Climate change has been in the headlines since it was first used in 1975 by Wallace Broecker. Since then, there have been valiant efforts, policies put in place and campaigns to stop what is ultimately causing this catastrophe: humans. As a whole, the earth’s population has boomed, driving a rise in the energy and agriculture industries. Unfortunately, we have neglected to create energy and food in ways that preserve what we already have. As a result, we have released so much gas into the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect. This means heat is able to enter the atmosphere, but is unable to exit increasing the temperature on earth. Since 1950, the earth has increased by 1.8°F and while that may not seem like much, the effects have been detrimental.
There are many factors that contribute to climate change. The biggest cause is the energy industry, which releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. The energy industry is responsible for 65% of global gas emissions. This situation would not be as bad if there were an excess of plants to consume the carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the atmosphere, however, many forests are being cut down for urbanization or agriculture purposes. Rainforests, specifically, are called “carbon-sinks” because they store carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesizing. When these rainforests are cut down, the trees and other plants release a substantial amount of carbon dioxide.
In addition, populations continue to rise and more people are moving to urban environments. To accommodate this drastic increase, cities are developing more residential buildings and less recreational areas. The increase in the amount of concrete and decrease of greenery has created an urban heat island. As the name implies, urban areas are absorbing heat and not releasing it. During the day, urban areas can be up to 5°F warmer and up to 22°F warmer at night. Urban areas are unable to cool down, so the heat continues to build contributing to the global increase in temperature.
The increased temperatures have caused the ice caps on the north and south pole to melt. These ice caps go through their natural patterns of melting during the summers and refreezing during the winters, but they are melting more during the summers and not refreezing as much over the winters. This has caused a loss of habitats for animals that rely on the ice caps, such as penguins and polar bears.
Not only is the melting of the ice caps destructive for biodiversity, it also causes sea levels to rise creating damaging effects for areas already below sea level, such as, New Orleans. The extra water in the seas also carries sediment and strong currents making coral reefs particularly at risk as they are very fragile. The increased water temperature causes the coral reefs to bleach due to the algae abandoning it leaving the corals with no access to energy. Another contributor leading to a loss of biodiversity as food sources and habitation is lost.
The change in climate has also had effects on weather patterns in all different ways. Some areas may receive more rain, while other areas can have more frequent and longer droughts. The frequency and intensity of hurricanes are expected to increase, which has already been seen year over year. In 2005 alone, there were four hurricanes that hit North America at a category 4 or higher. These natural disasters will only increase in frequency if there is no action to limit the destruction we impose on our planet.
Call to Action
There have been successful policies established and individual action to help prevent further damage to our environment and planet. Globally, many governments have turned policies into laws to reduce the carbon footprint. They are rewarding companies who enforce green actions and strive for cleaner energy. There are mandates that burning fossil fuels be reduced in hopes that it will be unnecessary in the future. Governments have funded research for new technology that produces energy and does not release carbon dioxide in the process.
There have also been campaigns to increase greenery in urban areas. As briefly mentioned, studies have linked urban heat islands with an increased energy demand, lower air quality, higher greenhouse gas emissions, reduced water quality and more heat-related deaths and illnesses. However, greenery has been shown to decrease the urban heat island effect by absorbing the heat, providing shade, shielding wind and increasing humidity. Companies and individuals have become very creative in bringing nature into environments that were previously barren of natural elements.
In the fight against climate change, every step forward is important. The positive effects of biophilia on the urban heat island will make an impact on climate change, even in the smallest of ways. How would you bring nature into an urban environment? We mention a few ways in our previous post about the three categories of biophilic design and how to incorporate various patterns into a space.
One of the most effective biophilic designs is a living green wall. These walls are able to thrive outdoors and combat the UHI effect. They are designed to fit any space helping to mitigate the ever rising temperatures. By making use of underutilized rooftops or a vertical side of a building, a living wall system can provide similar benefits to a natural garden or public park area. For example, when designing an exterior living wall, the use of native plants supports the feeding, nesting and pollination of local insects, birds and other species. This, in turn, helps those species increase in number, revitalizing the ecosystem and promoting sustainability.
Envision what nature would like in your environment and how you can help fight against climate change.