Yesterday, we provided a basic overview of climate change, why it is occurring and why it is something that needs to be addressed. Today, we will go in depth about the causes of climate change and how each cause directly impacts the climate and the environment.
Climate change is caused by a series of long-term changes in human activities that the planet has borne over time, stretching the environment to its breaking or near-breaking point. Let’s use the example of blowing air into a balloon. When the balloon is flaccid, it is at its strongest thickness. As you blow air into it and it stretches, it becomes thinner and thinner until it bursts. In the case of climate change, the air being blown represents the effects of human activities on the planet, and the time it takes for the air to be blown into the balloon is thousands of years. Now, we have reached the point where the planet has received too much air, and is about to burst.
The leading causes of climate change can be put into three categories; Fossil fuel use, deforestation, and intensive agricultural practices.
Modern day energy production and machinery relies heavily on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas as an important source of energy for electricity generation, transportation, and industrial processes. Unfortunately, fossil fuel extraction contributes significantly to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases which are responsible for retaining heat in the atmosphere.
Fossil Fuel Use
According to an article by EcoJustice, in Canada, between the years 2012 and 2019, exported emissions (CO2 pollution that is released when fossil fuels sold by Canada are burned in other countries) from the sale of fossil fuels increased by 46.43%. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and the International Energy Agency (IEA) report have also both highlighted the harmful effects of the fossil fuel chain and how they must be stopped in order to “prevent a full-blown climate crisis”.
Fossil fuel extraction not only impacts the climate but also causes large-scale environmental degradation to surrounding communities due to inevitable spills in the drilling and/or transportation processes. The land and water bodies become polluted and are no longer able to provide the sustenance they require. Often, the communities most impacted by these consequences are of minority groups such as Black, Indigenous, or other racialized communities. Yet another example where environmental racism in Canada can be observed.
Plants and trees, as we know, absorb and store carbon dioxide, giving them the ability to help cushion the effects of the greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere due to human activities. However, it becomes a problem when these trees are cut down en masse, especially when no new trees are planted in their place.
Following his attendance at the COP26 climate summit that occurred from October 31, 2021 to November 12, 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contributed to the agreement of ending and reversing deforestation by 2030. This pledge was signed by the leaders of various countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All together, these countries account for 85% of the world’s forests. Unfortunately, the specifics of the pledge and how countries plan to meet the target is unclear.
In the Canadian context, the agreement does not address the impacts of the current clear-cutting and replanting system being used in forestry that cuts down old-growth forests that have been storing carbon for thousands of years, releasing the large amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere as soon as they’re cut.
Intensive Agriculture Practices
Believe it or not, agriculture involves the production of several greenhouse gasses. Primarily, nitrous oxide is released from the use of fertilizers and the decomposition process of farmed plants and animals produces methane. Land-use change also generates large amounts of emissions that are released from the soil. Not to mention impacting the local biodiversity and ecosystems that will be destroyed or replaced with mono-culture crops. The increase in climate has altered traditional farming practices, with existing farmland becoming unsuitable for the crops it has grown for generations due to warming.
In answering “why now?” take a closer look at these causes, and you will realize how these are all modern-day practices. Our ancestors didn’t use fossil fuels or electricity but survived by using traditional transportation methods (walking, animal riding, cycling) and general living. Mass deforestation wasn’t an issue either, and they grew their crops naturally. As a result, are things the same now as they used to be then?
What effects have come into play due to the disparity in lifestyle? This will be our discussion for tomorrow.
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