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        What is climate change?

        The only thing that is constant in nature is change. There is nothing wrong with slow and small changes in nature, and this is true for the climate as well. When we talk about climate change, we donโ€™t mean this kind of slow change that has been happening over billions of years. We are talking about the quick change that humans are causing by burning fossilised materials and cutting down too many trees.

        What are greenhouse gases?

        Climate change happens because of greenhouse gases. They are called greenhouse gases because they keep the planet warm by capturing sunlight and retaining heat, just as a greenhouse does. Over millions of years, earthโ€™s atmosphere evolved into perfect conditions for mammals, including humans. The plants would breathe in the carbon dioxide and capture the carbon in their structure. Over time, these plants turned into fossils which buried the carbon deep under the soil, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

        Since the industrial revolution started 200 years ago, we have been digging up that carbon in the form of coal, oil and natural gas. By burning these fossilised plants that had captured all that carbon, we have released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

        We are also producing methane, another greenhouse gas. Already in 1896, a Swedish guy called Svante Arrhenius pointed out the capacity of carbon dioxide to retain heat. Svante realised already back then that if humans burned enough coal, the entire atmosphere would heat up. The Swedes seem to be before their time in all sorts of climate questions! Since then, more and more scientists have discovered the same as him. In fact, today most scientists agree that our carbon emissions are on a level that is high enough to cause irreversible changes to our climate. Scientists are still debating exactly what these changes will be – it is very difficult to predict, as climate affects weather in a very complex system. However, most predictions show rising sea levels, more extreme storms, flooding and droughts.

        Carbon Dioxide

        You have probably heard about the greenhouse gas that causes the most heating – carbon dioxide,CO2. CO2 causes over 75% of all the heating. Around 200 years ago humans started digging up fossil fuels and burning them. Since then we have doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This means that itโ€™s heating effects have already started to be noticed.

        Methane

        Another greenhouse gas is methane, CH4. It causes about 15% of the heating effect. The amount of methane in the atmosphere has also doubled in the past 200 years. The fossil industry as well as agriculture emits methane. Now methane is increasing even more in the atmosphere because the warming caused by the CO2 has effects on frozen wetlands and ice blocks. When these melt because of the warming, they start releasing methane.

         

        Nitrous Oxide

        The third significant greenhouse gas is nitrous oxide. This one accounts for about 8% of the heating effect. You might know this gas by the name of laughing gas. The amount that can make you laugh is not really harmful for the climate, but Spark has decided not to discuss the potential health effects of that. The nitrous oxide that humans emit comes mainly from fertilizers used in agriculture.

        Where do greenhouse gases come from?

        Most greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of oil. The oil is used to make fuel, for example for your car but also for all the factories that produce a whole range of things. The second biggest source of greenhouse gases is coal, which is mostly used for electricity production. Greenhouse gas emissions that come from the burning of natural gas are less than half of the coal emissions. Methane and nitrous oxide come mainly from agriculture. Agriculture also uses fossil fuels, mainly for tractors and transportation. Methane and nitrous oxide emissions have increased a lot during the past decades, since agriculture has also increased a lot. In 1950 when the baby boomers were born, there was 2.5 billion people on earth. Today we are over 7.5 billion that all need to be fed.

         

        Browse the categories below to discover how greenhouse gas emissions are related to our own daily activities. Where is the greatest impact?

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        What is the problem?

        The problem is how fast we are changing the climate. Last time temperatures changed as much as they have since the start of industrialisation, it took about 5000 years for that change to happen. Humans might be clever enough to survive in a rapidly changing climate, but we risk losing a large number of animals as the landscapes around us start changing. Even if you live a life where you never see animals, you might start noticing some change in the form of food prices or water availability – ecosystems are complex and the disappearance of just one species can have fargoing consequences. Problems of nature will also eventually result in social problems. Only people who are rich enough are able to afford the technology needed to protect themselves from extreme weather and to produce food in challenging conditions. If we let climate change continue, we are effectively reversing all the development goals of getting rid of poverty and creating a better life for all humans.

        Personal choices play a central role in building tomorrow's carbon neutral societies.

        What can be done?

        We can do a lot! A large part of global emissions stem from our choices โ€” which means that we have the power to reduce them if we get the information we need. Most significantly, we can switch to renewable electricity and renewable heating of our homes. Preferring public transport, choosing holiday destinations in our near-region instead of far away and buying good quality products that last for long and can be repaired, are all significant choices that decrease emissions. We can also do our best to all learn a few new vegetarian recipes to decrease our meat consumption. What is also important is to spread the message, be positive and encourage your friends to tag along!