The Main Factors of Climate Change

The Main Factors of Climate Change

This video outlines the main factors of climate change, such as sources of power, deforestation and land use

Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.1 These are gases that prevent heat from escaping into space.2 The ‘greenhouse effect’ has increased the global average temperature by about 1°C since pre-industrial times.3

Forests and greenhouse gases

On the other hand, forests reduce climate change effects by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2).4 A single tree can store a tonne of CO2 over a lifetime of 100 years.5 This keeps the gas from contributing to global warming. Our existing forests remove about 30 per cent of all human-made CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.6 

But, they are under threat from deforestation.

What factors cause climate change?

The leading cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels.7 Combustion of coal, oil and natural gas produces large quantities of CO2.8 89 per cent of all CO2 emissions came from burning fossil fuels and industry in 2018.9

agriculture and climate change levels

Agriculture directly accounts for 17 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.10 It is indirectly responsible for an additional 7 to 14 per cent of emissions through land-use changes.11 For instance, the livestock sector alone causes about 14.5 per cent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.12

Human activity and greenhouse gases

Another critical factor is deforestation. Cutting down trees and converting the land for other purposes is responsible for about 10 per cent of global emissions.13 It also prevents the trees, vegetation and soil from absorbing any further carbon. This can result in forests becoming net emitters of CO2 rather than carbon sinks.14

amazon forest

The Amazon rainforest and carbon dioxide levels

The Amazon rainforest has lost great swathes of trees to deforestation since the 1950s.15 Estimates for tree cover loss are as high as 17 per cent.16 Subsequently, the amount of carbon that the forest absorbs and stores has fallen by about a third since the 1990s.17 The decline is equivalent to one billion tonnes of CO2.18 That is more than double the UK’s annual emissions.19

Indonesia’s rainforests and greenhouse gases

Similarly, Indonesia’s rainforests have been severely degraded by deforestation. The island chain has 10 per cent of the world’s tropical forests.20 But it also has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world.21 This has been predominantly driven by large-scale oil palm and timber plantations. Small-scale agriculture and plantations also contribute, as do logging and mining activities.22  

Currently, less than half of its original rainforests remain.23 This has had disastrous consequences for the wildlife that live there. 80 per cent of orangutan habitat has been destroyed.24 Over 6,000 of the iconic primates die every year.25

It has also resulted in significant ‘megafires’ in recent years.26 In 2015, fires killed over 100,000 people in Indonesia.27 The fires burned over degraded forests and peatlands.28 Some were deliberately set to clear space for plantations.29 

These fires produced at least 1.6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.30 They raised Indonesia to the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world in 2015.31 On some days, the fires produced more emissions than the entire US economy.32 Human activity is hugely responsible for our greenhouse gas levels rising.

What natural factors can cause climate change?

Natural factors can also cause climate change. For instance, volcanic eruptions can produce enormous quantities of gases, like sulphur dioxide and ash.33 They can reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth, lowering temperatures and changing atmospheric patterns.34 Alternatively, they can release CO2, which contributes to global warming.35

Natural vs. human climate change factors

The changes made by volcanic eruptions tend to be small and short-term compared to human-caused emissions. Their greatest impact is immediately after an eruption. CO2 emissions from volcanoes since 1750 have been at least 100 times smaller than human-made emissions.36 

What factors affect climate change?

The factors that affect climate change are sources of power, deforestation and land use. 

Climate change factors: Energy sources

First and foremost, we must abandon our use of fossil fuels as soon as possible. This would hugely decrease our carbon emissions and prevent air and water pollution too. Fossil fuels still provide 84 per cent of the world’s energy.37 But this is changing.

How to mitigate burning fossil fuels

Solar Panel

Renewable energy consumption has grown at an average rate of 13.7 per cent over the past decade.38 They were the only energy type that increased globally at double digits over this period.39 In the US, they are the fastest-growing source of energy.40 Between 2000 and 2018, they experienced 100 per cent growth.41

Climate change factors: Deforestation and agriculture

Secondly, we need to stop deforestation. This involves a change in our approach to agriculture. At present, agriculture is the principal driver behind global deforestation.42 Some estimate that it is responsible for as much as 80 per cent of all tree felling.43

dairy and climate change

The effect of meat and dairy on the Earth’s climate

Reducing our meat and dairy intake will remove the incentive for deforestation. 50 per cent of the world’s vegetated land is dedicated to agriculture.44 30 per cent of cropland is used to grow grain for animal feed.45 The amount of space taken to rear livestock is massively disproportionate to the calories meat provides. 

Our diet’s effect on greenhouse gases and global warming

If the entire world adopted a vegan diet, “our total agricultural land use would shrink from 4.1 billion hectares to 1 billion hectares”. It would remove the incentive to cut down forests for land conversion and free billions of hectares of land for tree planting. Cutting out beef, mutton and dairy has the largest impact on agricultural land use. It frees up both pasture land and cropland used to feed the livestock.46

Less greenhouse gas for our Earth

Simply put, the climate change factors increasing global warming are those which increase the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The principal contributor is burning fossil fuels. This is in addition to deforestation since forests soak up CO2 from the air.

The greenhouse effect: How to slow it down

To combat the greenhouse effect, we need a dual approach to reduce fossil fuel usage and stop deforestation. Our Earth’s climate depends on it.

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