The climate of the Earth is always changing. In the past it has altered as a result of natural causes. Nowadays, however, the term climate change is generally used when referring to changes in our climate which have been identified since the early part of the twentieth century. The changes we’ve seen over recent years and those which are predicted over the next 100 years are thought by many to be largely as a result of human behaviour rather than due to natural changes in the atmosphere
The greenhouse effect is very important when we talk about climate change as it relates to the gases is believed that the effect could be intensified by human activity and the emission of gases into the atmosphere. It is the extra greenhouse gases which humans have released which are thought to pose the strongest threat. IMPACTS Scientists around the globe are looking at all the evidence around climate change and using supercomputer models to come up with predictions for our future environment and weather.
However, the next stage of that work, which is just as important, is looking at the knock-on effects of potential changes. For example, are we likely to see an increase in precipitation and sea levels? Does this mean there will be an increase in flooding and what can we do to protect ourselves from that? How will our health be affected by climate change, how will agricultural practices change and how will wildlife cope? And what will the effects on coral be? And while it may be controversial some would argue that climate change could bring with it positives as well as negatives.
The UK has experienced heavy floods over the past decade, which have affected thousands of people and caused millions of pounds worth of damage. The rainfall in June and July 2007 was about 20% higher than ever seen before in records that go back to 1879. Although it is impossible to say this flooding was a result of climate change, some computer predictions say that we can expect to see more extreme weather events such as flooding in the future. The Met Office however project that while heavy summer rains may become more frequent, summers are likely to be drier overall, especially in the south of Britain.
According to the Environment Agency, at present 2. 3 million homes and 185,000 businesses are at risk of flooding in England and Wales representing property, land and assets to the value of over ? 200bn. HEALTH The climate we live in affects many areas of our lives. The quality of the food we eat, the water we drink and our homes are all dependent on our climate and weather. Climate researchers predict that the UK climate will become warmer, with high temperatures in the summer becoming more frequent and very cold winters more rare.
Winters will become wetter with heavier rain more common. Some scientists have suggested that a warmer world will be a sicker world. However there is not complete agreement that this will be the case. With winters becoming milder, there are likely to be fewer cold-related deaths. However, there is a danger that bacteria would now longer die-off seasonally during the prolonged cold spell meaning that diseases may spread more widely. More heat waves will increase the number of hot-weather related deaths while the number of cases of skin cancer has quadrupled in the last 30 years.
High level of ground-level ozone will increase the prevalence of cardio-respiratory disease. Higher average global temperatures mean that diseases, or their carriers, may be able to move to areas that were previously too cold for them to survive. It is possible that a mild strain of malaria will become established in localised parts of the UK for up to four months of the year. Globally, there are likely to be more floods, more droughts and more storms, which will be accompanied by damage to our homes, food and water supplies and impact on our general health.
An increase in flooding will promote the spread of water-borne diseases plus the growth of fungi, while droughts encourage white flies, locusts and rodents, all affecting food and water supplies and health. Climate change is likely to have an unequal impact on the world population. Those living in poor and developing countries are going to be less able to adapt to changes. The effects on general UK health are likely to be less severe than in other parts of the world. Health impacts are not likely to be confined to the human population – wildlife will also be severely affected.
WILDLIFE The affects of climate change aren’t going to be restricted to humans. The possible dangers for plants and animals throughout the world are a great concern to environmentalists. Birds, fish, and land-based animals are all going to be under threat as their habitats and climate alter. Plants, trees and shrubs are also going to have to adapt. Species are under threat in more than one way. Climate change is predicted to cause a number of weather extremes which could directly affect our wildlife, for example through flooding or storms.
However the biggest concern is how the changes in weather will affect the habitats in which species lives. It is estimated 20-30% of plant and animal species will be at increased extinction if the temperature rises by more than 1. 5 – 2. 5C. Less snow in winter, warmer temperatures in summer and more winter rain will affect wildlife across the board. Sea level rises will reduce land area in some countries, which will instantly affect vegetation which is currently used for homes and foods by animals.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
It’s not just policies and industries that need to be more climate-friendly; each individual has an impact on his or her environment. Choices that we make in our day-to-day lives can ? Affect the climate ? Turn off lights when you leave a room ? Only boil the amount of water you need in your kettle ? Turn off televisions, videos, stereos and computers when they are not in use – they can use between 10 and 60% of the power they use when on ? Close curtains at dusk to keep in heat ? let your clothes dry naturally rather than using a tumble drier