Khizar Khalil is currently studying for an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management at the University of Oxford. This article originally appeared in The Pen, The Aziz’s Foundation’s scholars blog.
There have been considerable variations in the global climate, with this playing an instrumental role in driving geological processes. Some of these events, albeit natural, led to countless ice ages, the formation of the Himalayas and at least five mass extinctions — the last of which terminated the dinosaurs around ~65 million years ago. Whilst these were driven directly or indirectly by climate change, studying them allows us to answer some of the profound questions surrounding the current global crisis. Exactly what is climate change and how will it affect us? How often does climate change happen and can we do something about it?
Since the 1960s, global average temperatures have increased by more than 1.6 degrees (see figure 1). This trend is likely to continue, resulting in glaciers melting, sea levels rising, changing weather patterns, and life-threatening heatwaves. Moderate projections by leading scientists place sea level to rise by 8 feet by the end of this century. It is difficult to imagine, but cities like Shanghai, Miami, Rio de Janeiro will be completely submerged, affecting the combined population of 22 million. The intensity and frequency of hurricanes are also expected to increase. The freshwater supply from lakes and rivers will decline, leaving farmers and industries without resources they have relied upon for centuries. Despite this, the mechanism by which climate change happens and affects millions of lives is still not fully understood.
However, paleoclimate data from tree-rings, preserved sediments, rocks, ice sheets and corals can tell us a lot about the similar conditions of the past. There are numerous examples of warming and cooling notably in the past 450,000 years of glacial and interglacial cycles (Figure 2).
Geological records from sediment of the past climate show that the amount of CO2 is higher today than it has been for at least 3 million years (Figure 3). CO2 is released from the burning of fossil fuels which are formed from the remains of dead animals and plants over millions of years. As we cut down trees and burn fossil fuels, we keep adding more CO2 in the atmosphere. This warms the planet.
The scientific evidence on climate change is strong. The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has provided all the evidence needed for action. But there continues to be a lack of action from powerful stakeholders in dealing with an issue that affects each and every one of us. However, millions of individuals, who do not have much power recognise that climate change is a significant problem that affects their day to day life. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) regarded environmental protection as being a key religious duty — he promoted proper land use, practising compassion towards animals and conserving water. It is up to us make the right decisions. By voting for politicians who take tough decisions in favour of climate control and making conscious decisions over how we live and eat, we can create powerful change.
Lisiecki, L.E. and Raymo, M.E., 2005. A Pliocene‐Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic δ18O records. Paleoceanography, 20(1).
Climate.gov. 2020. Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide | NOAA Climate.Gov. [online] Available at: <https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide> [Accessed 12 August 2020].