What is climate change?
Climate change is the long-term shift in global and local weather patterns primarily caused by carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect. It encompasses more than just the rise in earth’s surface temperatures known as global warming. Together with global warming, climate change also includes, for example, alterations in precipitation, cloud patterns, and sea levels.
While there are natural causes of climate change, the majority of climate change since the 19th century has been driven by humans. Despite this, climate misinformation persists, with some climate skeptics attributing most, if not all, climate alterations to natural phenomena.
To get a better understanding of what’s really behind climate change, let’s examine three of its primary causes and effects.
What are the causes of climate change?
Here are three large contributors to climate change, all of which are interlinked with the greenhouse effect:
- Food production and agriculture: The agricultural sector is one of the biggest overall emitters of carbon emissions and the largest emitter of methane (CH4). When emitted, carbon compounds such as methane trap heat in the atmosphere and are one of the biggest drivers of global warming, leading to countless subsequent issues.
Fossil fuels: The process of creating electricity to power our homes, transport us around, and produce our goods relies heavily on burning fossil fuels. This process is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide, and energy continues to be one of the key challenges in fighting climate change.
Forest degradation and deforestation: Forests regulate the climate by capturing and converting vast amounts of carbon compounds. By cutting down our forests, we are not only robbing our planet of its carbon sinks but also helping release previously stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the loss of forests destroys biodiversity, disrupts water cycles, and leads to soil erosion.
What are the effects of climate change?
Here are three profound effects of climate change:
Destruction of natural habitats: Climate change significantly accelerates ecosystem collapse, the loss of biodiversity, and species extinction events through the destruction of habitats. The Arctic, for example, has been warming at four times the global average, leading to current reindeer numbers halving and polar bears facing extinction by the turn of the century.
More extreme weather events: Extreme heat waves, storms, wildfires, floods, and droughts are a direct consequence of climate change. Summer 2023 was the hottest on record, and climate-related disasters are becoming a regular occurrence. And unless we fix the underlying causes, these problems are about to get a lot worse.
Reduced health, food, and water security: Climate change leads to a whole host of food, health, and water-related repercussions for humans and animals alike. This includes reduced agricultural yields, less freshwater availability, and the spread of diseases like malaria. Between 2030 and 2050, these effects are expected to lead to an additional 250,000 deaths every single year.