What is climate change and why should we care about it?

Words with a* have been given a definition at the bottom of this resource. 

What is climate change?

Did you know climate and weather are not the same? 

‘Weather’ refers to conditions in a specific place and time. So, when someone asks what the weather is like where you are, they want to know if it’s hot, cold, windy or rainy at that time. On the other hand, a place’s climate is based on weather patterns over time. For example, Upington is seen as having a hot and dry climate, even if it sometimes gets cold. A changing climate is normally a natural process that has happened over millions of years giving plants, animals and humans the chance to adapt. But since industrialisation* in the 1800s, humans caused the process to occur at a dangerously faster rate.

Climate change refers to changing long-term patterns all over the world due to human activity.

When humans discovered fire, we started burning all sorts of natural resources. At first, we only burned wood, but when the world started to become industrialised, fossil fuels such as coal, petrol and gas were used. The energy that came from burning these fossil fuels has been used to generate electricity, cook our food, power cars, trains and planes, and more. However, whenever fossil fuels are burned, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are released into the air. We call them greenhouse gases because they hang around in the atmosphere and trap heat, making earth’s climate warmer – just like a real greenhouse is used to trap heat from the sun and keep plants inside warm. This is called the greenhouse effect.

The more fossil fuels that are burned, the worse climate change will get.

The more fossil fuels are burned, the more greenhouse gases hang around in the atmosphere*. As more heat is trapped, the polar ice caps melt and the global climate changes. This is made worse by things like:

  • Deforestation* because trees absorb CO2 from the air and release oxygen back into it. We can think of them like “air conditioners” that limit climate change.
  • Intensive plant and animal agriculture because this releases potent greenhouse gases and ruins our soil, which like trees can also reduce CO2 in our air.
 

Why does climate change matter?

 

Climate change doesn’t only mean it’s getting hotter. It also causes many other dangerous problems such as: 

 

  • More extreme weather events such as floods, heatwaves, wildfires, and cyclones which kill thousands of people every year or cause people to lose their homes.
  • Increased droughts making water more scarce.
  • Difficulty in predicting weather patterns making it more difficult to farm and produce food. This makes food less easy to get and causes food prices to go up. 
  • In some places, it is becoming too hot to work during the day, which could lead to people losing their jobs. 

Climate change affects everything and everyone but especially people who already live in poverty in climate change hotspots such as South Africa. These effects will only become worse if we don’t act. That is why we are doing something to stop the worst effects of climate change. Join us.

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Definitions

 

* Industrialisation (industrial revolution): the development of industries in a country or region on a wide scale (mining, fishing, farming etc).

 

* Atmosphere: commonly known as air, is the layer of gases that surrounds the earth and forms its planetary atmosphere.

 

*Deforestation:  cutting down rainforests for wood, and to clear ground to build oil mines, dams, roads etc.

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What is climate justice? ‘Climate justice’ is the term we use to refer to the social, ethical and political implications of climate change, as opposed