lack resources to adapt to its impacts.