What is Climate Change

Climate change is the natural cycles of weather patterns on earth resulting from changes in the amount of heat received from the sun. The climate goes through warm and cold periods, taking hundreds of years to complete one cycle. These changes affect the temperature which also influences the rainfall. Plants and animals are able to adapt to a changing climate if these changes take place over hundreds of years. Unfortunately, human activity is currently causing the climate to change too fast.

Science has shown that climate change is already taking place and that most of the warming that has occurred during the past 50 years is due to human activity (IIPC, 2001). Climate models predict that the average air temperature over South Africa will increase by an estimated 2°C over the next 100 years. Plants and animals may not be able to adapt as quickly to this “rapid” climate change as humans can, and therefore the whole ecosystem is in danger.

What causes climate change?

The earth’s climate system is driven by heat energy from the sun. Several gases in the atmosphere act to trap the energy from the sun, thus warming the earth. These gases are called greenhouse gases and the process is the greenhouse effect. Without this there would be no life on earth (see the picture above). Human activities over the last 200 years, particularly the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and the clearing of forests, have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (see picture on the right). This means more heat is being trapped, which leads to the earth’s surface warming up – called the enhanced greenhouse effect.

What is climate adaptation?

In recent years reducing vulnerability of people to climate change has become an urgent priority in developing countries. Adaptation is a process whereby individuals and communities seek to cope with the consequences of climate change. Adaptation is about finding ways to lessen the impact of climate change on people’s livelihoods. This process is not new, throughout history people have adapted to changing climate conditions. What is new is that now the changes will be rapid and severe and our dependence on technology and infrastructure will make us more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. People used to depend mcuh more on community and low tech ways of living and these simple things used to help us out in times of shocks and stresses caused by climate change. Maybe it’s time to change our lifetsyles – to return to a more sustainable way of life.