Climate Change – What I know

Recently, I’ve been watching a few documentaries about climate change. I think that climate change is something most of us are vaguely aware of but I really wanted to increase my knowledge, look at the facts and take the opportunity to learn about the topic more in-depth. At the end of the day, I am still going to be alive in 20 years – which is how long we have to save the planet. Some sources even say that we only have 10 years. Time is running out before the damage is irreversible.

I don’t know everything and in this post I am not claiming to. But I have picked up a few key facts so far and I really wanted to share them here. The more that I’m learning about climate change and how much we have destroyed the planet already, the more important it’s becoming for me to share that knowledge and to actively contribute to rescuing the planet myself.

When we talk about global warming, it’s often just this over-arching term that we use to account for everything that’s damaging the planet. But what does it actually mean? There is a clear trend in temperature patterns, recorded by several different sources, that each show our world is getting hotter. The 10 hottest summers on record in the UK have been recorded since 2002. We have a heat wave here in London and we absolutely love it. People are sprawled out on every patch of greenery they can find around the city. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy this heat, but we need to be aware of why this is happening. Our world is now one degree hotter – ice is melting and the land around the world is drying out.

We are seeing the effects of global warming now more than we ever have before. Wildfires in Greece and California last year, for example. We’re seeing bigger natural disasters, sporadic weather changes and species dying out, passionate activists begging us to make changes sooner rather than later. In David Attenborough’s documentary on climate change, released this year, there is a scene that shows a forest full of dead bats in Australia. Why? Because the temperature was too hot and the bats couldn’t survive. Over 11,000 bats died and if that happened twice more, then the whole species would be gone. Animals are not able to adapt to such a vigorously evolving climate – causing multiple species to become extinct.

Our use of fossil fuels is greatly responsible for the warming of the planet and the failure of the world’s ecosystems and species’ abilities to survive. Global warming cannot be explained entirely by natural causes. We are part of a generation that relies on burning fossil fuels to generate the majority of our energy. The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is dangerous because CO2 acts as a blanket that traps heat in the atmosphere. We emit these gases through our industries, buildings, the generation of electricity and heat, transport, agriculture and forestry and other energy.

Global warming is also causing more moisture, which is changing the system of our weather. More moisture in the atmosphere means more rain – particularly in continents like Asia, we see this very dramatically. So much rainfall that towns and cities are being flooded or are seeing violent rainstorms. Weather conditions are just becoming increasingly volatile. For example, much of the heat that we are gaining is being stored in our world’s oceans. What we have found is that the warmer oceans are bleaching and killing sea life like coral. If you have a look at some of the coral in our oceans, you will find that a lot of it has completely lost its colour and is dead.

Antarctica, for example, where we all can picture images of icebergs crashing down as they melt, is losing three times as much ice today as it was 25 years ago and it’s only about half a centigrade warmer than it should be. Imagine what would happen if it was a full centigrade warmer? The ice melts into the sea and this means that sea levels are rising. I couldn’t believe that in Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, for example, they are losing land to rising sea levels, at the rate of a football field every 45 minutes.

Recently, we all became aware that the Amazon rainforest is burning. The Amazon rainforest contributes to 20% of the world’s oxygen – which is why it is often referred to as the lungs of the planet. If you google why the Amazon was on fire, many sources will tell you that farmers were lighting it up to clear land. Other sources will tell you that the forest burned as a result of land that was far too hot and dry.

Either way, deforestation is a key contributor of global warming. When we get rid of trees, not only are we reducing the oxygen in the planet but we are making it easier for greenhouse emissions to rise into the atmosphere. This is because trees actually capture greenhouse gases for us. So when we cut them down, they end up releasing the gases they have been storing. Even worse is that, when we leave the trees to rot or we burn them down to get rid of them, we are producing even more emissions. A certain amount of heat from the sun is supposed to reflect off the earth’s surface. But greenhouse gases interfere with this process, by acting as a kind of blanket around the earth that traps the heat instead.

Almost a third of our CO2 emissions are caused by deforestation. So why do we do it? Well, mainly because of agriculture. Clearing land means that we can produce palm oil and soy, for example. Palm oil is found in 44 countries around the world, with the two biggest producers being Indonesia and Malaysia. It’s used in pretty much everything you can think of – lipsticks, food, toothpaste, even as a biofuel in some places. So, we’re clearing forests to make way for lucrative industries. But this actually becomes counter-productive, because when we burn down trees, in many cases, we find that the soil underneath is poor and that all of the nutrients have already been used up. If we continue at this rate of deforestation, it will take less than a century before all of the world’s rainforests are gone. This means more greenhouse gas emissions, less oxygen and more destruction of natural habitats; resulting in the extinction of yet more species and ecosystems.

When I talk about greenhouse gases, I’m not talking just about CO2. Methane is a greenhouse gas and there are large pockets of it trapped underneath the permafrost in the Arctic. Its release is supposed to be natural and long-term but global warming is melting the ice around the world, as I explained earlier. As this ice melts, it’s not just the rising sea levels that we have to be wary of, it’s the fact that the methane underneath the permafrost will bubble up and release itself into our atmosphere. Methane is 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas then CO2. So just imagine what will happen when all of these little pockets of gas are released into our atmosphere too.

If we continue at the rate we are now, then by 2040, we will hit 1.5 degrees of global warming. Shortly after that, we will hit 2 degrees. I can’t find much information on what the world will look like when this happens, as nobody is clear on this. But, what people are clear on, is that land will be so dry it will no longer be fruitful. We talk about plant-based diets being good for us and the environment (something I would like to research more) and this is something I’m slowly trying to ease myself into. But if our land can’t produce anything because it has dried out, then even if our diets are plant based, what are we going to eat?

I fear for our climate because I truly do not believe that governments around the world are committed to acting upon climate change. Our economy relies on industries that are harmful to our planet. Leaders around the world have notoriously been reluctant to act upon climate change, because this would involve eradicating lucrative industries. They don’t want to do that. Remember when Trump claimed that global warming was a ‘money-making myth’? Well what will take time, money and effort is actually responding to this issue and sadly, it’s just not that important to them.

Renewable energy is one of the key ways that we can target global warming. We all know about solar power, for example and it’s actually cheaper than the energy we get from burning fossil fuels. Wind turbines are another source and this is going to be a lot cheaper than fossil fuels in the future too. At the moment, 30% of our energy in the UK comes from fossil fuels. This is good, but we need more. We also need to apply these changes to multiple industries – like the transport industry, for example. There are electric cars cropping up here and there and there are even trials taking place to build electric planes. People love to travel and this is going to be difficult to stop – it makes a lot of money and it also makes a lot of people happy. But if planes were to be powered by electric motors instead of fuel, then they would be a lot better for our planet. We have already seen the success of a one passenger electric plane making it across the English Channel. So if we continue with these trials, then we could see electric planes transporting us across the world too.

Re-planting trees that we have burned down is important too, because as I said earlier, trees absorb CO2. We can also look into building carbon collectors, which I think is a really interesting option. Carbon collectors take in air and trap CO2 using a filter. Once absorbed, the CO2 is dissolved in water and at a high pressure it is pumped down 1800m and forced to enter the bedrock. It’s called basalt. The CO2 ridden water then reacts with the rock and they separate. Whilst the water drifts over the rock, the CO2 turns into white patches of stone. Cleverly, this means that it cannot effect our atmosphere anymore.

Individually, we need to reduce the demand for… everything. Clothes, for example, which I am so guilty of. I love to shop but that doesn’t mean that I wear everything I buy. Almost everything we buy is produced using fossil fuels. So if we reduce our demand for these things and start investing in products that will last, then the demand goes down and so does the supply. If we’re being honest, the supply will not automatically be stopped until the demand decreases. As long as we want things, they will keep being produced. We have to create a reality where the costs of production of an item, outweigh the profit that can be made from selling it and we do this by lessening the demand. In first world countries, we are so wasteful and we really need to start thinking about what we’re throwing away and stop doing it.

We should also try to reduce our meat (specifically beef and lamb) and dairy intake. As a result of factory farming and intensive farming techniques, cows and sheep actually burp up methane. These techniques use fertilisers to produce long-lasting ryegrass (perennial ryegrass) that grows quickly and in large quantities. This grass is not very nutritious and it’s difficult for the animals to digest. The simple science behind it (as I am not a scientist) is that the ryegrass mingles with microbes inside the animals and produces gas, which the farm animals then burp up into our atmosphere.

It’s really important to look into what you can do to help with climate change. As I always say, knowledge and research is absolutely key, so I will leave some of the sources that I have found useful linked down below. Don’t get me wrong, I still have lots to learn on this. There’s science behind it that I would like to understand and there is history that I want to research, to see exactly what kind of things we have been doing over the years to get us here in the first place. This post is just an amalgamation of what I have learnt through watching documentaries and reading up on climate change over the past week. So if anybody has any recommendations, then please let me know!

Resources you might find interesting:
Climate Change: The Facts (June 2019, David Attenborough on BBC)
The Race is On: Secrets and Solutions of Climate (April 2019, Paul Maple and Dr. James Dyke)
National Geographic Youtube Channel – for short videos to help you learn
NASA website

These are the sources that inspired me to write this post. But if there is anything you don’t understand, then just have a little Google and find some trusted sources. It’s not too difficult. Think of it like doing your research for an essay, only this research is going to help you save the planet!