So, we get that climate change is happening, but exactly how are humans causing it? We explain how our society is contributing to global heating and more importantly, share the actions you can take to make a difference.
Put simply, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. And we know that by burning fossil fuels we release huge amounts of carbon pollution, trapping more and more heat in the atmosphere. And although we use fossil fuels through many of our daily activities some simple changes in our behaviour can shift our personal emissions and make a difference.
Is the climate really changing?
97% of climate scientists agree that human activities have caused Earth’s average temperature to increase by almost 1-degree Celsius since 1850. But it’s not just the temperature that’s changed. The world around us is changing too.
Our oceans are more acidic and we’re seeing more extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts, heatwaves and wildfires. Not to mention glaciers and sea ice is melting. This is a result of warming that is happening at a faster rate than ever before.
The greenhouse effect
Naturally occurring greenhouse gases are part of the atmosphere that makes life on our planet possible. Without these gases our planet would be a frozen, lifeless rock like the moon. Sunlight passes through the atmosphere and heats Earth’s surface, and some of that heat is ‘trapped’ by greenhouse gases. This is the greenhouse effect – it’s like a ‘blanket’ that keeps Earth warm.
We need to maintain this delicate balance of greenhouse gases to keep our planet healthy and life thriving.
When humans burn fossil fuels, we add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, causing more heat to be trapped. This is what causes global warming.
It was in the Industrial Revolution that humans really began harnessing fossil fuels on a massive scale. And since, global temperatures have steadily increased.
There’s a strong correlation between carbon dioxide and increasing temperatures. And right now we’re adding more carbon dioxide than our world can absorb.
Our love for meat
Intensive animal farming is also one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gases. It’s estimated that each year, global livestock creates 14.5% of all anthropogenic (human-created) greenhouse gas emissions including methane. Beef and dairy cattle are the worst offenders and produce 61% of the livestock industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is largely due to the way cows digest their food, which results in them burping methane.
The intensive farming of animals requires a lot of land. About one-third of the world’s cropland is used for producing livestock like cows, sheep, pigs and chickens. As well as being used for animal pasture, much of the world’s croplands are growing animal feed. It’s estimated that it takes 25 kilograms of animal feed to produce just one kilogram of beef.
In places like the Amazon forest, about 7.3 million hectares of land are cleared each year with more than 60% of that land used to graze cattle. This creates a vicious cycle for the environment.
Tropical rainforests like the Amazon act as carbon sinks because they play a critical role in removing carbon from the atmosphere. But if rainforests are cleared for agriculture they can no longer perform this crucial job. A 2017 study suggests that as rainforests become thinner they can even start releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
If humans are causing it, humans can change it
Simple daily actions can make a difference.
When we understand that our reliance on fossil fuels is a massive contributor to warming, it becomes clear that we need to switch to clean and reliable renewable energy, and stop activities that use fossil fuels, like driving and perhaps using our air conditioner less! We can also cut back on our meat consumption and even help protect our forests from deforestation.
These simple actions can help you live a 1.5-degree life.