Understand the basics of climate change and the easiest ways you can help.
You’ve likely heard the term “climate change,” and it’s just as likely to have brought up many questions. It’s a complicated subject. At Inspire, we get that. We can relate to feelings of overwhelm when it comes to climate change, which is why we’ve done the research to help you more easily grasp this global issue. Since the first step toward combating one of our world’s biggest threats is to learn about it, we’re here to help break down the facts about climate change. We’ll cover all the basics: the causes, the effects, and the solutions.
What is climate change?
First, let’s define climate change – but instead of focusing on the technical language, we’ll frame these explanations to show how climate change affects our daily lives. Here’s how we like to think about it.
The rise of human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is accelerating global temperatures. This leads to diverse impacts on a region over time.
What That Actually Means
In simpler terms, our Earth requires a delicate balance of naturally occurring greenhouse gases (GHG) (such as CO2 from our breath) that help keep us just warm enough to sustain life's ecosystems.
They earned their name because they act just like a greenhouse—trapping heat inside the planet's atmosphere2.
However, too many GHG, causes our planet to overheat and impairs our environment's natural systems, from the production of natural resources to global weather patterns.
So, while greenhouse gases are naturally occurring, when they’re in excess they become the root cause of climate change. Unfortunately, our current atmosphere has too many greenhouse gases for its own good. In fact, their presence has increased dramatically in the last century. And the primary reason for this is industrial growth caused by human activity. Think: getting places, staying warm, and feeding our families. In other words, our daily routine can be traced back to some of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Four main sources of greenhouse gases in our daily routine
Our transportation and climate change: Transportation, which includes commercial delivery services, accounts for about 29% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of GHG emissions in the US.
Our homes and businesses and climate change: The energy generated in the US to power our homes and businesses relies predominantly on fossil fuels. As a result, 12.3% of US GHG emissions are due to how we power our lives.
Our landfills and climate change: Although US consumers recycle 35% of their garbage each year, the remaining trash that sits in landfills decomposes and releases methane, which is one of the most potent GHGs. The methane produced from trash equates to 15% of U.S. GHG emissions".
Our diets and climate change: Food production accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This includes all activity from maintaining farmland for animals and crops to transporting food products across our nation – the largest GHG contributor being the methane produced by livestock waste.
It’s clear how our everyday choices affect climate change over time, but how does climate change affect us every day? Such consequences are often framed on a global scale and positioned in ways that feel intangible. But the results of increasing GHG emissions will, and have started to, hit close to home. So, while the effects of climate change are widespread, let’s focus on how we are impacted directly.
Four effects of climate change
Our homes: Warming oceans and more extreme weather patterns may cause coastal flooding, which can cause costly property damage. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused $18.75 billion dollars in property damage.
Our food and water: A rise in global temperatures leads to droughts that can cause crop failure and limited access to freshwater, resulting in food and water insecurity. According to NASA, the southern US could experience higher risk of megadroughts.
Our wildlife: Disruption of habitats could drive many plant and animal species to extinction – an effect that harms human beings as we are intrinsically reliant on wildlife. For instance, the honeybee is responsible for pollinating our crops whereas the opossum protects humans against parasites that cause Lyme disease.
Our health: The rise of global temperatures could lead to more widespread infectious diseases like COVID-19. Our immune systems are able to defend against harmful pathogens thanks to our warm body temperature relative to that of our environment. Many pathogens that are adapted to cooler temperatures are unable to survive in our system. However, the rise in average global temperatures means better conditions for many pathogens that will be more difficult for our bodies to fight.
It’s clear there’s a lot on the line if we continue to let climate change run its course without taking action. However, now that we understand the gravity of the situation, you can rest easy knowing that there are small actions that you can take that will have a great impact. There are many ways to reduce your personal GHG emissions and fight climate change. Below we’ve detailed what is being done about climate change, listing the top five solutions – starting with the one that’s the easiest, and the most impactful.
Four easy ways you can help combat climate change
Switch to clean energy. In many cases, supporting clean energy from renewable sources like wind only takes a few minutes to set up and has no effect on your electricity service.
Reduce your energy consumption. Purchase energy-efficient devices for your home.
Cut your meat consumption. Try eating one plant-based meal daily.
Vote. Do your research and vote for climate advocates during local, state, and national elections.
There are plenty of easy and affordable solutions we can incorporate into our daily lives to make sure we’re doing our part. So while the causes and impacts of climate change often feel complicated, the underlying message remains simple: we need to take care of the Earth so that the Earth can continue to take care of us.