A major scientific report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented – and sometimes irreversible – ways.
The authors say that since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years. The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850.
"It is a statement of fact, we cannot be any more certain – it is unequivocal and indisputable that humans are warming the planet," said Prof Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading and one of the report's authors.
What can be done about the climate crisis? While international action is essential, individuals can also play an important role to slow global heating
to tackle the climate crisis
Climate change is causing wildfires, heatwaves, floods and other extreme weather events across the world. As the world warms even more, the frequency and severity of these events will only worsen.
There is hope – but concerted action needs to be taken immediately. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero – in other words, achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere – is possible through, for example, using clean technology, using carbon capture and storage, and increasing native tree cover. All these actions can all slow down – and possibly stop completely – the temperature increases.
"The thought before was that we could get increasing temperatures even after net zero," said co-author, Prof Piers Forster from the University of Leeds.
"But we now expect nature to be kind to us – and if we are able to achieve net zero, we hopefully won't get any further temperature increase. And if we are able to achieve net zero greenhouse gases, we should eventually be able to reverse some of that temperature increase and get some cooling."
There's an old Chinese proverb that says: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now."
Many people feel helpless in the face of the scale of the climate crisis. While international government action is essential, there are small steps that everyone can take – and these will make a difference. But the time to act is now.
And if enough people make enough small changes, the results can be significant.
Many actions are easy and can be started straight away. And although some need a financial investment, many will save money instead.
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are just a few ideas.
Reduce personal greenhouse gas emissions
Minimise car journeys by walking and cycling more. Take the train or the bus. Avoid taking flights for weekends away. Invest in renewable energy such as solar panels. Buy electricity from a green energy supplier. Consider switching to an electric or hybrid car. Replace broken appliances with energy-efficient versions. Wash clothes at 30C. Buy locally produced food. Try eating meat-free or vegan food once or twice a week.
Insulate homes to reduce energy use. Turn down central heating. Switch off appliances and lights when not in use. Avoid fast fashion. Buy ethical, durable, or second-hand clothing. Replace single-use plastics with re-usable, sustainable alternatives. Avoid plastic packaging. Recycle. Make compost. Grow your own vegetables. Buy from zero-waste stores. Only buy new for old when items can't be repaired.
Boost biodiversity in gardens and community green spaces
Plant a tree or have one planted for you by Trees for Life. Create a nectar-rich bee and butterfly garden. Grow a hedge. Let the grass grow long. Create a wild, undisturbed area. Build a pond. Avoid fertilisers, weedkillers and insecticides. Choose peat-free compost. Avoid hard landscaping where possible – grow grass or easy-maintenance plants instead. Avoid plastic grass.
Lobby government, and support organisations
Write to your MP. Sign a petition. Join an action group or community group.
There are lots of organisations to support, through donations, signing petitions, or volunteering. Here are some suggestions.
Isn't it just part of a natural cycle?
No – the vast majority of scientists are convinced that the warming planet is a direct result of human activity.
But here's the thing. Even in the unlikely event that 99% of scientists turn out to be wrong and climate breakdown isn't caused by human activity, taking the positive actions listed above bring wide-ranging benefits for people and nature.
Those benefits include cleaner air for our children to breathe, with a decrease in respiratory diseases like asthma. Seas free from plastic pollution, with thriving marine wildlife. Wilder landscapes rich in biodiversity, with species brought back from the brink of extinction. Less flooding. Cleaner water. More food security. Less waste. The health and wellbeing benefits of engaging with the natural world. A planet that's fit for nature – and fit for life for generations to come.
Little Green Space August 2021
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