WHAT IS CLIMATE CHANGE AND WHAT ARE ITS EFFECT ON OUR PLANET?

PART 1.1 

By Gabriel Andre – Art in Tanzania internship

Welcome to our new four-part blog. In a series of blogs, I will be discussing the effects of climate change on our planet and the consequences it will have if we do not do anything about climate change.

Climate change 

Before discussing the specific case of Tanzania, it is important to understand the definition of climate change and the consequences of its impact on our planet. Firstly, it’s critical to understand the difference between climate and weather. Weather is an instantaneous and local situation of observable things such as, temperature, precipitation, wind, and so on. Climate, on the other hand, is a statistical description based on the averages and variability of the same variables (temperature, wind, etc.) over long periods of time and on a global scale. For example, the difference between weather and climate would be the comparison between a student’s grade on an exam versus his or her yearly average. 

In this report, I will focus on the effects of climate change on our environment. Since the beginning of time, the climate has changed naturally with the ice ages. For 11,000 years now, our planet has been in an interglacial era (average temperature has similarly been constant over many years, in summer the snow melts and the ice surface slowly shrink around the globe), i.e., our planet is warming at its own pace. However, climate change is different, our planet is warming much too fast. Previously, losing 5 degrees would take thousands of years, nowadays, we have already gained 1 degree in less than a century!  Indeed, our greenhouse effect is completely out of control. The concentration of “greenhouse gases” (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and water vapor (H2O), etc.) in the atmosphere has increased at an unprecedented rate in recent years. The higher the level of CO2, the higher the temperature. For simplicity’s sakes, we will give for the greenhouse’s gases the abbreviation GHG’s. This diagram shows the natural evolution of the amount of CO2 during the ice ages and interglacial.  

Source

The exponential increase in GHGs over the last century is therefore leading to a completely new climate disturbance that is causing global warming to become more and more alarming and in need to be controlled. 

But what has caused climate change? 

From the diagram above, it is clear that the human race has a large share of the responsibility for this phenomenon. Before the 1850s, CO2 in the atmosphere played its natural role as a greenhouse gas at a relatively stable rate. Since then, human activities have contributed greatly to its increase, particularly through economic growth as standard of livings have increased drastically. As wealth rises, humans develop continuous need to consume, thus increasing their GHG’s impact. This phenomenon primarily started in Europe, and then progressively spread in all the industrialized countries. Population growth has actively participated in climate change as we have gone from 1.2 billion people to 7.7 billion between 1850 and 2019. 

Parallel with these two phenomena, several industrial revolutions (steam, electricity, nuclear power, etc.) were born, transforming more and more natural resources into energy or materials. Population growth, coupled with growth in GDP per capita, have led to an upheaval in energy consumption on our planet, and now 80% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels or hydrocarbons (oil, gas, coal). Fossil fuels constitute a stock that was formed over hundreds of millions of years by the slow decomposition of the remains of living organisms. However, these fossil resources are exploited by humans during which a very large quantity of carbon that was normally buried underground for millions of years is suddenly released into the atmosphere in the form of CO₂. Changes in land use also significantly impact the balance of natural carbon stocks: deforestation, agriculture, the draining of swamps, and of peat bogs for example. The carbon cycle is therefore strongly impacted by human activities and can no longer regulate itself normally. The Earth is no longer able to regulate this unnatural flow through its physical and biological mechanisms. Unfortunately, the situation is only getting worse as human activity continuously disrupts the carbon cycle, but it is becoming more and more consequential each year.

Source  

This diagram shows that we previously needed 130 years to emit 1000Gt (gigatons) of CO2 equivalent and nowadays we only need 30 years to emit the same amount again. At this rate, we will only need 20 years to produce another 1000 Gt.

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