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The Basics of Climate Change

Our planet is essentially solar powered. Sunlight pours down onto the surface of the earth and allows plants to combined it with Carbon Dioxide in the air to create energy. This process is called photosynthesis and is fundamental to life on earth. The energy created by plants is then transferred to animals as they eat the plants. Some animals then eat the animals that ate the plants in order to get their energy. And when animals or uneaten plants die, they decompose with the help of micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi who take the remaining energy from the dead matter with the bi-product of the release of carbon dioxide into the environment for plant to use for photosynthesis.

This energy cycle has been central to life on earth for tens of thousands of years. But there have been times where the cycle has been disrupted and dead matter has not been decomposed. That dead matter has been buried underground, compressed and has only been discovered by us in recent times. That matter is coal, oil and gas, or as we commonly refer to them, fossil fuels.

As recently as 200 years ago, we started to extract fossil fuels and burn it for energy. We use it for electricity, to heat our homes, to run our cars, to run factories and just about every industrial process today. It has revolutionised our lives and allowed for the phenomenal progress man has made from hunter/gatherer to our technological advances of today. But sadly the use of fossil fuels has come at a huge cost. By burning fossil fuels in the amounts we have in the past 200 years, we have released a significant amount of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere. Whilst 200 years may seem like a long time for us, it is a heartbeat for the planet. Releasing that amount of carbon dioxide into the environment in such a short space of time has significantly disrupted the energy cycle. Plants cannot photosynthesis the excess carbon dioxide in the environment and as a result there is an abundance. Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, i.e. it prevents the sun’s energy from leaving the atmosphere by acting as a blanket. So when the sun’s rays hit the surface of the Earth and bounce back up back into the atmosphere, they get caught in the blanket and cannot escape again. As a result, the earth’s atmosphere is warming. When in such abundance, carbon dioxide also dissolves into the sea, resulting in the increasing acidity and temperature of sea water.

And the impact of this is a multitude of woes, which when added together could spell the end of human life on Earth. It is that serious. As temperatures increase, sea levels will rise. Many of the largest and most influential cities in the world are coastal and no amount of sea barriers will be able to tame to encroaching seas. Weather patterns across the globe are (or at least were) stable and predictable because of the consistent temperatures. As temperatures increase, the weather becomes less predictable with rains not falling in areas desperate for water and massive storms battering others.

It’s a sobering thought and not one just for the film makers in Hollywood to consider. This is going to happen in your lifetime, or if not, your children’s lifetime unless we do something about it now.

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