What is Climate Change?

December 15, 2021

Although defined by the United Nations as “long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns”, climate change and its substantial effects on the world are much more than this modest definition can encapsulate. Climate change is one of the most prevalent issues in society today, regarded by many as an existential threat to life on Earth. Even if partially influenced by natural causes, climate change has been driven and accelerated primarily by human activity, especially since the Industrial Revolution and the popularization of fossil fuels began. Through the burning of fossil fuels, humans emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases act as a blanket and trap heat in the atmosphere. Inevitably, global temperatures rise. Without an effort to reduce such gases into our atmosphere, the Earth will continue to deteriorate and will no longer be able to support life.

Despite humans significantly impacting the environment, natural phenomena can change the climate as well. For example, the sun can cause an increase in the atmosphere’s average temperatures. However, the sun’s impact on global temperatures has not been severe thus far.

Additionally, our planet has many “built-in” natural processes that help fight climate change on its own. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “ocean currents act much like a conveyor belt, transporting warm water and precipitation from the equator toward the poles and cold water from the poles back to the tropics.” In this way, ocean currents regulate the temperatures and climate on Earth, helping to counteract environmental changes. These ocean currents are beneficial to us as it makes the Earth have temperatures far less dangerous to humans.

According to the United Nations, since the late 1800s, the overall temperature of our planet has increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius). While this may not seem like a drastic change, even a small increase in overall temperature can throw off the delicate natural balance of the world.

Climate change has left many detrimental impacts on the environment, all of which will only get worse without society uniting to prevent the continuation of these effects. Some of these effects include species endangerment and extinction, rising sea levels, stronger and more frequent natural disasters, and an increase in diseases. Climate change has increased the likelihood of extinction for over 10,000 species in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Many species face the threat of extinction because various effects of climate change — such as rising sea levels — can severely limit their ability to adapt and survive in their environments. The first mammal reported to go extinct directly due to climate change was the Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola): its island in the Great Barrier Reef was completely destroyed by rising sea levels. Rising sea levels result from the ice melting from Earth’s North and South Poles and can decrease land space, especially in coastal areas. Climate change has also been linked to stronger storms, which can demolish homes and upset the economies and way of life of people in disaster-prone areas. Furthermore, diseases such as malaria are prone to growing from climate change.

According to the U.N., we must prevent the global temperature from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius to maintain a livable climate. However, based on the current climate plans globally, our planet’s temperature will see an increase of 2.7 degrees Celsius before the end of the century.

With such impacts in mind, it is fundamental to reach a society that implements sustainability, with the use of renewable and clean energy sources, in everyday life. Renewable and clean energy sources that could be implemented into daily life include solar panels, hydroelectricity, geothermal energy, wind energy.

You can also decrease greenhouse gas emissions by lessening transportation that requires the usage of gasoline and diesel. This can be done through public transportation, sharing a vehicle, and biking.

Every action towards combating climate change is significant no matter how big or small. Educating others on climate change can be one of the most important actions one can take because without being aware of what climate change is, no one will understand the detrimental effects it has.

It is important to recognize that every effort to combat climate change is very helpful, especially when these efforts are joint. Climate change will not go away on its own — we must take responsibility for our actions to slow the rising temperatures and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. On Earth, we are one large community. We must join hand in hand to protect the environment for the generations to come.

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