By Emily Buckley
“Science has made enormous inroads in understanding climate change and its causes.There are still some uncertainties, and there always will be in understanding a complex system like Earth’s climate. Nevertheless, there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities.” – Advancing the Science of Climate Change, United States National Research Council (2010).
Climate change, i.e. the significant and ongoing change to the weather patterns and temperatures on our planet over long periods of time, is a very real event. The fact that climate change is happening is not in dispute – scientific research has proven that since the beginning of the 20th century global sea levels and temperatures have risen, the oceans have warmed, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased, glaciers have retreated, and extreme weather events continue to increase in regularity.
What is a hotly debated matter is the causes for climate change. Some argue that it is simply a result of the planet’s natural processes, pointing to the fact that Earth’s climate has fluctuated since the beginning of time, that in just the past 650,000 years it has seen seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat.
However, the warming of our planet over the past 100 years is different in that it is increasing at a faster rate than it has for the past 1,300 years, as documented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC).
The report states that “it is incredibly unlikely that the global pattern of warming during the past half century can be explained without external forcing” and that natural causes cannot alone explain the increased rate of warming. The general scientific consensus is that human influences are having a huge impact on the climate and that we therefore must change the habits of a century.
The largest man-made contributor to climate change is the significant increase in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide emissions, caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. The IPCC report found that climate models forced by natural factors alone do not reproduce the global temperature changes seen over the past century, whereas those forced by natural factors as well as greenhouse gases do.
So why does climate change matter and how will it affect us? Across the globe its impacts are already being felt, from severe flooding caused by increased and unpredictable rainfall and melting mountain glaciers, to temperature increases resulting in draughts and deadly heatwaves. In the future whole nations may disappear due to rising sea levels and communities are already being ravaged by unprecedented typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes.
The answer to slowing the seemingly unstoppable change in climate is to turn towards greener, energy-saving and energy-efficient technologies such as solar energy. A decrease in the burning of fossil fuels will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases polluting the atmosphere – an entirely necessary step towards a more stable planet and a safer, more sustainable future.
Journalist and copywriter Emily Buckley is a staunch believer in the need for a global move towards cleaner, greener, renewable energy sources to ensure our planet remains a safe, healthy and happy place to live for future generations.