What is Climate Change?
Climate change has become one of the key global issues affecting all walks of life, in all regions of the planet. But what is climate change, and what are the main causes? Throughout this site we examine what climate change is, and the factors that have caused the global climate to shift over the past 200 years.
What Is Climate Change?Weather and climate shapes the physical make-up of the earth - and this shapes how and where humans live in the planet. It's normal for the climate to be in a perpetual cycle of change. Changes in the atmosphere naturally occur, creating new weather systems and climates, which develop over time, from the ice age to sub-Saharan climates.
So whilst climate change as a concept is unsurprising when taking into consideration the history of the planet, the modern phrase of 'climate change' refers to something quite different - namely human intervention creating accelerated changes to the planet's climate.
Human activity over the past 200 years - in particular the burning of fossil fuels - has changed the make-up of the earth's atmosphere at a much faster pace than would naturally occur. This is one of the greatest concerns facing the world over the next 200 years.
The Greenhouse EffectClosely linked to the concept of climate is the greenhouse effect, the name given to the phenomenon of man made 'greenhouse gases' creating an imbalance in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are naturally occurring gases that inadvertently manage the temperature of the earth by absorbing heat from the sun. The greater the concentration of greenhouse gases within the atmosphere, the hotter the temperature gets, in the same way a greenhouse heats up inside.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the level of CO2 - one of the principle greenhouse gases - in the atmosphere has increased by 30%, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which give off a cocktail of gases including CO2. The rate of burning fossil fuels has closely correlated with a gradual increase in global temperatures. Even a tiny increase in overall temperatures can have a massive effect on the climate.
DeforestationThe effect of having more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is worsened by the mass deforestation and tree felling, particularly in the rainforests, that has accompanied industrialisation. According to the UN, increased pressure for land and fuel means that 60 acres of tropical forest are felled every minute, and the detrimental impact this has on the planet's climate is twofold.
Not only do trees naturally absorb CO2, reducing the amount that would otherwise reach the atmosphere, but the burning of trees, which creates CO2 and other greenhouse gases, accounts for around 20% of all man-made emissions, second only to the burning of fossil fuels.
Living With Climate ChangeThe effects of climate change are already being felt in many areas of the world. A rise in temperature in the Polar Region is causing widespread melting of the ice caps, deserts are expanding through previously fertile lands, interior waterholes are drying up, and sea levels are rising. Closer to home, the UK has experienced some of the hottest years since records began, along with more extreme weather conditions including flooding and storms.
Scientists agree that much of the damage created by the human actions of the past 200 years is irreparable - so the future of the planet going forward is uncertain. However, by adopting positive changes to our lifestyles that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the future effects of climate change can be combated.