“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not man’s greed”, by Mahatma Gandhi gives an insight into man’s attitude, who in the name of urbanization, industrialization and development, has exploited, harmed and destroyed environment leading to Climate change.

So, what leads to environmental issues? 

Environment provides goods and services for its living species in form of three functions. Firstly, it provides water, air, soil, food, forests, fossil fuels, etc. hence called as “Supply Depot”. Secondly it acts as a “Waste Repository” accommodating all the wastes either by absorbing or recycling them to less harmful products. Thirdly it acts as a “Living Space Provider” where it provides land for human populations. When humans overuse an environment’s ability to fulfill any single function and it can no longer balance the carrying capacity, it leads to what we call “Environmental Issues”.

Marine and terrestrial ecosystems play an important role in regulating climate. Wetlands, soil, forests and oceans (water bodies) play a crucial role in absorbing and storing carbon. They absorb roughly half of the CO2 emissions humanity generates. Insufficient absorption of CO2 for over a period of time leads to Climate change.

What is Climate Change?

NASA defines climate change as “a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea-level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/ plant blooming; and extreme weather events.”

Source: alumni.yale.edu

Causes of Climate Change:

Greenhouse effect: Burning of fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, agricultural waste release methane and nitrous oxide, called greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere. There, these gases trap heat from the sun’s rays causing Earth’s average temperature to rise called as Greenhouse effect.

Source: climate.gov

The rise in the planet's average temperature is termed as global warming. Since Industrial Revolution, there has been significant increase in CO2 concentration from 280ppm to about 46 percent increase now which has led to an average increase of temperature by 1 degree Celsius causing an impact on climatic conditions. 

Deforestation: Trees capture gases such as CO2, preventing them from accumulating in the atmosphere. Forests are cleared to create space for agriculture, buildings, and other human activities. When trees are cut, their stored CO2 gets emitted to the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. Resulting changes in the landscape and the earth's surface's reflectivity, leads to increased absorption of energy from the sun that results in global warming leading to changes in climate patterns.

Source: wwf.org.uk

Effects of Climate Change:

Impact in Polar Regions: Climate change is amplified in the polar regions. Temperatures in arctic region have increased by about 5°C over the last 100 years. In coming decades, it shows that there’ll be almost no summer sea ice cover left in the Arctic. The Antarctic ice sheet is the largest single mass of ice on earth, spanning 14 million sq km which is also at risk of melting. Small scale melting is likely to have significant effects on global sea level rise.

Oceans and marine life: High carbon dioxide concentrations are making the oceans acidic. Coral reefs are said to decline by 70-90% at 1.5°C. As the planet warms, ocean waters are also warming and expanding. At the same time, land ice glaciers and ice caps are melting, which is adding water to the world’s oceans. As a result, average global sea level has increased eight inches in the last 150 years leading to floods in coastal areas.

Source: cdn.vox-cdn.com

Extreme Weather Conditions: Climate change may cause weather patterns to be less predictable. Interactions between the oceans and atmosphere can amplify the frequency and intensity of weather events like storms, hurricanes, floods and droughts. Extra water vapors in the atmosphere falls again as extra rain which causes flooding. During hot weather, evaporation from both land and sea increases and causes droughts in regions where there is low precipitation.

Forests and Wildlife: Climatic changes and deforestation have led to degradation of forest ecosystems. If animals are unable to adapt and conditions become inhospitable, populations are likely to become threatened and in extreme cases, species may face extinction. 2019 UN report suggested that around 1 million animal and plant species would be threatened with extinction in coming decades.

Source: i1.wp.com

Climate change and Natural Disasters:

1. Australian Bushfires: Australia was engulfed by raging forest fires from September 2019 to February 2020. Nearly 18 million hectares of land were burnt, destroying 3000 homes and killing 34 people. About one billion animals were killed and many endangered species are led to extinction due to these fires, which were caused by extremely high temperatures and low humidity.

2. Uttarakhand forest fires: Uttarakhand was hit with tragedy, where 51 hectares of land were burnt due to forest fires. The main cause of these forest fires has been the heatwaves in northern regions of India, due to climate change. Huge forest covers have been lost in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand due to the forest fires. 

3. Cyclone Amphan: It was a tropical cyclone that hit West Bengal, Odisha and Bangladesh in May 2020 causing widespread destruction. The storm was considered the strongest to hit West Bengal with 86 deaths leading to damage of nearly one trillion rupees. Widespread floods in West Bengal and Odisha killed nearly 4,000 livestock. The main cause of the cyclone was the high sea temperatures of the Bay of Bengal, which caused rapid intensification of a mild storm to a super cyclone.

4. Flash Floods in Indonesia: On 1st January 2020 night, there was a heavy downpour, causing rivers to overflow leading to the devastating flash floods that covered Jakarta. The floods have been responsible for displacing a population of over 4 lakhs, causing 66 deaths, landslides, and tonnes of destruction.

Source: floodlist.com

5. East Africa drought: High sea temperatures, linked to climate change led to drought in the Horn of Africa region. Droughts in 2011, 2017 and 2019 have wiped out crops and livestock. About 15 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia were left without any aid, facing acute food and water shortages.

Source: amazonaws.com

What steps can humans take to reduce Climate Change in coming years?

Possible solutions hinge on behavior of human beings and the way we make and consume energy. The required changes include technologies, behaviors, and policies that encourage less waste and smarter use of our resources.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by making use of public transport (make commute green), shifting towards wind and solar energy usage (renewable sources), biofuels from organic waste, protecting forests and reforestation are all potent ways to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases trapping heat on the planet. Restoring seagrasses, and increasing the use of agricultural cover crops could help clean up significant amounts of carbon dioxide.