Climate change is not a new term for us anymore. We hear it every now and then, while some of us are even experiencing it daily. But how much attention are we really paying to know what is climate change exactly? Do we really know if climate change is real? And if it is, how much of it is really man-made?
Being a global phenomenon climate change has started to affect every aspect of our lives. Whether it is us finding a new residence for ourselves or our country adopting a new economic policy, everything is influenced by climate change. Hence it is essential to understand all about the climate crisis & how it affects our daily lives.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as “a change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable periods of time”.
I agree, the definition is a little complex just like the issue. Let’s break it down a little. Weather and climate are not the same things. Weather is the changes we see and feel outside from day-to-day whereas climate is the usual weather of a place. Climate is the long-term average of the weather.
Change in earth’s climate is completely normal when it is naturally happening. The problem starts when human activities start contributing to climate change, it no longer remains normal. The current shift in our climate that we are seeing is not normal. Let’s see why?
Climate Change Explained
When sunlight reaches us most of the radiation is absorbed by the planet and warms it, while some of it is radiated back into space in the form of infrared waves. The rays also get trapped by the earth’s atmosphere and warm the atmosphere too.
Now, if our CO2 concentration increases, more of the outgoing infrared radiation will be trapped by the atmosphere. This happens because Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases have molecular structures that enable them to absorb infrared radiation. The more CO2 we will emit the hotter our planet will get.
However, everything we do from using electricity in our homes and businesses to using fuels to run cars and factories requires energy. Traditionally, we have been getting this energy through burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas – all of which emit millions of tons of Carbon dioxide every single day.
It is pretty much clear that the sudden temperature rise in the last few decades was human-induced climate change, but climate change is more than global warming. It also results in sea-level rise, extreme weather patterns and a lot more.
Scientists agree that Earth has warmed by about 1°C since 1880. But things actually started to get worse when in 1990, just 30 years ago, carbon dioxide emissions increased by almost 50 per cent. The past three decades have been the warmest on record with 2016 and 2020 being the hottest years recorded.
Although the impacts of climate change have begun to be more visible, they will get catastrophic and irreversible if we fail to limit global warming to rising 1.5°C or at least 2°C. This means that we will see faster melting of polar ice and glaciers which leads to sea-level rise.
Impact of Climate Change
- Migration of millions of people living in low-lying coastal areas. Many regions will become inhabitable due to
extreme weather events like flooding and frequent storms.
- Migration will just not be limited to humans, but also animals. This can cause the loss of several species and ecosystems.
- The rising temperatures will increase the number of health risks to humans and animals.
- Change in temperatures also provides favourable conditions for wildfires, floods, heavy and untimely rainfall.
- Our oceans act as a carbon sink to absorb the excess of CO2. However, climate change makes them more acidic and will put the tropical coral reefs which are significant ecosystems at the risk of being extinct.
Climate Change- What is not?: Busting Myths
Climate change is a wide area to study. As a result, there’s a lot of confusion about what climate change is which leads to many misleading myths. Let’s bust some most common myths and answer all questions about climate change.
No. Climate change is the outcome of global warming. They are not the same thing. Global warming is bound to occur but the current levels and speed at which it is occurring are alarming.
Plants do need carbon dioxide but the amount of it we have right now is more than what plants can absorb. Moreover, as we see more and more events of deforestation and wildfires the amount of CO2 getting absorbed by plants is also reducing.
No. Most types of pollutions are manmade which help to accelerate the climate change and result into increased number of climate catastrophes. For example, burning fuel for transport releases PM, Nitrogen oxide and Sulfur dioxide, the greenhouse gasses which are majorly responsible for air pollution and further also cause acid rains.
Climate Change & the 2030 target
The statement we often hear in any climate discussion is “we only have a decade left to save the planet.” It is true but that does not mean we can continue to live the way we are for a few more years. When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its assessment report it said that we have to keep the temperature rise limited to 1.5°C to avoid irreversible climatic changes the year 2030 was the estimated time to do that. However, the planet has already warmed by 1.2°C and it is possible to see the rise of 1.5°C before 2030 if we don’t cut down on our greenhouse gas emissions urgently.
Is Climate Change Real?
Every story has two sides, and so does climate change. There are many ‘climate deniers’ out there who don’t believe that the phenomenon exists. We did not dig deep into the rabbit hole of theories out there. Instead, let us focus on the facts and things happening around us.
Climate change has become more visible than ever in the last few years. The Amazonian wildfires highlighted the severity of the climate crisis in late August 2019 and the natural disasters have been unstoppable since. The Australian bushfires at the end of 2019 left us with 18 million hectares of burned land.
At the start of 2020 when India was battling with Cov-19, northern states saw a big per cent of crop damage due to locust attacks. In May 2020, Super Cyclonic storm Amphan caused severe damage to the coastlines of India and Bangladesh. The months from June to October were marked by the devastating Assam floods along with landslides. Over 5000 villages were affected by the floods.
In February 2021, in the midst of rapidly warming global temperatures, the USA saw an exceptionally severe cold wave in Texas, which became the country’s costliest winter storm on record. On the other hand, the Canadian heat wave shook the world as Canada recorded its highest ever temperature causing 130 sudden deaths. Western Europe saw heavy downpours causing severe floods in Germany, Belgium and Netherlands.
Every calamity that climate change can bring and which the IPCC report warned us of is already happening. Needless to say, climate change is real.
Is there still hope?
Whether we like it or not climate change has become a part of our lives. And, unfortunately, it will continue to be so for a few more decades irrespective of how urgently climate action is being taken.
Yes, some changes are already irreversible by now. The recent IPCC report has confirmed that some changes like sea-level rise will continue for years to come. But, we haven’t lost it all yet. We are running out of time but we sure have the solutions at hand which, if implemented quickly can slow down climate change and stop the worsening of its impacts.
It is possible that a strong and sustained reduction of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere can be our way out. But for that, we need to come together and demand stronger climate action. This is our last chance to act and it counts!
Vedantee is a student and an environmentalist associated with The Climate Reality Project to advocate and spread awareness about climate change. She is also a sustainability enthusiast who practices low waste lifestyle and shares her journey and climate action through her Instagram page That Trash Talker.