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Climate change is a long-term process. Many people in the world aren’t able to witness its damaging effects. Nonetheless, signs of damage from climate change are starting to become more visible.
What can be done to slow down or potentially revert the damage that’s done to our planet’s atmosphere?
The European Environment Agency lists climate change as one of the biggest trends in the world. It’s a trend that may affect livelihoods, economies, and ecosystems in unimaginable ways.
In this post, part of our series on global megatrends, we’re taking a deep dive into some of the drivers of climate change and we’ll consider a list of truly shocking statistics about climate change.
What is climate change?
Climate change, a term often used simultaneously with global warming, is defined as a long-term change in climate patterns around the world.
Climate change is spurred on by human activities and greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels. Activities like agriculture, deforestation, and industrial manufacturing all contribute to emissions and, therefore, climate change.
The cumulation of all the greenhouse gas emitting activities causes vast amounts of carbon dioxide or methane to be released into the atmosphere, which heats the Earth up.
Some of the common characteristics of climate change include:
- Increased global surface temperature;
- Increased frequency and intensity of heatwaves;
- Increased upper ocean temperatures;
- The loss to arctic sea-ice; and,
- Rising sea levels.
The effects (or even existence) of climate change have been debated by scientists, experts, and conspiracy theorists for decades. One thing is for certain – there have been numerous observable consequences to the Earth’s climatic behaviour that support climate change.
Here are some of the most eye-catching facts about climate change, derived from the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 report:
- Carbon dioxide concentrations are on the rise. Since the year 1750, CO2 emissions have increased by 40 percent. Most shocking is that the majority of that increase has happened since the 1970s when energy consumption experienced large increases.
- Scientists studied ice cores to compare current carbon dioxide concentrations with historical levels. They found that current CO2 concentrations are higher than they’ve ever been in the last 800,000 years.
- The sun hasn’t gotten any hotter. It’s a common myth used to debunk climate change but there have been no observable changes to the sun’s energy output that could create the effects we’ve experienced from climate change.
- Combined, the Earth’s land and surface temperatures have warmed. Between 1880 and 2012, global temperatures have risen by around 1-degree celsius.
- There are more hot days and nights than ever before. These occur when temperatures exceed the 90th percentile of climate activity compared to mid-20th century averages.
- Ice and snow cover across the world has decreased due to warming. In the Arctic, the amount of ice that sticks around in the Summer has decreased by around 40 percent since 1979.
- Droughts are becoming more common and are getting worse. These effects are felt the most in the Mediterranean and parts of Africa.
- Global sea levels are on the rise. They’ve risen by 20 centimetres since 1901 due to melting ice sheets. Water also expands when it gets warmer, known as thermal expansion, which only further increases sea levels.
The impacts of climate change
These observable trends cause many impacts on all life on Earth. Trends such as temperature increases, droughts, and rising ocean levels are only expected to continue. Century-long predictions for these phenomena are troubling. The International Panel on Climate Change declared that continued global warming will have severe and irreversible consequences in most world regions.
The impacts of climate change touch on many fields of study. There are repercussions for biology, economics, social wellness, and the humanities. If left unchecked, climate change could change the course of human history.
So far, observed repercussions, brought on by climate change, are extensive:
- Loss of ecosystems and plant life;
- Increased risk of animal and plant extinction for species that rely on land or fresh-water;
- Decreases to the fishing potential of once-popular commercial fishing areas;
- Decreases to food security as droughts carry risks of agricultural collapse;
- Dampered economic growth and losses to industrial productivity;
- Increased risk of flooding for many major coastal cities.
This is but a small list of the potential impacts that climate change can have on the world around you.
Worse yet, the most vulnerable human populations such as those living in impoverished conditions are the ones who will suffer the most from climate change effects.
Fighting the effects
Humans have a responsibility to counteract the negative effects that their behaviours have on the environment. Luckily, public awareness of climate change has grown. Governments and agencies around the world are coming together to take action in the face of such a severe global trend.
There is room for policymakers and scientists to work together on developing sustainable solutions to help lower carbon emissions. However, the complex arrangements that make up our political, scientific, and social structures make it difficult to enact the amount of change required to substantially curb the effects of climate change.
Despite this, two popular methods have emerged in order to address climate change:
First, mitigation is all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The best ways are to replace carbon-based production with renewable energy sources like solar or wind power.
To play your part as a consumer, you can increase your household energy efficiency or drive less. Eating local foods also reduces the financial and environmental cost of shipping foods around the world.
The second method for dealing with climate change, adaptation, is about changing lifestyles in order to live alongside changes that are irreversible. These techniques involve making improvements to agriculture and other industrial technologies to produce more with fewer resources or energy usage.
Adaptation also involves the efforts of policymakers and experts alike to design conservation and lifestyle plans to help increase our ability to live in more sustainable ways.
Looking for more information about global megatrends? The next in our series is about environmental pollution.