“We do not inherit the earth from our fathers, we merely borrow it from our children”. In recent years, climate change has been a hot topic (if you’ll pardon my pun!) and has left many people fearful of what this will mean for the future. The rise in CO2 emissions, an ever-expanding world population, and the recent natural disasters that seem to be sweeping through Europe have raised the question, “Is our weather getting worse?” Let’s explore this topic in a little more detail, shall we?
What is currently happening?
Climate change can seem a vague term for many people but essentially what it will mean for our future is a rise in sea levels, a reduction in the number of freshwater sources inland, and an increase in extreme weather, for example, greater periods of drought, flooding, heat, and cold. Now, this may seem like an exaggeration or perhaps a phenomenon that we typically only see in blockbuster disaster movies, but the evidence for climate change is everywhere and it is now rearing its ugly head in Europe.
These past two weeks different European countries have faced weather on an increasingly severe scale. Germany saw floods sweep through its North-Rhine Westphalia and Rhineland Palatinate areas, which left over 100 people dead, and many more still missing or injured. Belgium too saw its roads and cars washed away in a matter of minutes with the provinces of Namur and Walloon Brabant taking the brunt of the destruction whilst England dealt with submerged metro lines due to flash flooding in London.
Although such weather has occurred before in these areas, the extent of the damage and the swiftness in which it transpired has shocked local populations in Europe and left many scientists at a loss for words. Not to mention the financial cost of repairing these areas from flood damage could amount to as much as €300 million or even more in Germany alone. Therefore, there are heavy financial consequences to our rapidly changing climate as well.
Is this climate change or simply the weather going through cycles?
For some, the answer is clear, we are on a collision course with mother nature. The recent whistleblowing documentaries that can be found on Netflix, such as Seaspiracy and many more, show just how polluted our world has become. But there are also those who deny that climate change is happening and that our extreme bouts of weather are simply part of a larger natural cycle. Whilst it is true that planet earth goes through its own natural cycles of heating and cooling, the contribution made by populations through the burning of fossil fuels and other pollutants has sped up this process with detrimental consequences.
According to the European Commission Climate Action group, the period between 2011 and 2020 was the warmest decade ever recorded with global temperatures reaching 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels in 2019. Whilst this may not seem like a dramatic change in temperature, it is enough to disrupt the natural balance and to cause a ripple effect far beyond what we could ever imagine. For example, if temperatures were to continue rising, it could affect the behaviour and life cycles of certain plants and animals which, in turn, could lead to a higher number of pests and an increase in certain human diseases.
What is being done to combat this?
In response to this information and the growing concern from various environmental groups, Europe is aiming to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The plan is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to call on the public to switch to more sustainable methods regarding their lifestyle. For example, there has been an increase in the promotion of electric cars and the building of cycle lanes across Europe. There have also been talks on how best to manage natural disasters and to make countries more resilient when these unfortunate events do occur.
However, these plans and policies have also been met with some resistance and criticism as to how practical they are on a day-to-day basis and how much they will cost for the average European taxpayer. For example, the adoption of the electric car is a relatively new thing and, given the time it takes to charge versus the distance that you are able to travel, many people have criticised that the more sustainable modes of transport are not realistic for those living in the countryside versus the big cities of Europe.
Not to mention that, besides being more expensive to buy than a gas-powered car, there is a scarcity of charging ports in many countries and, in an emergency, an electric car may not be the best option. The cost of heating one’s home in Europe has also raised concerns, with many people citing lower prices as a reason for continuing to burn fossil fuels versus switching to greener methods.
So, will these measures help?
Whilst these measures will certainly help to slow down climate change, it is unlikely that they will be able to completely reverse the damage that has already been done. Furthermore, given that Europe is one of the least polluting continents, it would seem that climate change needs to be tackled on a global scale if we are to make significant changes. This does not mean that smaller European nations should not try but that those countries contributing the most to pollution need to tackle their pollution issues as well.
There is also the uncomfortable truth that the world as we know it today has become too populated. If we look at the world population in 1804, it stood at around 1 billion people, whilst current figures put that number at around 7.8 billion people. This population explosion has clearly contributed to climate change, and the speed at which it has occurred has meant an increasing demand for limited resources and a higher volume of waste has been created as a result.
Overall, the topic of climate change is an important one and, although it may frighten people, it is best to be aware of the changes that are taking place in our countries and on the larger world stage. The world as we know it will not end in our lifetime, but we may experience the fallout of climate change in terms of extreme weather and a reduction in the availability of numerous natural resources. However, through combined efforts and greater awareness, we can help to undo some of the damage and to enjoy life, safe in the knowledge that our children and grandchildren will be provided for long after we’re gone.