Climate change is a term we hear a lot when focusing on renewable energy. Green energy is being encouraged as a more sustainable energy alternative, meaning less greenhouse gases – a direct cause of climate change. While climate change does occur naturally, the devastating effects we are seeing in recent years are due to human impact alone.
So, what is climate change?
Climate change is a term used to describe large-scale, long-term shifts in weather. This includes global weather patterns and average temperatures. It may be surprising to learn that climate change is a natural occurrence, but with significantly less impact than recent centuries.
Human behaviour began to impact climate change in the mid 1800’s when we began increasing the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the environment. Almost everything we do, from producing power and food to manufacturing clothes and electronics, produces greenhouse gases, putting more pressure on the atmosphere.
As the greenhouse gases build up, more heat is trapped, leading to global warming and climate change. The changes we are experiencing from climate change impact all life on earth, not just us as humans. The impacts range from hotter temperatures to severe droughts, but scientists are recently discovering more implications from climate change than initially thought.
The greenhouse gas effect
It’s important to understand the implication of greenhouse gases when focusing on climate change. In exchange for developing new technologies, quickly growing construction, and significant population progression (otherwise known as the Industrial revolution) we have been producing a lot of harmful gases.
The key gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, and fluorinated gases, most of which do occur naturally. The problem occurs when these gases are quickly built up in a short period of time, getting trapped in the atmosphere.
In terms of their Global Warming Potential, Carbon dioxide is the least impactful, followed by methane, Nitrous oxide, and Fluorinated gases being the most harmful. 76% of the gases we produce are Carbon dioxide, 16% are methane, and Nitrous oxide and Fluorinated gases create the final 8%. But, where do they come from?
Carbon dioxide occurs naturally from a range of sources, including volcanoes, and even in the breathing process. It is a necessity for all life on the planet in the correct doses. However, in this instance, we’re interested in the sources that originate from manmade sources.
The main human source of carbon dioxide is the burning of oil, coal, and gas. In fact, almost 90% of human-produced carbon dioxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels. Unfortunately, there are other big contributors to carbon dioxide production, including the clearing of forests (deforestation), and industrial processes (including cement manufacturing).
What damage is being done?
We’ve already mentioned some impacts of climate change, including hotter temperatures and drought, but we’re learning there are more complications across the board.
- Heat – With the atmosphere getting hotter, almost everything else is too. We are already experiencing significantly hotter temperatures across the globe and we can expect that to continue. Parts of the world, such as Pakistan, are currently in the middle of a severe and unprecedented heat wave, with some areas topping over 50°C which is significantly higher than comparative years (around 30°C). Research shows that heat waves in South Asia are over 30 times more likely to occur now, as opposed to preindustrial times. A side effect of the rising heat is also melting ice. We’re currently losing around 13% of global ice caps each year and in the past three decades the largest ice cap in the world has been reduced by a shocking 95%. Not only is this terrible news for the species living in these habitats, but there are further global impacts if the ice melts. The ice/snow reflects the sun back into space, instead of absorbing it and further warming the planet. Less ice means the earth will once again continue to warm up.
- Rain – Along with much warmer heat, we can expect less predictable weather. Seasons as we know them will change. Warmer temperatures mean there will be more moisture in the air, creating more storms, snow, and heavy rain. The other side is that enhanced evaporation will remove dampness in soil, making land much drier than it would be in cooler temperatures. Drier land means less successful crops and more risk of wildfires.
- Sea Levels – Evidence shows that global sea levels have risen by up to 9 inches in just over a century; a third of that can be attributed to the past 25 years. Most of this change is due to melting ice caps. The biggest issue we face with sea levels rising is the damage caused to residential and industrial areas. 8 out of 10 of the largest cities in the world are close to a coast line which puts them at risk of flooding and extensive damage.
- Food – Droughts and severe changes in weather will damage land and impact agriculture. There are already around 2 billion people living in poverty around the world and the anticipated changes to our environment will further enhance this. Crops will become more difficult to grow which will not only impact the amount of produce but it will also impact jobs and the livelihoods of farmers.
What can we do?
While it all may seem quite hopeless, the good news is that the variety in sustainable alternatives are quickly being deployed. Renewable energy (including solar, wind, green hydrogen, and green ammonia) is a fantastic resource that will significantly reduce the impact fossil fuels are having on the planet, ultimately reducing the carbon dioxide we’re currently emitting to produce energy.
There are also other new technologies being developed to reduce the other gases mentioned in the article. Methane production is a huge contributor to climate change and at Hive we have a team (Hive Carbon) dedicated to creating sustainable biochar, which can be used to reduce methane emissions in livestock. We are also working on producing sustainable alternatives to cement, for use in the construction industry. Hive Aggregates are using by-products to help minimise the need for cement, which is one of the biggest carbon contributors in the world. We also have a team working on restoring natural thicket in South Africa. Hive Ecosystems are working to improve land quality and agricultural space which has previously been depleted by overgrazing of livestock. This will produce better quality land and will eventually become a source for carbon sequestration. Finally, at Hive we are investing in sustainable businesses through the circular economy. Hive Ventures help us invest in carbon-neutral companies who are producing sustainable alternatives to products currently causing damage to our planet. So far, this has included adding three companies to our group, two of which produce eco-friendly packaging using by-products which are currently wasted. The third company is creating sustainable BioEnergy to replace carbon intensive fuel currently being used in transportation.