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Tackling Climate Change: The Urgent Facts and Ways to Make a Real Difference

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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.  

What? That seems like an insignificant increase. Surely there’s nothing to worry about. However, having warmed just one degree Celsius, the Earth is already battling more frequent and intense wildfires, droughts, and superstorms rendered more powerful by the rising sea. Winters are warmer and summers are dryer. The University of Cambridge has also recently found that the effects of climate change are causing plants in the UK to flower one month earlier. While seeing the first blossoms of spring is always lovely, earlier flowering can have dire consequences for the UK’s ecosystems and agriculture. For example, a late frost can kill fruit trees that bloom early and species that synchronise their migration or hibernation with flowers and plants may be lost if they cannot adapt quickly enough. The International Union for Conservation of Nature states that 10,967 species are currently affected by climate change and the likelihood of their extinction is increasing.

As the planet gets warmer, the loss of sea ice depletes polar bears’ primary food source, seals, which need the ice to raise their young. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Although it may seem as if only animals and plants are being affected so far by the crisis, humanity is hardly an exception. In fact, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre revealed that in 2020, weather-related disasters displaced 31 million people, leaving many more vulnerable to poverty. Furthermore, the United States has already legally used the term ‘climate refugees’ in reference to the people of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana who have lost their homes to the rising sea

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. 

The University of York also offers many opportunities to join and meet like-minded people who care about our planet. If you want to shop more sustainably, visit Scoop, a student-run shop providing organic, local, and exploitation-free produce at affordable prices. You can also join the Swap Shop group on Facebook, where members post unwanted items that can be swapped or sold to other students. The university’s Carbon Reduction Challenge also provides a free interactive app called Giki Zero, with a step-by-step guide to a lighter footprint on the planet. There are also plenty of green student societies to join including: Environment and Ethics, Envirosoc, University of York Green Party, Vegetarian and Vegan Society, and People and Planet. 

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.