Sep 7, 2022 • 10M

What is Climate Change?

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Great Teachers Matter
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Let us start with a story. This story takes place in a forest far, far away. It was the most beautiful, dense and, by all measures, the world’s largest rainforest. It was home to a wide variety of plants and animals that humans had never heard of before. It was so big and so powerful that it shaped the climate of the entire world. Then, one day, a wildfire broke out in the forest.

The animals, not knowing what to do to survive, tried to run away from the screaming fire that followed. Some animals sought shelter in small burrows. Some took refuge in the nearby waterbodies. Birds flew out of their nests. Some managed to outrun the fire for a while but it wasn’t too long before they grew tired and got consumed by raging fires. When it all ended, the wind carried the awful smell of charred meat and wood all around the world. This is the story of the Amazon rainforest - the lungs of our planet.

This is not just a story. This is the reality the Amazon rainforest has been facing for the last few years. The Amazon rainforest, which spans over 2 million miles across nine South American countries – Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana – is a gift to the Earth. It is said that one-tenth of the Earth's species inhabit there. However in 2019, about 23 million animals died in the wildfire that engulfed it. It is now widely accepted that human activities are responsible for Amazon’s continued destruction.

The United States and Canada are countries known for long winters. However, they have been experiencing heat waves in recent years. According to researchers, this is the first time in a thousand years that such a deadly heatwaves have occurred in these places. For example, in the US state of Oregon, this is the first time in its history that such a large wildfire wreaked havoc across the state.

A recent study published by The Lancet journal found that between 2000 and 2019, over 5 million people across the globe died owing to unusually high temperatures. Of these, about 500,000 deaths were because of extreme heat.

Extreme weather conditions are affecting more and more people around the world and it is now clear that these extreme weather conditions are being driven by climate change. Glaciers and icebergs around the Earth’s poles are melting. As a result, the sea levels are rising. Record heat, and sudden floods and droughts are more common now than ever before.

It’s Getting Hotter

The Earth’s climate has always been changing. There was a time when the Earth was a very cold place. There was also a time when the Earth was hotter than it is now. These changes in the earth’s climate were always driven by natural forces. However, this has not been the case with the changes that we have witnessed over the last century or so. This time it’s different.

The rise in temperature in the last 30 years is 2 degrees more than the actual change that happened in the whole pre-industrial era (1880-1990).

The atmospheric temperature has risen significantly in recent years. Over the last century, the Earth’s temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit. According to a report by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the overall global ocean temperature and the land temperature have increased by an average of 0.13 degree Fahrenheit every decade since 1880. This rate has doubled since 1981 (0.32F).

The rise in temperature in the last 30 years is 2 degrees more than the actual change that happened in the whole pre-industrial era (1880-1990). Though it sounds like a very small number, it does indicate that there is a significant increase in the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere.  This increase in global temperature is one of the main reasons for the melting ofpolar ice caps, changes in the patterns of precipitation around the world and the destruction of the natural habitats of plants and animals.

Since the mid-19th century, there has been large scale increase in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases owing to our industrial activities.

The year 2020 was the second warmest year in the last 141 years considering the land temperature and the ocean temperature. Land temperatures hit a record high in 2020. Major parts of Europe and Asia, including most parts of France, northern parts Portugal, Spain, Russia, and south-western parts of China, recorded the highest-ever temperatures in 2020. Most parts of the globe recorded above-average temperatures, including the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. High temperatures were recorded even in the Arctic and the Antarctic regions.

What is Climate Change?

The United Nations defines climate change as the long-term shift in temperatures and weather patterns. Changes in the climatic characteristics of an area over a period of time (at least 30 years) can be called climate change.

When did Climate Start to Change?

The history of the Earth has shown that it undergoes climate change periodically. During the last 650,000 years, the Earth’s glaciers have expanded and receded seven times. The last Ice Age ended abruptly 11,700 years ago marking the dawn of the modern climate age as well as the human civilization. In the past, climate change was caused by slight variations in the Earth’s orbit and the variations in the amount of solar energy available on Earth. However, the current changes in climate are largely caused by human activities, especially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In the 20th century, human activities further accelerated the change. Since the mid-19th century, there has been large scale increase in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases owing to our industrial activities. Thanks to the work of the IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change) and climate scientists around the world, there is now little doubt that these emissions have contributed to global warming and climate change.

Scientists predict that the increase in the Earth’s temperature will continue for the next 100 years. As a result, more glaciers and polar ice-caps will melt, raising sea levels around the world. Such rise in sea levels poses an existential threat to people everywhere, especially those living in coastal areas.

In the past, the scientific evidence around climate change has gone unheeded. This has led to the ever-increasing amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and the concomitant increase in the global temperature. This in turn has led to deaths and destruction around the world due to changes in the earths’ climate. We are only now beginning to understand the seriousness and severity of the climate crisis. We would do well to do everything in our capacities to arrest the rise in global temperature not only for us but also for many generations to come.

 Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.

Why – and in what ways- does climate change matter to me?

Why – and in what ways- does climate change matter to my family and friends?

Why– and in what ways- does climate change matter to the whole world?

Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.

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