Our climate is changing rapidly and affecting us all, but the good news is there are things we can do to slow it down climate change and prepare for it.
What is Climate Change?
- Over the last 100 years, global mean temperature has risen by 0.74°C and this increase has a wide range of effects on the oceans, weather patterns, snow and ice, and plants and animals.
- The atmosphere is made up of a mixture of gases, some have warming and some have cooling effects. Greenhouse gases keep the Earth warm through a process called the ‘greenhouse effect’, acting like a blanket which traps the sun’s warmth near the earth’s surface affecting the planet’s climate system. In the absence of this effect, the earth would be a much colder place than it is today.
- However, As a result of human activities (burning of fossil fuels), levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases are now 30% higher than at any time during the last 800,000 years and this has rapidly enhanced the natural greenhouse effect and resulted in an unnatural warming of the planet.
- Ongoing and projected changes in climate will have both direct (e.g. temperature related mortality) and indirect effects (e.g. changes in water quality) and can be of both slow (e.g. drought) and sudden (e.g. hurricane) onset.
The three most common types of greenhouse gases are:
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), solid waste, trees and wood products, and as a result of other chemical reactions such as making cement. Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.
- Methane (CH4): Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also come from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in landfills.
- Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste. Impacts of climate change include:
- Heat waves: Heat waves are long periods of time with above-normal temperatures. As the Earth warms, more areas will be at risk for hotter and more frequent extreme heat waves.
- Heavy Precipitation: Heavy downpours are becoming more common in many locations.
- Sea-Level Rise: Sea level has risen about 8 inches due to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. The warming of seas and oceans is also making coastal storms more damaging. Scientists predict sea levels in the United States could rise 1 to 4 feet in the 21st century, and could be even higher if glaciers in Greenland or Antarctica melt especially quickly.
- Threats to habitats and animals: As temperatures warm, many plants and animals are migrating to higher elevations or away from the equator. Some animals may have difficulty moving or adapting to new habitats.
- Ocean acidification: Extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, making them more acidic. This can make it difficult for corals and microorganisms that form shells to survive, disrupting the food supply for other sea animals.
- Wildfires: These are large fires that burn vast amounts of forests and brush. When they are not controlled, wildfires can destroy homes and be deadly. The number of large wildfires and the length of the wildfire season have been increasing in recent decades.
- Drought: global warming will increase the risk of drought in some regions. Also, warmer temperatures can increase water demand and evaporation, stressing water supplies.
What you can do!
Get on your bike!
Cycle to work, school or college. If you drive or get a lift somewhere you produce a lot more carbon dioxide emissions than if you cycle and produce none! Cycling is also a great fun way to get exercise and stay fit. Walking is good too but not as fast!
Change to a green energy provider or invest in an electric car
Changing to a green electricity provider like airtricty means that the electricity that powers your home will be 100% from renewables, instead of from the burning of coal and peat in power stations. It’s easy, you just need to call them and ask them to change you over, they don’t even have to come out and fit anything special to your house! So convince your family or housemates to have clean, green energy in your home.
Buy what you need rather than everything you want! Every man made item that we buy has had an impact on the environment just by being made. The energy to make products mostly comes from the burning of the fossil fuels, then products have to travel long distances, often half way across the world to get to us leaving a huge carbon footprint.
Reduce meat intake or become a vegetarian!
Cows are responsible for a big part of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is because in Ireland we have a big national herd and all cows fart a lot! Their farts contain methane which is a very powerful greenhouse gas, many times more warming than CO2. It also takes many times more energy to produce the same amount of calories from meat as it does from plants so just by having a few meat free days can have a huge impact.
Buy loose, local, organic, seasonal vegetables or even better grow you own vegetables?
Growing your own vegetables means that your food doesn’t have to be transported long distances from the farm to supermarket and then from the supermarket to your house. If you grow the vegetables yourself then you can be sure that you are not eating pesticides or other chemicals that might be sprayed on your food.
Plant a tree
Trees are great because they actually absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it as wood in their trunks, branches and roots. Trees look great too and provide shelter and homes for wildlife! If you don’t have a garden there are lots of tree planting initiatives you could look into.
Pledge to Fly less
We all like to travel but unfortunately flying is the most damaging form of transport for the atmosphere. Flying is the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gases in Ireland. Try avoid flying when possible.
Talk about Climate Change
Talk to your friends and family about how important climate change is. Explain how our pollution is making the lives of poorer people even more difficult than they already are. Don’t be shy, your opinion on this is as valid as anyone else’s! Read books and websites and educate yourself to better answer peoples questions.
Write to politicians
Email or write to your TDS and local councillors. Tell that them you think Ireland needs to do its fair share to help prevent runaway climate change. Tell them that it is an issue that is important to you and that you would consider this issue when choosing who to vote for.
Set up a campaign group
Get together any other people that you know who are interested and start to campaign locally on climate change. Put up posters and hold regular meetings. Decide together the best way that your group can get Ireland to reduce its greenhouse gas pollution.