The need to take a stand for the environment has never been so important, nor so urgent.
Human kind is on the brink of disaster, and we’ve brought it on ourselves, due to climate change.
That’s according to Sir David Attenborough when he spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland, in December 2018.
“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon,” he says.
What is climate change?
The terms ‘climate change’ and ‘greenhouse effect’ have been bandied about for some time now, but what do they mean exactly?
Over time, Earth’s climate has constantly changed. Today, the average global temperature is around 15°C, however geological evidence shows that in the past, it has been a lot higher and lower.
Currently, we are going through a period of warming which is occurring much quicker than many past global warming events. Scientists believe that this is due to rapid human-induced warming that has serious implications for the stability of our planet’s climate.
Most of the atmosphere (99.93%) is made up of nitrogen, oxygen and argon. However, the remaining 0.7% which is made up of water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, has a greater impact on the greenhouse effect.
The greenhouse effect is actually a natural and necessary phenomenon that allows life on our planet to exist. The Earth’s atmosphere traps some of the sun’s energy. This solar energy radiates back out to space from the surface of the planet, where it is absorbed by the atmospheric greenhouse gases, and re-emitted in all directions. Without this process, the average temperature of the Earth would be -18°C, meaning life would be impossible. Wow!
There is now evidence that we are adding to this natural effect by producing gases (also known as emissions) as a result of our industry and agriculture. These gases trap more energy and therefore increase the temperature on Earth. It’s this process that is known as global warming or climate change.
Why is it bad?
There are three main reasons for the increase in greenhouse gases:
- Burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas
- Deforestation and destruction of marine ecosystems that absorb carbon dioxide
- An increasing population that is consuming natural resources at a rapid rate
We’ve already established that the natural greenhouse effect is necessary. However, when we increase the concentration of these greenhouse gases, we directly contribute to global warming and the consequences this has for life on Earth.
Global warming causes melting of ice caps, which in turn causes rising sea levels and flooding. Some low-lying islands may disappear and along with them, homes and habitats. Warming also causes drought, desertification, famine, fires and storms. As much as 90% of coral reefs could disappear along with the extinction of species. Say what?!
Why 1.5°C is the magic number
Currently, the planet is around 1°C warmer than it was 160 years ago. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s having a big effect on the world around us. Scientists believe that if we can keep global temperatures from rising no more than 0.5°C by the end of this century, the effects of this warming will be limited. However, as far as reversing the damage, it’s already too late for that.
This table, based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into global warming shows the difference between global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C.
|Extreme heat – global population exposed to severe heat at least once every 5 years||14%||37%||2.6 x worse|
|Sea-ice-free-Arctic – number of ice-free summers||At least 1 every 100 years||At least 1 every 10 years||10 x worse|
|Sea level rise – amount of sea level rise by 2100||0.40 metres||0.46 metres||0.6m more|
|Species lose: vertebrates – vertebrates that lose at least half their range||4%||8%||2 x worse|
|Species loss: plants – plants that lose at least half their range||8%||16%||2 x worse|
|Species loss: insects – insects that lose at least half their range||6%||18%||3 x worse|
|Ecosystems – amount of Earth’s land area where ecosystems will shift to a new biome||7%||13%||1.86 x worse|
|Permafrost – amount of Arctic permafrost that will thaw||4.8 million km2||6.6 million km2||38% worse|
|Crop yields – reduction in maize harvests in tropics||3%||7%||2.3 x worse|
|Coral reefs – further decline in coral reefs||70-90%||99%||Up to 29% worse|
|Fisheries – decline in marine fisheries||1.5 million tonnes||3 million tonnes||2 x worse|
Remember, the data on the left column is our best-case scenario. Gulp!
What can we do?
Urgent action is required to keep global warming to just 1.5°C. Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed countries to the impact of climate change but is contributing little to the solutions. Data shows that if other countries followed our approach to dealing with climate change, we would be heading to a global warming well above 2°C and as high as 3°C. This degree of change would be unmanageable for most communities.
The good news (if there is any) is that limiting climate change to 1.5°C while formidable, is possible. However, it requires rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, and industrial systems in just one to two decades.
We don’t have to sit back and wait for governments and scientists to do all the work. Collectively, we have the power to change our future and keep climate change to a minimum.
We can make an impact when we reduce, reuse, recycle
One of the easiest ways to do this is to make simple changes to the way you live and you can easily do this when you:
- Reduce — reduce the number of things you buy, the amount that you throw away and the amount of resources you use.
- Reuse — finding new ways of using things or ‘rubbish’ so we don’t have to throw it away.
- Recycle — ensuring that your rubbish can be recycled to make new items.
Here are some small things that you can do, that will have a big impact on a global scale
Around 20 million tonnes of rubbish makes its way into landfill each year in Australia. Landfills release large amounts of methane which contribute to climate change. You can:
- Reduce the amount of things you buy (e.g. clothing, electronic devices, food and other household items) to automatically reduce the amount of rubbish heading to landfill.
- Cut your household emissions by 10% by using energy-saving lightbulbs.
- Reduce your energy usage by 50% when you buy energy-efficient whitegoods.
- Switch to solar hot water and solar electricity, or change to a renewable energy plan.
- Reduce your energy usage by unplugging appliances when you’re not using them, and switching off lights.
- Reduce the amount of food waste each year by planning your meals.
- Buy local, sustainable produce to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Choose loose produce over pre-packaged.
- Reduce the amount of water you use by having shorter showers and turning off the tap when you brush your teeth.
- Wash your clothes in cold water.
- Hang your washing on the line instead of using a dryer.
- Reduce your carbon emissions by walking, cycling or taking public transport instead of your car, where possible.
By reusing items as much as possible, we can make a great impact on the environment. This can also extend to donating items to charity, to give them a second-life. You can:
- Stop buying plastic drink bottles and use a refillable one.
- Switch to a re-usable coffee cup, instead of relying on takeaway cups.
- Use re-usable shopping bags, even in the stores that still offer plastic bags.
- Donate old furniture, clothing and appliances to charitable organisations instead of throwing them away.
- Upcycle your mobile phones, as over 90% of the plastics and metals in mobile phones and batteries can be reused in new products.
- Avoid using disposable wipes for cleaning and use an environmental cloth instead.
- Start a compost bin and turn your scraps into fertilizer for your garden.
- Donate old clean jars, toilet rolls and empty boxes to your local kindergarten’s craft supplies.
- Use old t-shirts or towels as rags or packing cloths.
- Use egg cartons to start seedlings.
- Use the blank side of used paper as scrap paper or for taking notes.
It’s not always possible to reuse all items, so make sure you recycle them responsibly. Putting the wrong things in the wrong bin can cause a host of problems once your recycling is collected. Because this varies from council to council, check what you can and can’t put in your recycling bin. You can:
- Recycle paper and cardboard to reduce waste and save trees.
- Avoid throwing non-recyclable packaging into your recycling bin. Instead check with your local council where you can drop them off.
- Don’t put recyclables in plastic bags.
- Take batteries to designated recycling stations instead of putting them in landfill.
- Ensure you recycle household whitegoods appropriately.
- Never put toxic chemicals or paint in your bin. Drop them off at designated recycling centres.
- Avoid placing soft plastic packaging in your recycling bin. Drop them off at recycling bins at your supermarket.
- Ensure that all traces of solid food are scraped out of tins, jars and other packaging such as pizza boxes.
- Choose to purchase products that are made from recycled products, where possible. PlanetArk has a great recycled products directory.
Taking action to protect our planet has never been so important, so join us now and pledge that you’ll join the collective effort to save the environment and reduce the effects of climate change.