The advent of the industrial revolution at the late end of the 18th century saw a rise in the application and intensity of mechanisation in the manufacturing and production processes of many industries 1.
The invention of the steam engine was arguably one of the few factors that set our civilisation on the starting line for most of the technological advancements we have made to date 1. These advancements gave us better lives, better access to consumer goods, better standards of living and redefined our ideas of what comfort was. However, with the rise of the machines came an increase in the energy demands through which they were powered and this was met largely by the consumption of fossil fuels – coal especially at that time. It was a period at which humans had arrived at a completely different level in their inventiveness and a period at which we could only imagine the sky as being the limit for the advancement of our civilisation.
To oversimplify what they are, fossil fuels are the remains of dead living things like animals and plants that have been buried in the earth and subjected to intense temperature and pressure over very long periods. For instance, a tree falls and is covered up by the earth and over time it becomes coal or, a dinosaur dies and after a long time, it becomes crude oil or natural gas 2. Fossil fuels are generally organic compounds as they have carbon as their primary structural element and when they are burned in the presence of air, they are transformed into carbon dioxide and water. Carbon dioxide itself is a greenhouse gas and greenhouse gases serve an important function in supporting life on earth as without them, NASA estimates that the surface temperature on the planet would be around -18° at an average 3. In a way, greenhouse gases may be thought to be like blankets that keeps the surface of the earth warm.
For millions of years the temperature of the earth has been largely regulated by natural factors and a natural balance has been maintained. However, since the industrial revolution, human activity has offset that balance by pumping literally hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 and other GHGs into the atmosphere every year 4. Global Warming as a global problem is the result of human activities that have led to increases in the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and there are mountains – literally, mountains showing evidence of glacial retreat – of physical evidence to support these facts. Facts that range from rise in sea levels to loss of polar ice, increase in the frequency of extreme weather events and changes in climatic conditions in some regions.
There are many misconceptions about climate change, both locally and abroad. Some people happen to be of the opinion that global warming and climate change are linked with the depletion of the ozone layer. That is wrong but not entirely as the Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), that are responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer are in themselves GHGs with a lot greater abilities to warm the planet (Global Warming Potential) than CO2. However, regarding their residence time in the lower-mid atmosphere where we find most GHGs and as a matter of significance, they pose a greater threat on the front of ozone layer depletion but both ideas are as distinct as both could possibly be 5.
As a matter of necessity in clearing up possible confusions rising from the distinctions between both global warming and climate change, it is important to understand that both terms are both quite different. While Climate Change might refer however loosely to changes in climatic conditions (and the climate is defined as the average weather condition observed and recorded over a given area over a long period of time usually measured in decades). Climate change can swing quite possible in both ways i.e. the onset of an ice age (last of which was recorded about 1 million to approximately 11,000 years ago) could indicate that climate patterns around the planet might respond in line with effects brought about by a planet-wide fall in temperatures or, the increase in temperatures of the earth might as well lead to analogous changes in climatic conditions as we see today. Global Warming on the other hand, simply means the earth is getting warmer and in this case, climate change may be thought to be an effect of global warming; one precedes the other.
Last (for now) and most unfortunately, there are people who believe that, even in the face of so much evidence; climate change is a hoax. Some have even gone so far as to specify the sources of the hoax, labelling it a product of the Chinese. Very notably, some of these people happen to be President of a country whose consumerist culture is second only to the extravagant Dubai. They lead a country with the third highest levels of CO2 emissions China and India as at 2016, a country that is not to be named. The Chinese aren’t exactly on par with say the Brits when it comes to the protecting human rights, neither are they the enthusiasts the Germans are when it comes to environmental protection, but when they begin to tell POTUS that climate change is real, it gives one a hint of what exactly the world is headed.
As a matter of fact however shockingly this might seem, the temperature on earth has only moved up by an average of about 0.8° (approx. 1.5°F) between the onset of the industrial revolution and now. This change however slight it may seem, is responsible for the effects of climate change as we all see today. A comprehensive discussion about the effects of climate change will be carried out in subsequent articles but this article seeks to build up a basic understanding of what climate change is, some “popular” misconceptions and what we understand to be the causes.