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Understanding Climate Change: Causes, Proof, and Action

New York, NY

What is climate change?

Climate change is becoming an increasingly big issue. It can cause droughts, wildfires, sea level rise and flooding, lack of food, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. 

Simply put, climate change refers to long-term shifts in average weather patterns. These changes can include shifts in temperature, precipitation, and frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Climate change is caused by an increase in greenhouse gasses, which are gasses that trap heat in our atmosphere.


Greenhouse gases trap the heat from the sun
How an increase in greenhouse gases causes the heating of the planet

Greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide (CO₂), nitrous oxide (N₂O) methane (CH), and water vapor (H₂O) can absorb and re-radiate wave energy, or simply prevent it from leaving the atmosphere. Greenhouse gasses aren’t necessarily always bad. Without greenhouse gasses, our planet would be about 0° Fahrenheit (-18° Celsius). But, with a natural level of greenhouse gasses, the average temperature on Earth would be about 60° Fahrenheit (15° Celsius). However, in recent years, the overall concentration of greenhouse gasses has significantly increased due to human activities, causing what we know as climate change. The main producers of these greenhouse gasses are the burning of fossil fuels, use of harmful agricultural practices, landfills, transportation, fracking, and deforestation. 


Fossil Fuels

In our modern society, we use a lot of energy, primarily derived from fossil fuels. When fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas are burned, they emit large amounts of greenhouse gasses. The burning of fossil fuels contributes to over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions.


Agriculture

Due to the growing need for more food, we have seen a rise in the use of harmful agricultural practices. These include the use of agrochemicals like fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, as well as various issues surrounding waste disposal. The overuse of agrochemicals can lead to them ending up in runoff water and harming the environment around them in a process called eutrophication–which causes all aquatic animals and plants in the body of water to die from lack of oxygen.

Additionally, producing food requires a lot of water. When this food is thrown out, the water used to produce that food is essentially wasted. The less usable water we have, the less food can be produced. Water is essential for all life, yet we have so little of it. Out of all the water we have on Earth, only 0.3% of it is usable for us. The causes and effects of climate change also contribute to the crisis of water shortage. If water consumption continues at this rate, scientists predict that by 2030, half the population will lack clean freshwater, a basic necessity of life.


Landfills

The next main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is landfills. When organic waste, such as food, decomposes, they release methane into the atmosphere. 


Transportation

Planes, cars, buses, and other vehicles that rely on gas emit carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. 


Fracking

Fracking is a method that uses high pressure liquid to extract natural gas. The process of fracking releases methane, a lot of it. According to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. oil and gas industry is responsible for releasing an estimated 16.9 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. Not to mention, fracking mainly uses large amounts of water in the process, which contaminates it and potentially harms local communities. 


Deforestation

Last but not least, deforestation is another main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Throughout their lives, the typical tree will store one ton of carbon dioxide. To make space for the growing population, we have started to look to burn down forests, which releases all the carbon that trees store up in their lives back into the atmosphere. 


How do we know climate change is really happening?

Ever since the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), a period when industrialization surged, average global temperatures have increased by 2.2° Fahrenheit (1.2° Celsius) annually. At first sight, this increase might not seem like a lot, but this number only reflects the average temperatures, so many

places have experienced greater temperature changes and therefore its effects, too. We know that climate change is really happening because average global temperatures have gone up, causing ice sheets and glaciers to melt, in turn causing sea levels to rise, and animal migrations since many of their habitats are growing warmer faster than the animals can adapt to. On top of this, severe weather events like floods, droughts, and wildfires have affected many countries, especially developing countries that are particularly vulnerable. 


What can we do?

Fighting climate change will take a lot of time, effort, and resources. We can reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions, support sustainable agriculture, promote reforestation, reduce waste, advocate for climate policies, reduce water and energy consumption, and raise awareness by educating the people around you. By reducing your impact on the environment and raising awareness about climate change, you can help to make a change.

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