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Climate Change – The Past, Present and Future

by Donna Reynolds

“Climate change is, simply, the greatest collective challenge we face as a human family.” – Ban Ki-Moon

Climate change and global warming have become broad, abstract and threatening ideas since they were first mentioned in the early 19th century, and it is often useful to return to the basics in order to fully realise and comprehend climate change, its effects, and what we can do about it. We understand climate change as the long-term variation and change of temperature and usual weather patterns in a particular location, or on Earth as a whole.

Climate change has unpredictable and devastating effects on weather patterns, including hurricanes, floods, droughts and erosion. In the polar regions, the effects of climate change involve the accelerated melting of ice sheets and glaciers, all of which contribute to the rise of sea levels across the world. Climate change results in global warming that affects us all and the way we live on this earth, from the habitability of the environment we live in, to the success of our farming and the stability of our housing. Climate change today is chiefly caused by human activity and the burning of fossil fuels, which ultimately causes the planet’s average temperature to rise – what we know as global warming. And global warming is happening at a faster rate as time goes on and we fail to take action.

Many think of the risks of climate change (and therefore the benefits of reducing them) as fairly uncertain, geographically distant and occurring mostly in the future. In arid and semiarid Africa, climate change and ecosystem degradation have resulted in droughts, creating major water shocks with a significant effect on the rapidly growing population's food insecurity and drinking water scarcity. We notice the scorching heatwaves in Canada, deadly landslides in Japan, Australia's devastating wildfires, and the recent flooding and drought in South Africa, but still deem these events as too geographically distant to be of importance or in need of our intervention. Concern about the negative effects of climate change - including extreme weather events like droughts or floods - is low on average, partly because these events tend to be underestimated in decisions based on personal experience. Only when these extreme weather events have recently occurred is concern about their negative effects greater, and in this case they are largely overestimated.

These are all psychological factors that lead to people discounting the risks of climate change and that prevent people from taking action against them. It is necessary to investigate and understand these psychological barriers to climate change further so that this research can inform the policy developments we need to fight climate change on a global scale. Climate change is intrinsically not exclusively an environmental issue; it is also an economic, health, humanitarian and justice issue that requires inclusive policy development, and awareness and cooperation from governments, corporations, policymakers and individuals alike.


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