The world is going through a change – a massive change in its behaviour. This shift creates many disastrous implications toward Earth’s human, animal, and plant life. Find out more in the sections that follow.
Experts believe that this is most likely the greatest threat our century will ever face.
But what is Climate Change? Is Climate Change and Global Warming one and the same? There is a distinction between these two, even though they may seem interchangeable.
Global warming is a significant and long-term increase in the planet’s temperature. It has become evident that the Earth is heating up at a fast and steady pace.
The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century prompted the beginning of global warming. This was a period of great change. Industries in Europe and the United States shifted its manufacturing processes. They began to produce commodities through machines, veering away from manual production.
This shift caused the significant use of energy through the burning of fossil fuels.
Climate change, on the other hand, refers to alterations in global climate patterns. It covers a much more extensive set of phenomena. Its primary cause is also the emission of heat-trapping gases from burnt fossil fuels.
But, aside from this, climate change also refers to shifts in the behavior of the planet. A few alarming changes include the rise in sea levels and the loss of ice mass in the Earth’s coldest parts. Plants and trees have also changed blooming and fruit-bearing seasons. Extreme weather conditions like heat waves and droughts are also occurring very often.
As a result of having the same root cause, the two terms are usually interchanged. But although their causes are the same, both physical phenomena are not. The emission of greenhouse gases causes global warming. While global warming causes climate change.
Causes of Climate Change
Global climate change has been occurring in the past, only at a slower pace. Changes would occur throughout thousands, even millions of years. Today, it’s a completely different scenario. We can observe drastic changes that happen in only a year or a few years.
Many natural, as well as man-made factors, contribute to the changes in the Earth’s climate.
The Earth’s Orbit
The planet revolves around the sun in the shape of an ellipse. But this changes in many years. Sometimes, it traverses around the sun in an almost perfect circle. When this happens, its distance from the sun remains the same throughout that period.
Other times, it forms an ellipse so that its movement varies from being nearer or farther from the sun. The nearer it gets to the sun, the warmer the Earth becomes.
The explosive eruptions of volcanoes endanger the lives of organisms within its radius. Not only that, but it also contributes to the state of the Earth’s stratosphere. When volcanoes erupt, they release significant amounts of Carbon Dioxide and Sulfur Dioxide. They come in the form of volcanic gas, aerosol droplets, and volcanic ash.
The ash spewed from volcanoes form dark clouds in the atmosphere. They hover over the Earth’s surface and provide temporary cooling. The smallest dust particles released can stay in the atmosphere for months to years. They can travel vast distances causing a cooling effect in farther regions.
Sulfur Dioxide forms into Sulfuric acid aerosols when released and combined with water. These aerosols form tiny droplets that reflect the sun’s rays back into space. This is why they cause much colder temperatures than the volcanic ash particles.
CO2 and water vapor that volcanoes release don’t affect the climate in a significant way. But, there have been years in the past when the planet experienced intense volcanism. This caused a considerable rise in Carbon Dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere. This, in turn, contributed to climate change in a significant way.
Man-Made Greenhouse Gases
Carbon Dioxide is an example of greenhouse gas. As mentioned in the previous section, this can come naturally from volcanic eruptions. But a significant amount of Carbon Dioxide also comes from man-made activities.
Soil degradation occurs when flooding or human actions feed pollutants into the soil. The deterioration of land can also add to Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide can exist in our atmosphere for hundreds and thousands of years. It can only diminish when the oceans beneath it absorb these gases.
The vast number of trees in forests absorb a significant amount of Carbon Dioxide from the air. The permanent destruction of forests will eradicate this positive effect. Also, it is inevitable for the cut-down trees to release Carbon Dioxide that adds to emissions.
- Fossil Fuel Production
Methane, another greenhouse gas, comes from the transport and production of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel industry activities emit this gas, which is far more potent than CO2. These gases can stay for as long as 12 years in the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Intensive Farming
Livestock and agricultural farming both contribute to climate change. Experts note that Methane emissions from sheep and cattle reach up to 100 million per day. The use of fertilizers on crops which produce Nitrous Oxide exacerbate this emission.
- Waste Disposal
Today, there is widespread use of solid waste landfills and incinerators. These waste disposal methods contribute to the release of vast amounts of Methane in the air.
Nitrous Oxide and Fluorinated gases are also examples of greenhouse gases. These can come from industrial, commercial, and household activities. Among these are instances of fossil fuel and solid waste combustion.
Nitrous Oxide can remain in the atmosphere for as long as 121 years. While Fluorinated gases can last up to a few weeks or a thousand years.
Sustainability means being able to perform an action for an indefinite period. This is why there is such a massive movement to shift towards using renewable sources of energy.
Commercial industries need the energy to produce and transport commodities. So excess consumption also means excess combustion of fossil fuels to produce energy.
How much evidence exists that proves climate change is really happening? The IPCC reveals straightforward facts that tell it all.
- The warming trend during the middle of the 20th century is particularly significant. This is because there is more than a 95% likelihood that the leading cause is human activities.
- Global temperatures have risen by 1.62oF since the 19th century. Most of these occurred in the last 35 years, with the 5 warmest years ever recorded occurring since 2010. Records show 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded. Eight of its 12 months (January to September, but excluding June) were also the warmest on record.
- 18 of the 19 hottest years the world has experienced occurred since 2001.
- The oceans’ surfaces have absorbed most of the rise in heat. In fact, the top 700 meters of the oceans’ surface have also increased in temperature by 0.4oF since 1969.
- The glaciers and icebergs in Antarctica and Greenland have decreased in mass. In fact, data from NASA shows Greenland lost an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 to 2016. Antarctica also lost about 127 billion tons of ice per year during those same years. The rate of ice loss in Antarctica has alarmingly decreased by thrice its usual speed in the last decade.
- Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest level on record in 2012.
- Satellite data shows that the Earth’s polar ice sheets are losing 413 gigatons of mass per year.
- Global sea levels have risen by 8 inches since the last century. But, the rate of the rise in the previous two decades is double that figure and continues to increase every year.
- Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the oceans have become acidic by about 30% more. Scientists believe oceans’ surfaces absorb about 2 billion tons of CO2 per year.
- CO2 levels in the atmosphere are now at their highest since 650,000 years ago reaching up to 411 parts per million.
What This Means
What do all these statistics mean for the living organisms on Earth? Here are the implications of all these phenomena we are all experiencing.
The Rise in Global Temperatures
Temperatures fluctuate all the time. So why should you care if global temperatures rise by half a degree?
It matters a lot, actually. Thresholds in temperature will cause adverse effects on many ecosystems in various ways. An increase by a few degrees can literally mean death for some species.
In fact, sea turtles are facing the risk of extinction because of the warmer climate. Female sea turtles nest in beach sands. When the sand becomes warmer than is ideal, these turtles will bear only female baby turtles. This poses the risk of the eventual extinction of this species.
Scientists have found that an increase in temperatures of 2oC can already be fatal.
If the Earth warms at around 2oC, the deadly heat waves Pakistan and India in 2015 may occur every year. The May 2015 heatwave in India killed 2,500 people. While the one in Pakistan that happened a month later killed 2,000 people.
Droughts will occur more often and for extended periods. The rise in global temperatures will cause more evaporation of water.
Moisture from plant soils is not exempt from evaporation. Land that has experienced drought will also tend to be less absorbent to rainfall. When heavy rains come, it will cause floods and further damage to agriculture.
- Food Shortages
When heavy rain or drought occur often, this will put the growing of agricultural crops at risk. This becomes even worse when flooding occurs.
- Scarcity of Water
The natural effect of the sun’s rays is evaporation. So the more heat there is coming from the sun, the more drying will occur. Water availability will become limited in varying degrees for different regions.
- Extreme Rainfall and Stronger Hurricanes
An increase in global temperatures by a mere 2oC can already mean heavy rainfall will follow. This will result in the massive flooding of lower regions. Especially those with high levels of deforestation. Scientists also project an increase in the intensity and length of hurricanes.
- Impact on Forests
The warming of the Earth can mean reduced rainforest biomass. This will, in turn, increase the risk of deforestation as well as forest fires.
- Impact on Biodiversity and Ecosystems
Plants and animals exist in a set geographic range. Warming of up to 2oC will mean 18% of insects, 8% of vertebrates, and 16% of plants will have a reduced range by more than half. This means a significant decrease in the area where they can exist.
- Impacts on Oceans
Global warming will cause an irreparable loss in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. This, in turn, will result in a significant rise in sea levels. Over 6 feet in increase will occur for hundreds to thousands of years.
- Impacts on Marine Life
As the oceans become warmer, the marine species within it will adapt. They will travel towards colder parts to survive. The oceans absorb Carbon Dioxide, so when this happens, the pH levels in the ocean change to acidic. The acidity becomes toxic to marine life. This will make shells of aquatic species thinner; thus, becoming easier prey. Coral reefs also decline by 70-90% due to ocean acidification.
The increase in Carbon Dioxide also decreases the Oxygen levels in oceans. This, in turn, leads to more ‘dead zones’. Dead zones refer to parts of the sea where marine species can’t survive. This is because of the lack of Oxygen and high concentrations of CO2.
- Economic Impacts
An interesting study revealed that climate change also causes significant economic damage. The study concluded that the United States could lose approximately 2.3% of its GDP for every degree rise.
The Long-term Rise in Sea Levels
Our oceans play a significant role in tempering the effect of climate change, but at the risk of its own health.
They absorb over 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases. This has caused sea levels to rise above 8 inches while it continues to increase by 0.13 inches per year.
Experts say that based on the present level of melting, sea levels will rise from 19 to 63 inches in the next 200 years. They also claim that it is very likely Greenland will lose more than 99% of its ice sheet by the year 3000.
Today, the amount of regular snowfall is still able to compensate for the loss in ice mass. But, due to warming, the glaciers continue to thin from the inside due to the melting ebb and flow of ice. The glaciers decrease in height, so snowfall is not able to solidify into new ice.
The same experts warn further that if we continue as we do now, Greenland will melt completely. This will create a long-term impact on the sea levels, and by extension, our society. This means damage to coastal habitats due to frequent flooding. This also means diminished ecosystems of birds, fish, and plants.
The Lengthening of Frost-Free and Growing Seasons
The frost-free season occurs when the last 32oF in the spring and the first 32oF in the fall is read. This stretch of time has notably increased over the previous 30 years.
This can be an excellent indicator of the growing season. This is because the longer the period without a frost, the longer the growing season. Knowing the length of frost-free seasons can help farmers plan the growth of crops.
While lengthening frost-free seasons may seem ideal for growing, the effect is two-fold. Longer growing seasons can mean pests have more time to destroy crops. Mainly since they thrive in warmer climates.
Why Is It Important?
Adapting to climate change is crucial in today’s times. There is a pressing need to reduce the risks of its impacts on people, places, and resources. There is no doubt that it is happening and the further warming of the planet is inevitable. We want to reduce the negative effects of climate change. Thus, we have to plan by identifying its vulnerabilities and preparing for it.
Climate change serves as a catalyst to a series of adverse events to occur on our planet.
We are aware that we cannot do anything to reverse this phenomenon. The toxic gases in the air won’t disappear (not for a long time) even if we no longer emit them. The gases in the atmosphere will continue to hover over us in thousands of years to come.
But it is necessary for the survival of our species that we plan for climate change. It will not be easy, but it will be worthwhile in the end.
Timeline of the Issue
The planet’s climate has changed throughout Earth’s history. Let’s take a look at how drastically it has evolved over the centuries.
It was 7,000 years ago when the era of the Ice Age ended. The civilization of man – and the period of the modern climate began soon after. In the last 650,000 years, 7 cycles of glacial advances and retreats have occurred.
In the 1800s, studies suggested that man-made gases could impact the Earth’s behavior. Most people reacted to these studies with curiosity, not panic.
In 1837, Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, a Swiss-American scientist, introduced the ‘Ice Age’. He scientifically proposed that the Earth did experience the era. This was when glaciers still covered Europe and a large part of Northern America.
In 1856, Eunice Newton Foote, an American scientist, talked about the effects of CO2. She suggested that the presence of carbonic acid gas (CO2) is significant in the warming of the planet.
In 1859, Irish physicist John Tyndall used Foote’s research. He investigated the absorption of the sun’s rays by gases in the air like water vapor, Methane, and CO2.
By the late 1800s, scientific opinion was against the belief of human activities as an influence. Scientists could not believe humans caused the warming of the planet.
In 1920, Serbian astronomer and geophysicist Milutin Milanković hypothesized the Milankovitch cycles. This describes the massive effects of changes in the movement of the planet on the climate for thousands of years.
In the 1950s, some of the first documented evidence that corroborated global warming claims appeared.
In 1956, Gilbert Plass published a study on The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change. Here he estimated a doubling of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.
In the 1960s, the warming effect of Carbon Dioxide emissions became more evident.
In 1968, Stanford Research Institute conducted a study. This noted that the rising temperature will eventually lead to a series of events. This includes the melting of the ice caps in Antarctica and a rise in sea levels. He also mentioned the warming of the oceans and that these events were almost certain to occur by the year 2000.
In 1969, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was the first to deal with the issue at a global level. It established a research hub that dealt with acid rain and the greenhouse effect.
In the 1970s, scientific opinion began to favor the warming viewpoint.
In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created. This group aims to provide an objective and scientific view of the issue of climate change.
By the 1990s, a consensus position was formed due to the validation of the Milankovitch theory. The consensus was greenhouse gases contributed to the changes occurring in the Earth’s climate. Also, that emissions from human activities are causing noticeable global warming.
Since the 1990s, research towards learning about climate changes have progressed further. Research has expanded our understanding of the relations of various causes. Historical data have linked many fields like atmospheric sciences and numerical modeling.
Experts are now able to model climate change numerically. This is contributing greatly to plans of reducing and managing risks to climate change.
What Can a Business Do?
First, a little background.
In 2015, 196 countries signed into an agreement to commit to a single, comprehensive plan. This plan aims to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 2oC, or more ideally 1.5oC. The rise above this threshold will mean catastrophic effects and permanent climatic disturbances. The agreement aims to strengthen the international response against climate change.
The agreement doesn’t dictate how each country can achieve this. But, it does provide a roadmap of how to cut emissions and how to increase those cuts over time. Each country specifies how much emissions it pledges to cut. Then develops a plan of action on how it intends to achieve it.
The IPCC mentioned in a recent report that it is still possible to lessen warming by as low as 1.5oC. But, maintaining it at this level will need unprecedented measures.
This includes lowering the total emissions of toxic gas into the air by 45% from 2010 levels. In 2010, CO2 composed 65% of the Earth’s atmosphere. We also need to aim for zero emissions by the year 2050.
These efforts from governments shouldn’t be a movement composed of them alone. It should be a global effort geared toward global well-being. Businesses can do massive steps to contribute to climate action.
Measure Your Carbon Footprint
You need to start somewhere. The most ideal place to start is to know how much greenhouse gases your business is emitting per year. Conducting a carbon accounting audit will allow you to create an appropriate plan. Use a third party’s help in creating this plan to decrease footprint from existing levels.
Develop a Climate Action Plan
Once your annual data is set, it’s time to develop an action plan. Dissect your processes and business activities in a systematic way. Identify which of your business activities emit greenhouse gas. Make appropriate and sustainable changes to them. The most common areas you should look into are the ones below.
- Supply Chain
This is usually where the most significant carbon footprint is coming from. Businesses find it challenging to take action against this particular area. It’s because it may involve changing entire processes to favor more ideal materials. Also, companies may need to shift to a different supplier.
But it is necessary, and it is also a possibility.
Electricity, heating, and cooling contribute to emissions of toxic gas into the atmosphere. Improve the efficiency of your use of energy. Or if possible, shift to renewable energy sources. These are excellent ways to combat climate change through energy use.
Take, for example, LEGO. A company that has dedicated its efforts to contributing positively to the environment. In May of 2017, it achieved its goal to use energy coming from 100% renewable sources. By 2030, they aim to use plant-based materials to replace their plastic-based materials.
Shipping products to and from locations compose a large part of energy consumption. To reduce levels, operate out of regional warehouses to reach your consumers better.
Give employees incentives when they commute by carpools, public transportation, or bicycle travel. If possible, shift to an electric fleet of vehicles for all company-owned vehicles. You can also provide transportation for employees who live in close locations.
- Food Supply
Intensive farming contributes to roughly one-third of emissions of toxic gases. Meat-based food is more carbon intensive than plant-based food. So stick to plant-based company lunch offers. If you’re engaged in catering, avoid animal-based and dairy products if possible.
Set Targets and Goals
Once you know how to put your plan in place, set time-sensitive goals. Quantify targets set in the fulfillment of those plans.
An excellent idea is to set an ‘internal carbon price’. This price will represent your company’s emissions. This will allow you to assess useful metrics. Metrics like opportunity costs of invested capital, ROI, and payback periods. You can achieve this by plotting the project costs involved in your plan before you implement it.
Track and Regulate Your Progress
A third party consultant should do this for you. This will ensure accountability and measuring your actual progress. Monitoring your progress will confirm the efforts you’ve accomplished. It will also help you spot areas that may need improvement.
Support ‘Climate Active’ Politics
Most businesses shy away from involving their company in politics. But whatever our opinions of politics, the influence of governments are undeniably far-reaching. Actively support political organizations or movements in legislation. Select those that aim to create a better environment.
This will create a positive impact on your environmental advocacy. Support for policies like the Clean Air Act will eventually drive down the cost of energy use. In turn, the cost of your company’s energy consumption will decrease as well.
Why Should a Business Care?
There exists an urgent need to act against climate change today. It can damage worldwide economies. It can ravage populations and decrease the availability of resources. It can also impact the cost of doing business dramatically.
So it is both humanitarian and astute business practice to take steps against the issue.
Also, governments are driving aggressive policies. They want to apply these policies on an international level. From a business standpoint, changing internal policies is proactive. It will serve as excellent business decisions in the long run.
Aside from that, companies can also save money and secure energy sources. The reduction of solar energy costs and other renewable resources will enable this.
Also, surveys reveal consumers today have changed in their qualifications for purchasing. They look at a brand and see if the company that owns it aims for environmental conservation. They want to support a business that has a vision of a better world.
Fighting against climate change can serve as a marketing tool. This can create excellent storytelling opportunities you can use in your marketing initiatives. You can assure your consuming public that your brand is meaningful. Empathize by standing by the same values they do towards caring for the environment.