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What is Climate Change?

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 10 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
Climate Change Weather Pollution Climate

‘Climate Change’ is a term which refers to the way that the temperature of the Earth is changing. It has become a topical issue due to the fact that changes are taking place far faster than for many thousands of years, with possibly drastic consequences.

How has the Climate Changed in Recent Years?

The temperature of the Earth is now on average 0.74 degrees warmer than it was about a hundred years ago. Sea level has also risen by approximately 10 centimetres.

How has the UK’s Climate Changed?

Over the last decade, winters have become milder and summers drier with average temperatures increasing by 0.7 degrees Celsius.

The Effects of Climate Change

If the climate continues to change, as it is expected to do, more severe weather patterns are predicted. It’s thought that floods, droughts, and hurricanes will become more common events with rising temperatures and sea levels.

What Causes Climate Change?

The exact causes of climate change are the subject of detailed debate but scientific bodies agree that the climate can be affected by both natural causes and human actions.

Natural causes of a change in climatic conditions include volcanic activity, the Earth’s orbit, and the way the atmosphere and the sea interact.

Human causes include such things as the cutting down of forests and the burning of fossil fuels which release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, provoking an exaggerated ‘greenhouse effect’.

The Greenhouse Effect

One way in which the temperature of the Earth has remained fairly constant, is due to a thin protective layer of gases which absorb heat from the sun, providing insulation for the Earth and preventing us from freezing. However a by-product of man’s actions is that an increasing amount of so-called ‘greenhouse gasses’, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are being released into the atmosphere, which artificially warm the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Gases include:

  • Hydroflurocarbons (HFCs)
  • Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Man-Made Greenhouse Gases

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading think tank on climate change, last year concluded that the measurable changes that have been seen in recent years are most probably down to man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Due to changes in land use, burning fossil fuels, using fertiliser and dumping our waste in landfill sites, we have caused more greenhouse gases to add to the Earth’s natural layer and thus affecting the climate.

For this reason, Government’s the world over are setting targets to reduce these emissions and so try to check the pace at which climate change is taking place.

Scientists differ in opinion as to whether temperatures can be reversed, but it is hoped that by putting policies in place now to curb the greenhouse effect, we can affect future changes.

The Ozone Layer

At the same time that the greenhouse effect is taking place, some of the fluorinated greenhouse gases also seem to be contributing to the depletion of the protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere – although recent research seems to show that rather than the pollution itself that is causing it, the reduction in ozone is actually a dangerous side effect of climate change.

The ozone layer provides protection against harmful ultraviolet light and its depletion makes our exposure to it dangerous.

What You Can Do To Help

Rather than sit back and wait for industry to be told to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, we all need to see this kind of pollution as everyone’s problem. The average household produces more CO2 each year than using a car and accounts for as much as 28% of the total emissions. A few simple changes could make all the difference to the planet and not much difference to your lifestyle so here are some suggestions of what you can do to help:

  • Compost your green waste instead of sending it to landfill with the rest of your household waste.
  • Re-use and re-cycle.
  • Change to energy-saving light bulbs.
  • Turn down your heating – even by one degree makes an enormous difference to your carbon
  • footprint.
  • Insulate your boiler, your loft, and your wall cavities.
  • Leave the car at home.

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