What’s with all this climate change hype anyway?

What’s with all this climate change hype anyway?

While world leaders debate emission reduction targets and mechanisms for funding adaptation in developing countries, climate change continues to unfold, impacting natural and human communities.

What is climate change?

Our planet provides a livable climate because of the presence of the atmosphere. It reflects a portion of the radiation coming from the sun back to space; it also absorbs radiation re-emitted from the earth’s surface due to the presence of certain gases in the atmosphere, trapping heat in the atmosphere. These atmospheric greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrogen oxide. The concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere have increased since the beginning of the industrial revolution, due largely to the combustion of fossil fuels, agriculture production, land use changes, and forestry activities. Scientists have concluded that these increased concentrations are causing rises in average global and regional temperatures. This in turn affects precipitation because the amount of water vapour that can be stored in air increases with temperature. As the concentration of CO2 increases in the atmosphere, the resulting changes in temperature and precipitation are only heightened.

So what?

Changing global and regional atmospheric conditions influence the weather events we experience locally, including extreme events; as well as the availability of water, with changes in snowmelt timing, ice cover, rainfall intensity, or evapotranspiration resulting in the extremes of drought or large scale flooding. These changes pose serious threats for ecosystems and species as they are forced to adapt to conditions outside of their optimal growth range. In many instances, organisms and communities are reaching temperature thresholds, or tipping points, beyond which irreversible change will result.

The environment that we as humans depend on is increasingly stressed, and this only increases our own vulnerability. The resources we depend on, such as clean water and arable land, are and will continue to be compromised. In northern areas, melting permafrost is threatening the very foundations of our homes. In our arid agricultural centres, drought increasingly impacts the growth of our crops. In our forests, pests and the increased occurrence of forest fires are dramatically changing landscape qualities. In coastal regions, rising sea levels are eroding our shoreline infrastructure.

While much of the anthropogenic contribution to climate change has come from developed countries through historical and current industrialization, it is in fact developing nations that experience the greatest human impacts of climate change. In already vulnerable regions, food production, water supplies, public health, and people’s livelihoods are being damaged and undermined and this will only continue if continued environment degradation occurs.

Now what?

Given the current and projected impacts of climate change on our communities and sustaining ecosystems, it is imperative that we take action. Reducing our addiction to fossil fuels, eliminating land use practices such as clear cutting, and choosing more sustainable methods of ensuring economic and food security make up some of the mitigative strategies we can take to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Scientists suggest we can safely live in a world with 350ppm of atmospheric CO2, and we are now at 388ppm.

However, as we are already feeling the impacts of climate change in many regions of the planet, a focus on adaptation is increasingly important. Communities need to prepare for the range of changes that could be experienced, and increase their capacity to adapt. And given that the developed world is disproportionately responsible for our changing climate, we also have a responsibility to help the developing world both in its adaptation, and its development along a low-carbon route.

Read on…

In these newsletters we’ll be sharing stories about the human impacts of climate change; stories that underline why united and comprehensive international action is required for us to confront this climate crisis. We hope you’ll stay tuned.

by Holly Goulding

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