Google celebrated the 22 April 2022 earth day with a special doodle featuring time-lapse imagery from Google Earth. The doodle showed the impacts of climate change across our planet, the most pressing issue.
The imagery consists of Tanzania, Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro glacier retreat from 1986 to 2020; Greenland’s glacier retreat from 2000 to 2020; Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching from March to May 2016; and Germany’s Harz Forest from 1995 to 2020, which is destroyed by bark beetle infestation due to rising temperatures and severe drought.
In our celebration of Earth Day, we will give an overview of climate change, its effects, and what scientists think we can do to mitigate its worst results in this blog post.
So, what is climate change?
The United Nations defines climate change as “long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.”
Causes of Climate Change
The IPCC, the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, prepares comprehensive Assessment Reports on a seven or 8-year cycle.
The August 2021 IPCC report clearly and unequivocally asserts that “human activities (by burning of fossil fuels and releasing GHG in the atmosphere) are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900 and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming.”
According to the United Nations’ “Climate Action Fast Facts”, as greenhouse gas emissions blanket the Earth, they trap the sun’s heat leading to global warming and climate change. These heat-trapping gasses come from these human activities such as:
- Generation of power mainly by burning fossil fuels;
- Manufacturing of goods, particularly cement, iron, steel, plastics, etc.;
- Cutting down the forest to create farms or pastures, releasing the carbon that the trees have been storing;
- Using fossil-fuelled transportation, food production, and agriculture using fertilisers. The methane from cattle production is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas.
- Powering buildings. Globally residential and commercial buildings consume 50% of all electricity drawn on coal, natural gas, and oil;
- Consumption and demand for energy, travel, food, clothing, electronics, etc. The amounts of food we waste significantly contribute to our global GHG emissions.
Effects of Climate Change
According to NASA, the effects of human-caused global warming are happening now, are irreversible on the timescale of people alive today, and will worsen throughout decades.
Its potential future effects include more frequent wildfires, more extended periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.
The United Nations list down the significant effects of climate change that are now happening around the world:
- Hotter temperatures. Nearly all land areas are seeing more hot days and heatwaves. The year 2020 is one of the hottest days on record, increasing heat-related illnesses.
- More severe storms. Temperature changes cause shifts in rainfall patterns, resulting in more severe and frequent hurricanes.
- Increased drought. Deserts are expanding, reducing land for growing food. Water is becoming scarcer in many regions.
- Warming and rising ocean. The ocean soaks most of the heat from global warming, causing it to expand (thermal expansion). Melting ice sheets and glaciers adds to the rising sea levels threatening coastal and island communities. The ocean also absorbs carbon dioxide preventing it from going into the atmosphere but increases in its CO2 uptake results in ocean acidification which endanger many ocean species.
- Loss of species. Forest fires, extreme weather, invasive pests and diseases threaten species’ survival and force some to relocate to survive.
- Food scarcity. Extreme weather events – floods, droughts, typhoons, hurricanes, and forest fires- are behind a global rise in hunger and poor nutrition, damaging both land and water-based crops.
- More health risks. Increasing climate-related illnesses make it hard for the health care system to keep up. Warmer temperatures and wetter weather are expanding vector-borne diseases such as malaria.
- Poverty and displacement. Droughts, floods, and typhoons can affect people’s livelihood, especially those dependent on agriculture for a living. Weather-related disasters displace 23 million people a year, mostly from poor and developing countries.
We can limit the impacts of climate change by addressing the root cause of the problem – greenhouse gas emissions. The latest IPCC report calls for “immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors” to limit global warming to 1.5°C to avoid the catastrophic outcomes of climate change.
The IPCC has clarified that everything will need to change: energy, buildings, transport, food, and industry. It’s also the first time that the IPCC report dedicated a chapter on “demand management,” reducing our consumption and demand for energy-intensive goods.
“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla. Adding that “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing”IPCC AR6 WGIII Press Release
Dietary changes like eating less meat and dairy are needed, particularly in wealthy countries that could still enjoy comfortable and even luxurious lifestyles while reducing their environmental impact.
According to The Guardian, they are a small minority in terms of population – just 10% of the planet, yet they emit between 34% to 45% of the global carbon emissions.
Greenpeace says that we need to pressure governments and businesses to do the following ways to stop climate change: Keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in renewable energy, switch to sustainable transport, help us keep our homes warm, improve farming and encourage vegan diets, restore nature to absorb more carbon, protect forests like the Amazon, protect the oceans, reduce how much people consume, and reduce plastic.
Aside from putting pressure on governments and businesses to take action on the climate crisis, the article suggests how we as individuals can contribute by making better choices regarding where we get our energy, travel, and food choices.
While we can take steps to reduce our emissions, the truth is that we cannot eliminate all emissions. According to the IPCC report, achieving the 1.5°C limits will require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030. Methane would also need to be slashed by about a third.
However, the summary for policymakers from the same report also revealed a sobering analysis. Based on current national climate plans, global warming is projected to reach around 3.2°C by the end of the century.
A respected and independent climate analysis coalition Climate Action Tracker (CAT), also gave their take on global temperature increases. Their assessment shows that we are heading to a 2.4°C degree warming based on countries’ short-term goals for the next decade.
Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, one of the organisations behind CAT, told the Guardian: “We are concerned that some countries are trying to portray (during the Cop26) the 1.5C limit is nearly in the bag. But it’s not, it’s very far from it, and they are downplaying the need to get short-term targets for 2030 in line with 1.5C”.
The IPCC AR 6 Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, released in February 2022, assesses the impacts, adaptation and vulnerabilities linked t climate change.
The report says that human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks.
It provides options to adapt to climate change, recognises the interdependence of climate, biodiversity, and people, and integrates natural, social, and economic sciences into climate adaptation.
The report shows that climate adaption will involve the following:
- Safeguarding and strengthening nature for a sustainable future.
- Cities with their high population and concentration of infrastructure and services are highly vulnerable and have the highest potential to adapt.
- The report also promotes the Climate Resilient Development approach and provides regional information to enable it.
Climate Resilient Development “means reducing exposure and vulnerability to climate hazards, cutting back greenhouse gas emissions and conserving biodiversity are given the highest priorities in everyday decision-making and policies on all aspects of society, including energy, industry, health, water, and food, urban development, housing and transport. It is about successfully navigating the complex interactions between these systems so that action in one area does not have adverse effects elsewhere and opportunities are harnessed to accelerate progress towards a safer, fairer world”.
INSET IMAGE CREDIT: Google Earth