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Climate Change: Human Impact on the Environment

by | Jul 3, 2022 | Climate Change

As climate change worsens, the world continues to look for effective and quick solutions to mitigate it. However, current global efforts are not enough as countries continue to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases and fail to deliver their promises and pledges. Human activities are clearly the leading cause of climate change and global warming. Humans release around 70 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere daily.

Climate Change: Annual CO2 Emission

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What is Climate?

Most people use the terms climate and weather synonymously. However, they do not mean the same thing and have completely different meanings. To understand climate change, it is essential first to understand what climate is.

Weather is what you see outside on any day. It can change from minute to minute, day to day, season to season, etc. For instance, it may be 70 degrees and sunny, or it could be 21 degrees with snow. That is the weather.

Climate is the average weather. For instance, you can expect it to be hot in the Southeast during June or cold in the Northeast during January. Climate records include extreme values like record high temperatures or record heavy rainfall. When reports say “we hit a record high today,” they talk about climate records.

A simple way to understand the difference is: Weather is what you get, and climate is what you expect.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change is the long-term shifts in weather patterns and temperatures. These long-term shifts can occur naturally through variations in the solar cycle. It can also occur due to human activities- the main cause of climate change is the various activities of humans since the 1800s.

Activities such as fossil fuel burning like oil, coal, and natural gas are the main drivers of climate change. Burning fossil fuels produces greenhouse gas emissions that get trapped in the atmosphere and cover the earth like a blanket, trapping the sun’s heat and resulting in warmer temperatures.

Causes of Climate Change

  • Power Generation: Producing heat and electricity by burning fossil fuels cause a large amount of global greenhouse gas emissions. Most electricity worldwide is still generated by burning oil, gas, and coal. It releases nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Manufacturing of Goods: Industries and manufacturing generate emissions by burning fossil fuels and using energy to produce goods. The Construction industry, mining, and more also release greenhouse gases.
  • Transportation: Most vehicles run on fossil fuels making transportation a significant emitter of greenhouse gases. Vehicles on the road release more emissions compared to ships and planes. Transportation accounts for one-quarter of energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions worldwide.
  • Food Production: Food production is one of the major contributors to climate change as producing food releases emissions through the clearing of land, deforestation, use of pesticides and fertilizers, and use of energy.
  • Energy for Buildings: Commercial and residential buildings consume more than half of all electricity. They emit large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions as they continue to burn coal, oil, and gas for cooling and heating purposes.

Effects of Climate Change

Figure 8.1, Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health - Injury Prevention and Environmental Health - NCBI Bookshelf

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  • Warm Temperatures: As greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current pace of increase, global temperatures will also continue to rise. 2011 to 2022 was the warmest decade on record. Regions will likely experience frequent and intense heatwaves, which can even cause deadly wildfires.
  • Brutal Storms: Storms have also become frequent and intense due to climate change. As global temperatures rise, moisture evaporates, aggravating flooding events and causing severe storms. The warming of the ocean also causes frequent and intense tropical storms.
  • Severe Droughts: Climate change is affecting water resources, making it scarcer in regions. Global warming aggravates water scarcity in areas already experiencing water shortages.
  • Sea Level Rise: Ice sheets are gradually melting as the world’s temperature increases, causing a rise in global sea levels. It will threaten coastal neighborhoods, cities, and communities.
  • Biodiversity Loss: Climate change threatens the lives of several species on land and in the ocean. The planet is losing species at 1,000 times greater than any other time in history.
  • Food Insecurity: Climate change is one of the primary reasons for global hunger and poor nutrition. As temperatures rise, crops, livestock, and fisheries may become less productive.
  • Health Risks: Climate change effects are currently harming the health of people all over the globe through air, water, and soil pollution, disease, poor nutrition, etc.
  • Displacement and Poverty: Environmental disasters will destroy homes, towns, communities, etc. Worse climate conditions will force people to leave their homes and move to better places. The number of environmental refugees will likely increase in the future.

Mitigation and Adaption

Climate change mitigation is the action taken to reduce and control the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted into the atmosphere. Mitigation measures mainly focus on the causes of climate change. Here are a few ways to mitigate climate change:

  1. Shift to clean and renewable energy
  2. Shift to energy efficiency appliances
  3. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
  4. Food transformation system (sustainable agriculture and food system)
  5. Carbon tax and emission markets
  6. Implementing efficient means of transport such as electric public transport, shared cars, bicycles, etc.
  7. Electrification of industrial processes

Climate change adaption mainly focuses on reducing the vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Several adaptation measures can help in reducing the vulnerability of climate change consequences. Here are a few adaptation measures to climate change:

  1. Use of natural and green infrastructure instead of conventional grey infrastructure.
  2. More secure infrastructures and facility locations
  3. Forests and landscape restoration
  4. Flexible cultivation in case of natural disasters
  5. Preventive measures like evacuation plans, health issues, etc.
  6. Research on future disasters, temperatures, weather patterns, etc.

Conclusion

The actions of humans today will decide the future of the entire planet and its species. We are the only generation that can do something about it before it’s too late. Urgent efforts are required today from the global community. How much longer till we see some effective change?

 

 

Author

  • The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.

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