Tackling Climate Change: The Urgent Facts and Ways to Make a Real Difference
We have heard about climate change so many times that it became a phrase that might as well pass many of us without any effect. Yet when I realised that by 2030, the whole world must reduce its carbon footprint by around 50% to ease the impacts of climate change, I panicked. We now have less than eight years to drastically change our lifestyles, from our eating habits to the energy sources and modes of transportation we so heavily rely on. The proverb says ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, but if our lives depend on it, will we at least try?
Climate change is the long-term shift in temperatures and weather patterns, which may be caused by natural variations in the sun’s energy output. Thus, some people might argue that climate change is normal and that the rest of us should stop worrying. However, ‘normal’ global climate change occurs extremely slowly, over thousands or millions of years. Since the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, human activities have dramatically hastened this process, primarily due to burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, which produce heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. This causes global temperatures to rise, resulting in long-term changes in the climate. For instance, in the UK, winters are predicted to become warmer and wetter, while summers are projected to become hotter and drier. So far, the temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius.
While we cannot stop climate change overnight, we can slow its progression by stabilising the temperature rise. The Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by 196 countries, has set the goal of limiting global warming to well below two, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, these countries must reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
For this to be possible, our society needs to change. We need to stop using fossil fuels and reform our agricultural practices, another leading source of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cows and sheep emit methane, and fertilisers create nitrous oxide, both many times more potent than carbon dioxide. Did you know that a meat lover has a carbon footprint of 3.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, while a vegan diet has a carbon footprint of just 1.5 tons CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent)? If society moves towards a plant-dominant diet, it will become a vital part of the fight against the climate crisis. Furthermore, the world needs a massive reforestation programme as the planting of trees will help capture carbon dioxide. Much more needs to be done, but energy, transportation, and agriculture are the top polluters.
Whilst it may seem as if a single person alone cannot influence these areas, each individual can make a difference. Firstly, you can raise your voice and spread awareness about climate change or demand your local authorities to act. Secondly, switching to a green energy supplier (or being careful with your energy consumption) decreases your carbon footprint and increases demand for more sustainable energy. Thirdly, you can choose to walk to the shops, instead of taking the car. Lastly, you can change your diet, eat less meat, convince others, and thus decrease the demand for carbon-intensive food products.
Surrounding yourself with a community of people trying to reach the same goal will help make progress with our society’s drastic, but urgently needed, changes. Let’s think of climate change as a challenge to create a much better world.