Climate Change

Increasing temperatures, changes in rainfall, and unpredictable weather can put serious pressure on natural habitats and wildlife. Changes in our climate can also cause habitat loss, allow pathogens to spread and hinder the movement of species through a landscape.

Little Woolden (c) Mark Champion

Climate change, why does it matter? 

What is climate change?

‘Global warming’ and ‘Climate Change’, two terms that are being used more and more interchangeably together. Global warming can in fact be seen as slightly misleading, however, as a warming atmosphere, rising sea levels and warming oceans are not the only consequences of climate change. Climate change is causing areas of the planet to become hotter, wetter, drier and in some areas, even the seasons can be seen shifting.

These increasing temperatures, changes in rainfall, and unpredictable weather can put serious pressure on natural habitats and wildlife. So much so, that it may lead to mismatches in the timing of the availability of food and other resources for species that rely on seasonal changes. This can affect predator and prey relationships, lead to pollinators such as bees and butterflies having  no flowering plants to feed on, and disrupt reproductive cycles. Changes in our climate can also cause habitat loss, allow pathogens to spread and hinder the movement of species through a landscape.

How does it impact us?

In recent days, it has become more and more apparent that in the UK, people have been showing increasing concern about climate change, hurrah!  This has been expressed by many. who are worried about the slow pace of change happening when responding to what some are now describing as a “climate emergency”. Something many experts would agree on as a matter fact.

The current prediction by the IPCC, state that the average global temperature by 2100 will likely be between 3°C to 5.5°C ABOVE late 19th century levels if no action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. It may not seem like much, but let me throw a few facts at you and you may have a better understanding of how such a small change can make such a dramatic difference.

How about some facts?...

Climate change is continuing to have an increasing impact on the UK and other countries around the world. The UK Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18) project found that:

  • Average sea level has risen by around 16cm in 100 years and could potentially increase by another 8 to 115cm by 2100 (compared to the 1981-2000 average) depending future greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Average temperatures in England between 2008-2017 were around 0.8°C higher than they were in the 1970s and 1°C higher than pre-industrial times (1850-1900)
  • The average number of extremely wet days are also increasing in the UK.

Globally, climate change is:

  • Threatening the survival of hundreds, if not thousands of global ecosystems.
  • Having a profound impact on the exacerbation of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, drought, extreme rainfall and coastal flooding.
  • Continuing to alter sea ice concentrations, river flow and coastal erosion.
  • Causing many plant and animal species to move towards the poles and to higher elevations due to the changing weather conditions.
  • Slowing productivity gains for some crops such as wheat and maize.

Yes, but, is it really that bad?

Climate change does not have the same effects everywhere, as I have explained previously. The planet is generally getting hotter, but some regions and seasons can at times be temporarily cooler. Some places will see drawn-out seasons, while others may experience concentrated bursts of extreme weather.

The IPCC has identified a range of concerns for the future, including:

  • More common extreme weather events. For instance, analysis from UKCP18 found that an event like the 2018 hot summer was low in the past (less than 10% probability for 1981-2000) but will be common by the 2050s (around 50% probability). Extreme weather events - such as hurricanes, heatwaves, drought, wildfires and floods - are predicted to become more intense and frequent.
  • Severe impacts on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. For example, intensely hot periods result in direct impacts on people (lower productivity, illness and increased mortality).
  • Environmental and economic damage, such as crop yield reduction, transport and energy production issues due to overheating
  • Large-scale singular events (such as further sea level rise as major ice sheets melt over Greenland and Antarctica). Along with melting ice sheets and glaciers, rising global temperatures could cause rainforests to die and widespread species extinctions.

So yes, it is pretty bad.

What about the impacts of climate change on a fragmented landscape?

As stated previously, heating is forcing many species to move northwards or to higher climes in search of cooler and more suitable conditions. This is problematic because today’s world is full of physical barriers like urban developments, agricultural areas, roads, and canals. These have fragmented our landscape, forcing our wildlife into smaller pockets of suitable habitat, known today as nature reserves.

What exactly is it?

So, what EXACTLY is causing climate change?

The main driver of current climate change is the emission of greenhouse gases, most importantly carbon dioxide and methane. These potent gases are primarily released when fossil fuels are burnt. However, there are numerous other contributors as well, such as the meat and dairy industry, producing cement and some industrial processes, such as the cutting and burning of peat, and the production and use of fertilisers.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere, so the more greenhouse gases we have, the more heat we receive. In the last 150 years, the world has emitted over 2.2 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Believe me when I say this, that is a LOT.

Usually, when the suns energy enters into our earth atmosphere, a large portion of it gets reflected back into space as infrared radiation. But now, instead of the suns energy escaping back out into space, a large amount of the radiation is getting absorbed by molecules of greenhouse gases.

This process causes more heat to be kept near Earth's surface, warming our world.

How do we know climate change is happening? How do we know it’s well… real?  

Science.

Basically, we know that greenhouse gases are causing change. And we know this, because there have been studies done to see how carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation. Because of these amazing bits of research, we know have an understanding of how the planet is warming as a result of emissions. Allowing climate scientists to discount the theory that global warming is being caused by an increase in the Sun's intensity. The sun is fine, phew!

It's also known that greenhouse gases are primarily emitted by fossil fuel combustion. Studies have shown that to burn carbon and produce carbon dioxide, you need oxygen. The amount of oxygen that is in the atmosphere is reducing at exactly the right amount for the increase in carbon dioxide to be caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.

So yes ladies and gents, climate change is a real thing.

Because science says so.

Making a Difference

So, what can WE do?  

The risks we’ve talked about will become more pronounced in the future, and new risks will emerge, as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. However, they can be limited by reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and preparing for change (adaptation).

Where you can, try to limit your personal emission, here are a few ideas:

  • Drive less. Try and walk, or use public transport, or even cycle where you can.
  • Eat local, organic and try meat free alternatives where possible.
  • Dry laundry outside in the sun, save using the dryer.
  • Unplug your devices.
  • Don’t buy ‘fast fashion’ items.
  • Use peat free compost.
  • Plant a garden.
  • And, if you have the time, volunteer for a local conservation group.
  • Recycle wherever possible.
  • Turn electronics off, don’t leave them on standby. Save electricity – lights off.

Tackling climate change on our doorstep?

Within our Carbon Landscape, on our very own doorstep, we have our mossland and wetlands. These unique habitats provide a vital lifeline to wildlife and the wider environment. By re-wetting lowland raised bogs and reintroducing bog plants, we are reducing carbon emissions because of the reestablishment of these ‘carbon sink’ habitats. Carbon is locked away underground. Once the sphagnum mosses have been restored, through photosynthesis, they draw carbon from the atmosphere. A fully functioning lowland raised bog can remove carbon from the atmosphere, fighting against climate change.