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The latest issue of Conservation Education, YPTE's publication on environmental issues is an update on climate change. We will be serialising it here over the coming days. Here is part one:-

The last time Conservation Education looked at the subject of climate change was in 2006.  In the last nine years, like the climate, some of the thinking on climate change has been developed and changed.  As a result, we thought it would be worth taking another look at this really important topic.  It is possibly the most important issue facing humans on planet Earth at the moment, as if we don’t make changes ourselves, we could end up facing enormous challenges in the future.

What is climate change anyway?

Firstly, let’s have a think about what climate change actually is.  The definition hasn’t changed.  Weather is what it’s doing when you go out for a walk or look out of the window - for example, is it sunny, raining, cloudy, foggy etc.  Climate is the pattern of weather over a long period of time - years or even decades.   The world’s climate is always changing, but the changes tend to happen over hundreds of years.  The reasons for climate change are really complicated and range from changes in the balance of gases in our atmosphere to factors like a massive event on the sun, to the growth of microscopic creatures in the oceans.  They interact with each other in very complex ways.  However, despite the complexities, almost all scientists who study the world’s climate patterns looking back thousands of years are now in agreement that our world’s climate is changing faster than it has  ever done before.  What is more, almost all of them agree that the reason that the climate is changing so fast is us humans.  

How can scientists know what the climate was like?

You might struggle to remember what the weather was like last week, so how on earth are scientists able to say what the climate was like thousands of years ago?  Well, they are able to use a special drill to pull out cylinders of ice (ice cores) from deep within the ice sheets of really cold places like Greenland and Antarctica.  The ice in the cores contains bubbles of air, which can be analysed to show what the atmosphere was like at a given time in history or prehistory.  In Greenland, the ice can tell us about climate up to 123,000 years ago, whilst in Antarctica the ice can reveal details about the makeup of our planet’s atmosphere up to 800,000 years ago!

How can this be anything to do with me?

You might be wondering what you have done to cause the planet’s climate to change.  After all, you are just one person - how can the problem be anything to do with you?  Well, the answer is that we have all had our little part to play in causing climate change, and it hasn’t just been down to today’s humans, but to everyone who has been alive since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1760s.

Ever since that time, humans have invented more and more clever machines to do work for them.  And now technology moves on incredibly quickly.  Believe it or not, in 1998, less than 10% of UK homes had an internet connection.  In 2014, that had increased to 84%.  Meanwhile, in the year 2000 only 50% of adults in the UK owned or used a mobile phone.  By 2014, that had grown to 93% and numbers are still increasing!  All of these new gadgets that we now own and take for granted need energy to work.  Much of the electricity we use every day is still made in power stations that burn fossil fuels - coal, gas or oil to produce the electricity.  And of course, every time you get in the car or bus, take a train or a plane, it is likely to be burning fuel derived from oil and putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Photo by Klem@s

In the next article:  Fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect.

If you want to read the whole of Conservation Education now, you can download it here:

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