Climate change is the current change in the climate. In contrast to the weather, climate means how warm or cold it is in a place over a long period of time and what the weather usually is like there. The climate actually stays the same over a long period of time, so it does not change or only changes very slowly.
The climate on Earth has changed several times over long periods of time. For example, there was an ice age in the Old Stone Age. It was much colder then than it is today. These climate changes are natural and have various causes. Normally, the climate changes very slowly, over many centuries. A single person would not notice such a change in his life because he is moving too slowly.
However, we are currently experiencing climate change that is happening much more rapidly, so rapidly that temperatures are changing even in the short space of a human lifespan. The climate all over the world is getting warmer. One also speaks of climate change, climate catastrophe, or global warming. The cause of this rapid climate change is probably a man. When people use the term climate change today, they usually mean this catastrophe.
What is the greenhouse effect?
The so-called greenhouse effect actually ensures that it is pleasantly warm on earth and not freezing cold like in space. The atmosphere, i.e. the air that surrounds our planet, consists of many different gases. Some of these are so-called greenhouse gases. The best known of these is carbon dioxide, abbreviated to CO2.
These gases create an effect on earth that gardeners, for example, use in their greenhouses or greenhouses. These glass “houses” let all the sunlight in, but only part of the heat out. The glass takes care of that. If a car is left in the sun for a long time, you can observe the same thing: it gets unbearably warm or even hot in the car.
In the atmosphere, greenhouse gases take over the role of glass. Most of the sun’s rays reach the ground through the atmosphere. This causes them to warm the ground. However, the ground also gives off this heat again. The greenhouse gases ensure that not all of the heat escapes back into space. This warms the earth. This is the natural greenhouse effect. It is very important because without it there would not be such a pleasant climate on earth.
Why is it getting warmer on earth?
The more greenhouse gases there are in the atmosphere, the more heat rays are prevented from leaving the earth. This warms the earth. This is exactly what has been happening for a while.
The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been increasing for more than a hundred years. Above all, there is always more carbon dioxide. A large part of that carbon dioxide comes from what people do.
In the 19th century, there was the Industrial Revolution. Since then, people have been burning a lot of wood and coal. For example, coal is used extensively to produce electricity. In the last century, the burning of oil and natural gas was added. Crude oil in particular is an important fuel for most of our modern means of transportation: cars, buses, ships, airplanes, and so on. Most of them burn fuels made from petroleum in their engines so that when they burn, carbon dioxide is released.
In addition, a lot of forests were cut down, especially primeval forests. This is particularly harmful to the climate since trees filter carbon dioxide from the air and thus actually protect the climate. However, if they are cut down and even burned, additional CO2 is released into the atmosphere.
Part of the land that is gained in this way is used for agriculture. The large number of cattle that people keep there also harms the climate. An even more harmful greenhouse gas is produced in the stomachs of livestock: methane. In addition to methane, animals and human technology produce other, less well-known gases. Some of them are even more harmful to our climate.
As a result of the warming, a lot of permafrost is thawing in the north. As a result, many gases are released from the ground, which also heats up the climate. This creates a vicious circle, and it only gets worse.
What are the consequences of climate change?
First of all, the temperature on earth will increase. How many degrees it will rise is difficult to predict today. That depends on many things, but above all on how many greenhouse gases we humans will be blowing into the atmosphere in the coming years. Scientists estimate that, in the worst-case scenario, the earth could warm up by just over 5 degrees by 2100. It has already warmed by about 1 degree compared to the pre-industrial temperature of the 19th century.
However, it will not be the same everywhere, these numbers are only an average. Some regions will warm up much more than others. The Arctic and Antarctic, for example, are likely to warm particularly strongly.
However, climate change has consequences everywhere on our planet. The ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is melting, at least part of it. It is exactly the same for the glaciers in the Alps and in the other mountain ranges of the world. Due to a large amount of meltwater, the sea level rises. Coastal land is flooded as a result. Entire islands are in danger of disappearing, including those that are inhabited, such as the Maldives, Tuvalu, or Palau.
Because the climate is changing so quickly, many plants and animals will not be able to adapt to it. Some of these will lose their habitat and eventually become extinct. Deserts are also getting bigger. Extreme weather and natural disasters may occur more frequently: severe thunderstorms, severe storms, floods, droughts, and so on.
Most scientists warn us to keep warming as low as possible and to do something about climate change quickly. They think that at some point it will be too late and the climate will then spiral completely out of control. Then the consequences could be catastrophic.
How do you know that climate change is happening?
For as long as there have been thermometers, people have been measuring and recording the temperature around them. Over a period of time, you will notice that the temperature is constantly rising, and faster and faster. It was also discovered that the earth is already 1 degree warmer today than it was about 150 years ago.
Scientists have studied how the world’s climate has changed. For example, they examined the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. At the deep spots in the ice, you can see what the climate was like a long time ago. You can also see which gases were in the air. Scientists found out that there used to be less carbon dioxide in the air than today. From this, they were able to calculate the temperature that prevailed at a given time.
Almost all scientists are also of the opinion that we have long been feeling the effects of climate change. The years 2015 to 2018 were the four warmest years worldwide since the weather has been observed. There has also been less sea ice in the Arctic in recent years than there was a few decades ago. In the summer of 2019, new maximum temperatures were measured here.
It is true that nobody knows for sure whether such extreme weather events are actually related to climate change. There has always been extreme weather. But it is assumed that they will occur more frequently and even more extremely due to climate change. So almost all scientists are convinced that we are already feeling the effects of climate change and that it is accelerating. They urge you to act as quickly as possible to prevent even worse consequences. However, there are still people who believe that climate change does not exist.
Can you stop climate change?
Only we humans can stop climate change because we also cause it. We are talking about climate protection. There are many ways to protect the climate.
The most important thing is to release fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. First of all, we must try to save as much energy as possible. The energy that we still need should primarily be renewable energy, the production of which does not produce any carbon dioxide. On the other hand, you can also ensure that there are fewer greenhouse gases in nature. By planting new trees or other plants, as well as by technical means, greenhouse gases are to be removed from the atmosphere.
In 2015, countries around the world decided to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees. They even decided to try everything to make them half a degree smaller. However, since a warming of around 1 degree has already been achieved, people must act very quickly in order for the goal to be achieved.
A lot of people, especially young people, think that politicians are doing far too little to save the climate. They organize demonstrations and demand more climate protection. These demonstrations are now taking place all over the world and mostly on Fridays. They call themselves “Fridays for Future” in English. That means in German: “Fridays for the future.” The demonstrators are of the opinion that we all only have a future if we protect the climate. And in order to achieve this goal, every individual should consider what they can do to improve climate protection.