We've all heard of it, but what is climate change and what is it doing to our planet?
Climate change (or global warming), is the process of our planet heating up.
The Earth has warmed by an average of 1°C in the last century, and although that might not sound like much, it means big things for people and wildlife around the globe.
Unfortunately, rising temperatures don’t just mean that we’ll get nicer weather - if only! The changing climate will actually make our weather more extreme and unpredictable.
As temperatures rise, some areas will get wetter and lots of animals (and humans!) could find they’re not able to adapt to their changing climate.
Over the past 150 years, industrialised countries have been burning large amounts of fossil fuels such as oil and gas. The gases released into the atmosphere during this process act like an invisible ‘blanket’, trapping heat from the sun and warming the Earth. This is known as the “Greenhouse Effect”.
Believe it or not, cows’ eating habitscontribute towards greenhouse gases. Just like us, when cows eat, methane gas builds up in their digestive system and is released in the form of… a fart! This might sound funny, but when you imagine that there are almost 1.5 billion cows releasing all that gas into the atmosphere, it sure adds up!
Forests absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide - a greenhouse gas - from the air, and release oxygen back into it. The Amazon rainforest is so large and efficient at doing this that it is often called ‘the lungs of the Earth’. Sadly, many rainforests are being cut down to make wood, palm oil and to clear the way for farmland, roads, oil mines, and dams.
The Earth has had many tropical climates and ice ages over the billions of years that it’s been in existence, so why is now so different? Well, this is because for the last 150 years human activity has meant we’re releasing a huge amount of harmful gases into the Earth’s atmosphere, and records show that the global temperatures are rising more rapidly since this time.
A warmer climate could affect our planet in a number of ways:
- More rainfall
- Changing seasons
- Rising sea levels
- Shrinking sea ice
Climate change is already affecting wildlife all over the world, but certain species are suffering more than others. Polar animals - whose icy natural habitat is melting in the warmer temperatures - are particularly at risk. In fact, experts believe that the Arctic sea ice is melting at a shocking rate - 9% per decade! Polar bears need sea ice to be able to hunt, raise their young and as places to rest after long periods of swimming. Certain seal species, like ringed seals make caves in the snow and ice to raise their pups, feed and mate.
It’s not just polar animals who are in trouble. Apes like orangutans, which live in the rainforests of Indonesia, are under threat as their habitat is cut down, and more droughts cause more bushfires.
Sea turtles rely on nesting beaches to lay their eggs, many of which are threatened by rising sea levels. Did you know that the temperature of nests determines whether the eggs are male or female? Unfortunately, with temperatures on the rise, this could mean that many more females are born than males, threatening future turtle populations.
Climate change won’t just affect animals, it’s already having an impact on people, too. Most affected are some of the people who grow the food we eat every day. Farming communities, especially in developing countries, are facing higher temperatures, increased rain, floods and droughts.
We Brits love a good cuppa, (around165 million cups of the stuff every day!), but we probably take for granted just how much work goes into growing our tea. Environmental conditions can affect the flavour and quality plus it needs a very specific rainfall to grow. In Kenya, climate change is making rainfall patterns less and less predictable. Often there will be droughts followed by huge amounts rain, which makes it very difficult to grow tea.
Farmers might then resort to using cheap chemicals to improve their crop to earn more money, even when long-term use of these chemicals can destroy their soil.
Buying Fairtrade products can help make sure a farmer is paid a fair wage. This means they can cover their costs, earn enough money to have a decent standard of living, and invest in their farms to keep their crop healthy, without needing to resort to cheap methods of farming which can further damage the environment.
This support also helps farmers to replace eucalyptus trees - which take up a lot of water - with indigenous trees that are better for the farmers’ soil. They can learn to make fuel-efficient stoves which will not only make them a little extra money, but also reduce the carbon footprint of the community - cool!
Small changes in your own home can make a difference, too. Try switching to energy-saving lightbulbs, walking instead of using the car, turning off electrical items when you’re not using them, recycling and reducing your food waste. All these little things can make a difference. You can check out more eco-friendly ideas, in our top five conservation tips!
You can download information about Fairtrade and climate change for your school, here! www.fairtrade.org.uk/schools