The topic of climate change often sparks a debate; whether it really exists and if it is a true threat to humanity and the planet. United States President Joe Biden claims climate change is a bigger threat to humanity than nuclear war.
What is climate change?
The climate change crisis is reportedly the biggest threat to humanity and the greatest challenge of our time. Climate change refers to the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. The shifts are caused by natural variations in the solar cycle but are heavily aggravated by increased negative human activity.
Since the 1800s, the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas has increased significantly, causing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide and methane, to trap the sun's heat and raise global temperatures.
An increase of cars on the road and the mass clearing of land and forests contribute to releasing greenhouse gas emissions. Other large contributors include energy, agriculture, and industrial complexes.
Our planet is currently 1.1°C, or 33.98°F, warmer than it was in the late 1800s, with the last 10 years being the warmest on record.
The impact of the climate crisis on the planet in 2023
All aspects of Earth are connected. A change in one area causes a change in all other areas, therefore rising global temperatures is only the beginning of the problem. The planet is experiencing extreme conditions such as:
Rising sea levels
Melting polar ice
“Climate change affects us all. The potential impact is enormous, with predictions of a lack of clean water, major changes in conditions for food production, and increased mortality rates due to floods, storms, droughts, and heat waves.”
Climate change is not only affecting the planet, but in recent reports, the threat to human health is becoming increasingly alarming. A report by ISGlobal states that “the health of humanity is entirely conditioned by the health of the planet itself.”
The impact of climate change on humanity
We are starting to see the effects of climate change on humanity in a multitude of ways, from our health and well-being, and the ability to grow good food, to housing and safety. The climate crisis will bring food insecurity, infectious diseases, and heat-related illnesses and deaths.
Air pollution from greenhouse gas emissions kills seven million people worldwide per year and contaminated water infects 1 billion people per year. It is also reported that almost a third of emerging infectious diseases are linked to deforestation and three out of four infectious diseases are of animal origin.
There are predictions of a lack of clean water due to pollution and increased fatalities due to extreme weather during floods, storms, droughts, and heat waves. Heat-related fatalities have increased globally over the past decade.
During the summer of 2022, temperatures reached a record-breaking 40°C, or 104°F, in the UK, and almost every summer in recent years, we have heard of multiple wildfires breaking out across many countries. The climate crisis is only expected to get worse in 2023.
“Throughout the world, human rights are being negatively impacted and violated as a consequence of climate change. This includes the right to life, health, food, development, self-determination, water and sanitation, work, adequate housing and freedom from violence, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and slavery”
Around the world, we are also starting to see an increase in fatalities from wildlife. Climate change is bringing wildlife closer to humans therefore it is inevitable that these human-wildlife interactions will increase.
Deadly attacks increasing as a result
In December 2022, a 24-year-old woman and her 1-year-old child were killed by a polar bear in Alaska. This was the first deadly polar bear attack in Alaska in 30 years.
Polar bears are starting to spend more time on land as their hunting grounds on the ice are melting. If polar bears are unable to return to their own habitat, they will spend more time in human habitats, resulting in an increase in dangerous attacks.
“If you combine the reduction of natural habitat with the expansion and spreading of human settlements, it’s almost normal that the encounters between large carnivores and humans become more frequent,” Penteriani said. “It’s just a question of probability.”
Additionally, it isn’t just the polar bear population that is at risk of attacks. This also affects carnivore animals across the planet, such as wolves, bears, and big cats.
What region is most impacted by climate change?
Certain parts of the world are currently facing higher vulnerability to climate change impacts, such as developing countries, indigenous communities, and small island nations. Where sea levels rise, coastal lines are becoming smaller, with some countries facing the possibility of islands disappearing.
There is already a noticeable amount of communities having to relocate and in the future, there will be a risk of the number of “climate refugees” rising.
Developing countries in particular are being heavily impacted by the climate crisis. These countries tend to have weak infrastructure, therefore any change in climate can drastically affect the country and the population.
The Nigerian President, Muammadu Buhari stated that “the extreme effects of climate change are felt more in developing countries of Africa.”
Some parts of Nigeria have been submerged in water following a bad case of seasonal flooding, leading to destroyed homes and businesses and sadly, fatalities.
Countries across Africa face similar effects to Nigeria. Unfortunately, these developing countries do not have the economic means to lessen the effects of the climate crisis. Latin American countries are also in a similar state.
It is reported that there is a strong correlation between gross domestic product, GDP, per capita, and climate change, which is made clear by seeing the poorest countries in the world being affected the most.
President Buhari, with the agreement of the UN, believes that developed countries should help to finance climate action across developing countries, particularly as Africa has been the lowest contributor to climate change.
John Dramani Mahama, former president of Ghana has urged Western countries to take the same seriousness to climate change that they have done for the Russia-Ukraine war. These countries claim that there is not enough money to put into climate action, however, they are supporting Ukraine with millions of dollars.
Joe Biden claims that climate change is a bigger threat to humanity than a nuclear war, however, spends government money on the war, rather than on climate action.
Who are the biggest contributors?
Almost every part of the world contributes to the climate change crisis, however, advanced countries are the biggest contributors. It is reported that Western countries, in particular, are not doing enough to support the climate change crisis even though they are the biggest contributors.
Some claim that other than temperatures becoming warmer, there have been zero effects from climate change. The United States is currently the largest climate polluter in the world, however, this is largely due to Donald Trump’s Presidency.
During Trump’s Presidency, he stated his skepticism of climate change and continually made decisions to put a stop to climate action. Trump often referred to cold weather as proof that climate change does not exist and that it is a hoax.
Joe Biden also claims to be trying to fight climate change, whilst continuing to use private aircraft to fly to his second home every weekend. President Buhari of Nigeria has revealed that African leaders believe that first-world countries are hypocritical about their actions and words regarding climate change, which Joe Biden is proving to be correct. Overall, the United States has emitted more than 334 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which totals 21.5% of the global total.
What can we do now?
We have become exceedingly reliant on burning fossil fuels, however, there will come a time when these fuels will run out, or we will run out of time to save humanity and the planet before they run out. The magnitude of problems caused by burning fossil fuels requires an urgent solution.
To address these issues, we can turn to our natural resources. Specifically, we can harness the power of wind, water, and solar (WWS) to generate electricity and heat.
WWS technologies encompass various forms of energy generation, including onshore and offshore wind electricity, hydroelectricity, tidal and ocean current electricity, wave electricity, geothermal electricity, and solar photovoltaic electricity, concentrated solar power electricity and heat, and direct solar heat.
These are the tools we need to save humanity and the planet, and we already have these tools. They just need to be implemented widely. Overall, WWS can be the solution to our climate problems and they come at a lower global cost than fossil fuels do.
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Rachel Brown is an English Literature and Creative Writing student at Keele University. She is also a content writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth.