Extreme weather events are becoming increasingly commonplace, but there are plenty of science-backed steps to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

With global temperatures continuing to rise unabated, the impacts of climate change are becoming more frequent, more intense, more dangerous and more widespread. Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, temperatures are increasing and extreme weather events are becoming increasingly commonplace. But it’s not all dire news. Despite the uptick in anxiety about the future of the planet, we do know what to do — there are plenty of science-backed steps to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

Perhaps the first step is to make sure we understand what climate change is, and (in addition to the systemic change that’s desperately needed) how we can all play a role in the effort to combat global warming.

What is climate change?

At the most basic level, climate change is when the earth’s climate system undergoes a significant adjustment and exhibits new weather patterns. Changes in climate can be as “brief” as a few decades or as long-lasting as millions of years. For example, CO2 can stay in the atmosphere 300 to 1000 years, while methane stays in the atmosphere around 12 years (though methane is also more potent and damaging).

There’s a difference between weather patterns and climate change. Temperatures fluctuate organically over the course of the Earth’s life. But the amount of climate change we’re seeing now is largely the result of human activity — specifically, human activity that produces greenhouse gasses, most notably carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (NH4) and nitrous oxide (NO2).

The problem with greenhouse gasses is that they trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, which also increases the planet’s overall temperature. Over time, these higher temperatures destabilize existing weather patterns and ecosystems, and this destabilization has a ripple effect that impacts everything from crop production and biodiversity to city planning, air travel and birth rates. Perhaps most pressingly, global warming is imperiling our ability to grow food for the nearly 10 billion people who will populate the earth by the year 2050.

What turns climate change into a climate emergency is the speed at which the climate is changing, and the potentially catastrophic consequences if we don’t dramatically change course. Many of these changes require policymakers and regulators to intervene, but others can make at least some difference at an individual level, and these include simple dietary changes that could significantly reduce the impact of agriculture and deforestation on global emissions levels.

Climate change that’s caused by greenhouse gasses is called “anthropogenic climate change” because it’s the result of human activity, not the Earth’s natural development. Vehicles, power and energy generation, and industrial processes and agriculture (primarily the production of beef and dairy), are the main sources of these gasses.

Why is climate change happening?

Though some climate change is normal, the extreme changes we’ve seen over the last several decades are primarily the result of human activity. The biggest drivers of this change are greenhouse gasses, which are released into the environment as the result of various everyday human activities.

How it works is explained by the greenhouse effect, a natural process by which the Earth’s lower atmosphere traps heat from the sun, like a blanket. This process isn’t inherently bad; in fact, it’s necessary to maintain life on Earth, as it keeps the planet’s temperature within a livable range. However, greenhouse gasses amplify the greenhouse effect beyond its natural levels, causing the Earth to grow warmer.

The majority of greenhouse gasses — about 73 percent — are the result of energy consumption by industries, buildings, vehicles, machinery and other sources. But the food sector as a whole, including deforestation to make room for more livestock, is responsible for around a quarter of emissions — and while a small share includes energy use, most food-related emissions are driven by beef and dairy farming. Most climate experts say we need to be curbing emissions from all sectors, and that includes what’s on our plate.

What does climate change look like?

There is a wealth of evidence showing the consequences of anthropogenic climate change, and according to countless studies by climate scientists, we need to take urgent action to reverse these effects in order to avoid making the planet far less hospitable to humans. Here are some of those effects, many of which feed back into and influence one another.

Rising temperatures

Rising temperatures are a central component of global warming. Scientists have been tracking global temperatures since 1850, and the last 10 years — that is, the period between 2014 and 2023 — were the 10 hottest years on record, with 2023 itself being the hottest year on record. Worse, 2024 seems to have a one-in-three chance of being even hotter than 2023. In addition to higher temperatures, climate change has also increased the severity, frequency and length of deadly heat waves around the globe.

Hotter oceans

The ocean absorbs much of the heat caused by greenhouse gasses, but that can also make the ocean hotter as well. The temperature of the ocean, much like the temperature of the air, was hotter in 2023 than any other year, and it’s estimated that the ocean has absorbed over 90 percent of the Earth’s warming since 1971. The temperature of the ocean has a huge influence on weather patterns, marine biology, sea levels and a number of other important ecological processes.

Less snow cover

Snow plays an important role in regulating Earth’s temperatures due to the albedo effect — that is, the fact that light-colored surfaces reflect the sun’s rays rather than absorbing them. This makes snow a cooling agent, and yet climate change has caused significant decreases in snow cover around the world.

Over the last century or so, the average snow cover in April in the U.S. has declined by more than 20 percent, and from 1972 to 2020, the average area covered by snow has decreased by about 1,870 square miles per year. It’s a vicious cycle: hotter temperatures cause snow to melt, and less snow results in hotter temperatures.

Shrinking ice sheets and glaciers

Ice sheets contain vast amounts of frozen fresh water, and they cover so much surface area that they influence global weather patterns. But for decades, the world’s ice sheets have been shrinking. The surface area of the Greenland ice sheet — the biggest in the world — has decreased by around 11,000 square miles in the last three decades, and it lost 270 billion metric tons of mass every year, on average, between 2002 and 2023. As the ice sheet melts, global sea levels will rise, which would put Miami, Amsterdam and many other coastal cities underwater.

Glaciers around the world are also on the decline. The Tibetan Plateau and surrounding areas, including the Himalayas, have the densest concentration of glaciers outside the polar regions, but they’re melting so quickly that according to researchers, the majority of glaciers in the central and Eastern Himalayas may disappear completely by 2035. These findings are especially concerning given that these glaciers feed into major rivers, such as the Indus, which provide vital water for millions of people downstream, and are likely to run out of water by mid-century if glacial melt continues.

Rising sea levels

Climate change causes sea levels to rise in two ways. First, as ice sheets and glaciers melt, they pour extra water into the oceans. Secondly, higher temperatures cause ocean water to expand.

Since 1880, sea levels have already risen by about 8-9 inches, and they won’t stop there. Ocean levels are currently rising at a rate of 3.3 millimeters per year, and scientists predict that between 2020 and 2050, they’ll increase by an additional 10-12 inches. Some scientists predict that Jakarta, a city that’s home to over 10 million people, will be entirely underwater by 2050.

Ocean acidification

When oceans absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, they become more acidic. Acidified ocean water inhibits calcification, a process that animals such as snails, oysters and crabs rely on to build their shells and skeletons. The world’s oceans have become about 30 percent more acidic over the last two centuries, and as a result, some animals are essentially dissolving in the water as low pH causes shells and skeletons to dissolve. Even more worrisome, these changes are occurring at faster rates now than at any time in the last 300 million years.

Extreme weather events

In the last 50 years, the number of weather-related disasters has increased fivefold, due in no small part to climate change. California has experienced a series of wildfires in recent years; the 2018 wildfires burned more land in the state than any other fire since 1889, and the 2020 fires burned even more land than that. In 2020, an unprecedented plague of locusts descended upon East Africa and the Middle East, devouring crops and threatening the region’s food supply. In the Bay of Bengal, super-cyclone Amphan killed hundreds of people and caused widespread flooding in 2020. Heat waves are also becoming increasingly common; in 2022, people died of heat-related deaths at the highest rate in over two decades.

What is the solution to climate change?

While there’s no single solution for tackling anthropogenic climate change, climate scientists have recommended a wide range of policies and social changes that, if implemented, would help reverse the worst effects. Some of these recommendations take place at the individual level, while others require large-scale or government action.

Investing in green alternatives to fossil fuels

This is perhaps the biggest step needed to avert climate disaster. Fossil fuels release massive amounts of greenhouse gasses and are finite in supply, while alternatives like wind and solar release no greenhouse gasses and are infinitely renewable. Incentivizing the use of clean energy, especially by corporations and in high-income countries, is one of the biggest ways to bring down humanity’s carbon emissions.


Conserving wild animal species, called trophic re-wilding, has tremendous potential for climate mitigation. When species are allowed to return to their functional roles in ecosystems, the ecosystem functions better and more carbon can be naturally stored. The movement and behaviour of animals can help spread seeds and plant them across wide regions which helps plants grow.

Reducing our consumption of meat and dairy

Producing animal products for human consumption emits far more greenhouse gasses than the production of plant-based alternatives like legumes. Worse, when land is deforested to make way for livestock to graze, the absence of trees means that less carbon is captured from the atmosphere. As such, shifting to a more plant-forward diet is an excellent way to help bring down greenhouse emissions.

A couple of things are worth noting here. First, although individual action against climate change is great, the amount of progress needed to curb emissions will realistically require the efforts of corporations and governments. The vast majority of greenhouse emissions are industrial, and only governments have the force of law to compel industries to institute more climate-friendly policies.

Second, because high-income countries in the global north are responsible for a disproportionate share of carbon emissions, those countries should share more of the burden in reducing climate change, including eating less beef and dairy.

What is being done now to solve climate change?

In 2016, 195 countries and the European Union signed the Paris Climate Accords, the first legally-binding international treaty on climate change. The goal of the accords is to limit global temperature increase to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 — though it encourages countries to aim for the more ambitious limit of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — and each signatory is required to develop and present its own plan for reducing emissions within its borders.

Many have argued that this goal isn’t ambitious enough, as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that anything beyond a 1.5° increase will likely result in extreme weather and sea level rises. It’s too soon to say whether the accords will accomplish their long-term goal, but in 2021, a court ordered Royal Dutch Shell oil company to reduce its carbon emissions to be in accordance with the accords, so the agreement has already had a tangible, legal impact on emissions.

The bottom line

It is clear that wide-scale systemic change is needed to address the human-made causes of climate change. Everyone has a role to play and knowledge is the first step towards action. From the food we choose to eat to the energy sources we use, it all counts towards reducing our environmental impact.

Original source: https://sentientmedia.org

Rewilding could be the climate change solution we have been searching for