Climate Change: understanding the crisis

The problem with climate change is it’s something we’re all scared of. And when we’re scared of things, we tend to avoid them, me included. So, I’ve decided to educate myself a bit more. Here’s my questions and answers in the search for facts.

What’s the actual problem and where’s the evidence?

Back when I was in school, people were referring to it as climate change. Now, they’re talking about the climate crisis because it’s become that serious.

Temperatures rising

Basically, the way we’re living now is causing temperatures to rise globally. The Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by almost 1 degree Celsius in the last 35 years. And the oceans are absorbing a lot of this heat, meaning they are getting warmer. The video below shows the increase in the Earth’s surface temperature from 1880 to 2018.

Ice melting

Our ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting. In fact, Greenland is losing around 286 billion tons of ice per year, and Antarctica is losing 127 billion tons of ice per year, which is triple the amount it was losing 10 years ago.

Sea levels rising

In the last 20 years global sea levels have risen at double the rate than they were rising in the past 100 years. And the rate is accelerating every year.

Oceans becoming more acidic

We humans have been releasing a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is also getting into our oceans and increasing their acidity levels. In fact, the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the sea is increasing by 2 billion tonnes per year.

Here’s one video I watched about the emergency we’re facing:

Important ecosystems and plant and animal life going extinct

According to the UN Report nature is decreasing globally at rates never seen before in human history. Whether we realize it or not, us humans depend on these ecosystems to survive. As we’re destroying them, we’re actually destroying ourselves.

Right now, around one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. And we need them to keep existing so that we can too.

What’s the cause?

The gases we’re releasing into the atmosphere trap in the Earth’s heat and stop it from escaping into space. Here’s a breakdown of those gases:

Carbon Dioxide

We’ve all heard about it. We breath it out. But we also increase the levels of carbon dioxide when we clear forests and burn fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum. This is the biggest and most long lasting impact on climate change that we’ve made so far.

Methane

You’ll probably have heard of this one because of cow farts. Yep, it’s true. But it’s generally more from their burps. So how much damage can a gassy cow actually do, you ask? Well, one cow can produce 200kg of methane in a year! This is why climate change activists are staying away from beef and dairy. It’s not to save the cows, it’s to reduce the impact of this industry on our planet.

Methane is actually a worse gas for heating the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but currently there’s a lot less of it around. It is also produced by decomposing waste in landfills and through cultivating rice. And if the permafrost (permanently frozen ground) melts, we’ll have a lot more methane in the atmosphere.

Nitrous oxide

This one comes from the use of fertilizers and burning fossil fuels.

Water vapor

This gas is the one that’s most common in the atmosphere, and it increases as the Earth gets warmer. Unlike the other gases, it does react to the change in temperature, which results in a feedback loop. As the Earth gets hotter, the water vapor increases, which clogs up the atmosphere, which makes the earth even hotter, which creates more water vapor, and so it goes on.

Plastic

While plastic isn’t a gas, it’s too big of a problem not to include in this list of causes. The process of making plastic creates a lot bad gases, such as carbon dioxide. And the process of getting rid of plastic (burning it) does the same.

And when we don’t get rid of plastic, it tends to be lying around on the surface of the earth or in our oceans where it destroys more plant and animal life and stops our earth from absorbing the bad gases from the atmosphere.

What about recycling, you ask? 91% of plastic produced IS NOT recycled. 12% is incinerated. And the other 79% of all plastic produced is currently lying around on the Earth, either in landfill or litter, a lot of which ends up in the ocean. And the worst part? It takes 400 years to break down. So, unless we do something about it, future generations are going to be living in a world that has more plastic than fish in the sea.

Why should I care?

In short, because we are currently at a tipping point with our climate. It’s an emergency. If we don’t change it now, the effects will be irreversible – the result: the crazy hard struggle for survival in a climate that isn’t kind to humans. So, if we care about our future, and our children’s future, then climate change is important.

If we don’t do something now, we’re not looking at mass extinction in 2100, we’re looking at life becoming a lot harder for specific groups of people by 2030.

This is what Lil Dicky has to say about why we should care about nature.

Here’s a few things that will happen if we pass the tipping point that we’re currently facing: extreme weather events, oceans will become dead zones, possible eventual mass extinction due to increased heat and lack of oxygen. And if you want to hear it from someone other than me, listen to this guy:

This is what will happen if we pass the tipping point.

So let’s talk about tipping points…

What is a tipping point, you ask? Well, imagine a cup of water, or grab one and do it yourself. Tilt the cup slightly to either side and the water will still stay in. Now, let the cup tip until it falls over.

What happened when the cup tipped? The water spilled out everywhere. Okay, now that that’s done, let’s reverse it. See how much water you can collect back into your cup. Can you undo what you just did when you tipped the cup over? Can you restore the water back to the way it was in the cup?

Chances are, you can’t. This is the point we’re at now. If we change something today, we will allow the Earth to get to a point where there’s so much damage done that it cannot be undone. Once the Earth gets to a certain temperature, there is no way for us to cool it down. Instead, it will just keep getting hotter and hotter every year.

Positive feedback loops

What we’ve just been talking about with tipping points is where we fall into a positive feedback loop of climate change – and it isn’t a good thing. The word positive here means that each thing causes the next thing to increase, and the loop keeps continuing unless something breaks it – in the case of heating the Earth, this is a bad thing for us and the environment.

Example of a positive feedback loop from Job One For Humanity
This video outlines feedback loops

Basically, as we cause more and more animal and plant species to go extinct, we lose the ability to deal with the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which means the Earth will heat up at an even faster rate. And we won’t be able to do anything about it because we’ve killed off the things we need to disrupt the loop and reverse the effects.

This video provides a more detailed explanation of positive feedback loops

What are the tipping points?

Snapshot of the tipping points from Job One For Humanity

I’m going to dot point them below, and if you want to read more, click here.

  • Water vapor increasing – Making the atmosphere warmer and causing the Earth to heat up even faster (a positive feedback loop). We can’t survive in air that is too humid and hot, which is what will happen if we continue this way.
  • Ice melting – Another positive feedback loop resulting in the oceans getting warmer at a faster and faster rate
  • The albedo effect – We actually need the polar ice caps to reflect away the sun’s heat (called the albedo effect). As the ice melts, the Earth’s surface gets darker and therefore absorbs more heat from the sun instead of reflecting it away. This causes another positive feedback loop of ice melting, less areas for reflecting the heat, and therefore, more heat.
  • The permafrost – The permafrost releases methane as it melts, which will be a critical tipping point because methane is the worst of the gases when it coems to heating the atmosphere. It also remains in the atmosphere for decades before decaying. The permafrost is already melting. We need to stop this.
  • The potential for a global pandemic – Not even being dramatic. The ancient ice glaciers house still living bacteria and viruses that we haven’t encountered and that we don’t have treatments for. If the permafrost melts and these are released, we probably won’t have time to develop a vaccine in time when we’re faced with so many different viruses.
  • Plankton dying – Sea plankton eat carbon and produce oxygen, which we need to balance the planet. They are dying due to the warming and acidification of the oceans. These plankton are critical to our future because they produce between 50-80% of the Earth’s oxygen. We need this to breathe.
  • Deep ocean heating – This can quickly increase the surface temperature of the earth, as the hot water rises again and releases its heat into the atmosphere.
  • Loss of forests – The forests are our main way of getting rid of carbon dioxide. They’re dying due to rising temperature, drought, fires, and us clearing them. As we lose more of the forests, we lose the ability to clear the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which leaves us with an atmosphere and rising temperatures that we can’t control.
  • The soil releasing carbon dioxide instead of absorbing it Heat causes soil to release carbon dioxide, which again triggers an escalation in rising temperature. If we don’t cool down the atmosphere, even the soil itself will start working against us.
  • Earthquakes and volcanoes – The changing weight on the tectonic plates due to ice melting can actually cause them to move. The movement causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Worst case, we eventually see a volcanic winter – where the eruptions block off the sun for years and kill off most of the human population.

And the big problem is that crossed tipping points create more tipping points too! This will then result in an acceleration of global warming and create chain reactions of positive feedback loops that spiral way out of our control.

What is the world doing about it?

The Paris Agreement

In November 2016, all countries agreed to work together to keep the global rise in temperature this century below 2 degrees Celcius. At the time of writing in 2019, there are barely any countries who have not signed the Paris Agreement, but what they’re actually doing to tackle climate change is a different story.

In fact, if you watch the final 2 minutes of Greta Thunberg’s speech, she makes a great point. I encourage you to watch her whole talk if you have the time.

Today, we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So, we can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change. And it has to start today.

Who is actually speaking up about this issue?

This amazing young girl with Asperger’s named Greta Thunberg is inspiring people worldwide to protest for climate change. She started by protesting on her own and now has a global movement. Visit her Twitter or Facebook, or just type her name into YouTube to see more of what she’s doing.

Here is a snapshot of Greta’s actions

Obviously Lil Dicky is speaking up, with his collaborative song We Love The Earth. A lot of celebs got together on this one.

Leonardo DiCaprio is doing and saying a lot on the climate crisis. “Now must be our moment for action This is not a partisan debate, it is a human one … Solving this crisis is not a question of politics. It is a question of our own survival.”

Even Prince Harry had some things to say recently. “It’s an emergency, a race against time, and one which we are losingI think the most troubling part of it is that I don’t believe that there’s anybody in this world that can deny science, undeniable science and facts. Science and facts that have been around for the last 30, maybe 40 years. And it’s only getting stronger and stronger.”

A girl named Lari (otherwise known as me) wrote a slow long-winded spoken word poem about the wonderful colors of our earth and what we stand to lose.

What can I do?

Since this post is long enough, I’ve written a separate post on things we can do as an individual to make a big impact. For now, here’s a video that nicely sums up everything I’ve written here and gives some tips about what we can do.

Some Resources

Watch and share Lil Dicky’s song We Love The Earth to raise awareness.

Visit welovetheearth.org to learn more about climate change – watch a few of the 2 minute videos to learn about what we can do.

NASA has some great information on their site.

Check out Job One For Humanity for some very detailed information on climate change.

The Environmental Defense Fund has a really easy to read website on these issues.

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