T214: Block 2, Activity 1a – Climate Change

This activity requires me to “reflect on how a range of ‘thinking traps’ may influence how you engage with complex situations” by writing down what I think about:

“the causes of emerging environmental crises such as climate change, and what you believe could resolve these problems”

I’m not sure they could have picked a more complex problem to discuss, and there are certainly many thinking traps that the media, government and people in general have fallen into. I shall now expound on what I think I know about environmental crises.

Where to start with climate change?

I think it’s fair to say that the Earth has a natural climate cycle. It warms and it cools over millennia, and it’s done this whether we’ve been here or not. However, it’s become apparent that the human race has sped up the warming of our planet by our exploitation of the Earth’s natural resource, especially during the post-industrialisation era (i.e.  now).

The climate is a complex system involving many factors – atmosphere, temperatures, oceans, winds, gravity etc – and our activity has been proved to be detrimental to the health of the planet. Our world is getting warmer – globally – faster than it should be.

There are numerous factors to the increase in the rate of the warming of our planet and many of these are related to so-called “greenhouse gases”:

  • deforestation has reduced the amount of CO2 absorbed by trees
  • farming methods create excessive methane and nitrous oxide
  • industrial methods create greenhouse gases
  • burning of fossil fuels releases enormous quantities of CO2

This is not an exhaustive list. Greenhouse gases come in many forms and affect the atmosphere – and thus the warming of the planet – in different ways. These gases are also produced naturally in the environment and it has been a difficult job modelling our world’s environment in order to understand how each factor affects our climate.

One of the biggest problems with finding a solution to this important conundrum is due to one particular learning trap: learned helplessness. Understanding our environmental crises is difficult and many people prefer to either ignore it – hoping it will just go away on its own or someone else will fix it – or determine that it’s too difficult to fix and that nature will take its course.

There is much groupthink around climate change too, on both sides. If you read many on-line discussions you’ll find that there are many people that will not change their opinion when given scientific evidence, and will reinforce their beliefs by reading blog posts and news items by like-minded people.

The UK has a somewhat temperate climate and hasn’t been affected so much by climate change. It’s easy to have a short attention span when it comes to global warming, especially when we have other, more urgent (to us) problems, like rising unemployment. Why think about it too much when someone else can sort it out?

I don’t believe this is impossible to fix. Science has discovered many of the causes of climate change – using modelling and other methods. Climatologists still have much to learn about how our climate works but we know enough to at least make a difference to the rate of increase. It just takes some desire to do something about it. Something as simple as planting trees (a LOT of trees) can reduce our CO2 output. Reducing fossil fuel consumption by using alternative power generation methods can help. Feeding cows alternative feeds can reduce their methane output.

Much can be done, and much is being done, but we do need a worldwide consensus. This will take time and education, but it is possible.

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