Some Thoughts on Climate Change

The issue of climate change seems to have shot up the political agenda in recent years and nowadays everyone seems to be talking about the environment. With so many news stories flying around it can be difficult to get to the heart of the matter and find out the basic facts about climate change. Most of us are aware that extreme weather events have been on the increase in the last decade; the tragic consequences of the south Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina a year later made it all too clear that the world`s climate is indeed changing.

Of course throughout history our planet has gone through periods of climate change, so what makes this modern period different? Despite some debate over the finer details, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the current rises in global temperatures can largely be attributed to human activity. The carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, increases the concentration of `greenhouse gases` (GHGs) in the atmosphere. When heat from the sun enters the atmosphere, some of these rays bounce back out and prevent the planet from getting too hot. However, with more greenhouse gases, the sun`s heat is prevented from leaving the atmosphere and instead causes warming.

One of the difficulties in rallying public opinion and working together to deal with the future consequences of climate change is that the precise nature of these consequences is not known. However, when dealing with potentially catastrophic scenarios, it makes sense to take preventative measures as soon as possible, even when precise details are uncertain. Scientists agree that the likely effects in coming decades will include more droughts and floods, water shortages, increases in tropical diseases and sea level rises. Unfortunately, it is the world`s poorest people that are likely to bear the brunt of the consequences, as well as being least able to deal with them.

So what can we do about it? With the consequences largely dependent on how high we allow concentrations of GHGs to get, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other dangerous gases is a priority. Switching to renewable energy and conserving the energy we do use, for example by switching lights out when not in use and not leaving electrical equipment on standby, will reduce the amount of fossil fuels burnt. Petrol and diesel from transport also contributes heavily to GHGs so reducing use of cars as well as buying more locally produced foods can significantly cut down on transport emissions.

From arctic to tropical regions, plants and animals are adapted to living in the conditions they find themselves in. Conserving the delicate balance of the planet`s ecosystems is important as even tiny changes can lead to massive disruption and large-scale extinction. As changing climate affects food availability and breeding sites, many species will simply be unable to survive, thereby upsetting the delicate balance of the food chain. We do not know exactly how the planet will look fifty or a hundred years from now, however if everyone stands by and does nothing, it is possible that many of the simple pleasures we currently take for granted, such as walking in the forest, swimming in a lake or sending flowers to friends, may simply no longer be possible.

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