Five Things Students Need to Know About Climate Change

by | 10 Sep, 2021 | Blog Articles, Get the Edge

When it comes to learning about such an overwhelming topic like climate change and its effects, it can be difficult to know where to begin. That’s why it’s always best to start with the basics. 

As engaged students, you guys will know a fair bit about climate change already. It’s a serious issue dominating the conversation at the moment, popping up on your social feeds, the news, Netflix and political platforms (hopefully).

There are a ton of layers and complexities to the issue, though, so it’s easy to lose sight of the basics. Here, we go through the essentials to give you a solid foundation of climate change knowledge. Then you can really dive into the specific areas that you’d most like to learn more about.

Let’s get right to the main question:

What is climate change?

In a nutshell, the world is warming up way faster than it ever has before, changing weather patterns across the planet. And it’s definitely happening because of us. We’ve been burning too many fossil fuels way too fast, creating a greenhouse effect, which has increased the average global temperature by about 1°C since the industrial era. Two thirds of that increase occurred after 1975.

This may seem like a teeny change in temperature, but it has caused polar ice caps to melt, sea levels to rise and extreme weather events to become the norm (think all the floods, intense storms, severe droughts, forest fires and more happening around the world recently).

While average global temperatures have gone up and down throughout Earth’s history, scientists know that human activity is at the root of our current global warming problem. Why? Because our global temperatures are rising at a rate that’s faster than anything the planet has seen before.

Our greenhouse gas emissions have increased a lot because of industrialisation, deforestation and our agricultural practices. Today, our atmosphere contains about 42 percent more carbon dioxide than it did in the pre-industrial era. That’s not good.

If we keep going down this path, the effects of climate change are only going to get way worse. And the real kicker? The places with the lowest emissions and smallest carbon footprint—small islands and developing countries, for example—are probably going to be those most affected by the climate crisis.  

What is a carbon footprint?

Nearly everything has a carbon footprint, from the last flight you took to the online video games you play. A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions for which a person, place or thing is responsible. So, that could be a whole country, a company, a product, an activity, or even an individual (yup, that’s you).

There are a few greenhouse gases to take into account when calculating a footprint. Carbon dioxide is the most common, responsible for 76 percent of global greenhouse gases. But there’s also methane (16 percent) and nitrous oxide (6 percent). 

In order to calculate a footprint, all other greenhouse gases are converted to their carbon dioxide equivalent (or CO2e) based on their global warming potential. Carbon footprints are generally measured in metric tonnes per year.

Why is calculating a carbon footprint important? Well, as consumers, knowing the size of a product, service or company’s footprint could help you decide where to spend your money (an electric car vs. petrol is an obvious example).

Also, and more importantly, understanding what contributes to a carbon footprint (say, for a company or a country) is a crucial first step in reducing it.

What is the Paris Climate Agreement?

Climate change is a global crisis. That means the whole world needs to take part in some very ambitious global-level intervention. In December 2015, 195 countries signed a commitment at the UN climate change convention in Paris to reduce their carbon emissions drastically by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

The aim is to limit the temperature rise in the global average to below 2°C—ideally below 1.5°C—in order to lessen the effects of global warming. 

Why have there been global climate strikes?

Even though the Paris Agreement seemed very hopeful, progress has just not been fast enough. According to a 2018 IPCC report by leading climate change scientists, we only have until 2030 to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C (even the extra 0.5 degree has us projected to face much worse outcomes). As of 2020, at the rate we’re going, the world is slated to reach a global temperature increase of 3°C.

So, sparked in large part by climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s weekly climate strikes, the world’s youth—those who will be most impacted by the effects—have staged protests to demand more action from world leaders and institutions, and draw more attention to the climate crisis.

Millions of people in more than 150 countries have participated in thousands of climate strikes around the world.

What do we need to do about climate change?

Yes, we’re already seeing the effects of climate change, but many scientists believe that a commitment to climate change solutions (a.k.a. major changes in our emissions) will help to soften the blow. And, thankfully, there are a lot of ways to reduce those emissions.  

For one, governments can place different incentives to shape people’s (and corporations’) behaviour. Carbon pricing, such as a carbon tax, helps to hold companies and individuals accountable for their carbon use by forcing them to pay a fee for their emissions. And tax incentives can help convince people to make the switch to electric transportation.

We also need to invest less in fossil fuels and more in alternate power sources: nuclear and renewable sources such as wind and hydro. Plus, corporations should commit to full transparency and accountability when it comes to their carbon footprint and ultimately pledge to actively reduce and neutralise their emissions.  

As individuals, we can all make lifestyle changes to reduce our footprints. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to live off the grid in the woods.) Consider using energy-saving appliances and changing the way you get to school. And think about working towards an environmental job, eating less meat, wasting less food and just buying less stuff in general. 

Last but not least, even if you’re not old enough to vote yet, consider being an active voice in the movement—and help to inspire change. 

Ready to get a head start on your future?

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