Wednesday, 4 December 2013

What climate change actually means

Most of us have heard politicians, environmentalists and lobby groups drum on about how bad climate change is, sharing their doomsday prophecies with whoever will listen. But what does climate change mean to the person on the street and how will it affect our lives?

At the beginning of October this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 5th Assessment report was published, in which it stated that in all likelihood, the rate at which the atmosphere is warming up is due to human influence. So we are doing things that increase the rate of atmospheric warming – a global greenhouse effect.

Many of us will shrug our shoulders and say “so what, I could do with a bit of warmer weather anyway”. Experts have speculated that on average, the world’s temperature will increase by about 2ºC. Now this may not seem like much, but the impact this seemingly insignificant increase will have on global weather patterns and ecosystems will be potentially catastrophic.

With global weather patterns changing, we can expect a lot more severe weather. From hurricanes and cyclones through to forest and bush fires; this means a lot more damage to your homes and offices. Most of us will have insurance to pay for the cleaning and fixing up but the insurance companies won’t want to foot this bill for too long, so it will no doubt increase premiums quite substantially. They may even put levies up on storm damage, or add clauses which exclude severe weather from your policy. This is already happening in some parts of the world!

With bad weather comes terrible traffic. From short-term delays through to entire bridges and roads being washed away due to flooding or mudslides, our daily commute may take a lot longer than it does now. There are cases from around the world where people were stuck in days-long traffic jams due to extreme weather.

Our agriculture will also be affected beyond our current comprehension. Although there are some places benefitting from climate change, the majority of the planet is bracing itself for increased droughts and flooding, longer winters and drier summers. This means that we, as a species, are going to have to reconsider the way we farm and manage our land. In the not-too-distant future you may struggle to get the simplest of fruit and vegetables at your local greengrocer or supermarket due to poor growth in these varietals around the world. Can you imagine your salad without a couple of key ingredients?

The point here is not to make you have sleepless nights but merely to inform you that climate change will affect each and every one of us, even if we see a seemingly insignificant global increase of just 2ºC. It may result in an increased commute to work once or twice a year which some of us can handle, but for others, especially those living in poorer nations, the effects of climate change on their land, food and income streams will be devastating.

So play your part in reducing your impact on the planet. This may be a small change, such as taking public transport or cycling to and from the shops or work, or a larger one, such as limiting the number of flights you take annually. We all need to take responsibility for our actions and start paying more attention to how these actions negatively affect the planet.

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