Skip to main content

Introduction to Climate Change

What is climate change and what can I do as an individual to address it?

An introduction to climate change in 60 seconds

A quick overview of climate change from The Royal Society.

What is climate change?

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.

Greenhouse effect

Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures.

Examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane. These come from using gasoline for driving a car or coal for heating a building, for example. Clearing land and forests can also release carbon dioxide. Landfills for garbage are a major source of methane emissions. Energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture, and land use are among the main emitters.

For a quick overview of climate change, and carbon footprints have a look at these short videos:

How bad is it?

Greenhouse gas concentrations are at the highest levels in two million years and emissions are rising. The Earth is about 1.1°C warmer than the late 1800s and 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record.

Temperature is only part of the story. Because the Earth is a connected system, changes in one area can cause changes in others.

These videos give a 10-minute overview of the current state of climate change:

What we can do

Some of the steps we can take as individuals to address climate change.

Talking about climate change

One of the most important things you can do about climate change is to talk about it. ​

People trust their peers, family members, and loved ones more than they trust experts, scientists, and environmental organisations. ​

You can talk to the people you know about climate change in ways that we can’t. You are more likely to open people’s minds. ​

The most important thing to remember when talking about climate change with those who don’t share your views is that people cannot communicate effectively when they feel threatened. Direct attacks — whether in the form of arguments, evidence, or name-calling — limit our capacity for reason, empathy, and self-reflection. ​

First, we must make people feel safe and heard and then find common ground.​

You could join the 26,000 climate conversations challenge or find out more about having impactful climate conversations:

Advice on having conversations about climate change from Climate Outreach’s #TalkingClimate handbook, using the REALTALK method:

  • Respect your conversational partner and find common ground
  • Enjoy the conversation
  • Ask questions
  • Listen, and show you've heard
  • Tell your story
  • Action makes it easier (but doesn't fix it)
  • Learn from the conversation
  • Keep going and keep connected

Reducing your personal carbon footprint

In terms of reducing your personal carbon footprint, among the most impactful actions an individual can take are:

  • Reducing meat consumption, particularly beef and lamb
  • Limiting the number of flights you take, especially long-haul flights
  • Buying fewer new things
  • Reducing the amount you drive, if you have a car

Less quantifiable, though potentially more impactful actions include voting, campaigning and lobbying, and shifting pensions, investments and banks to ensure your money isn’t driving climate change.

If you'd like to know more about what the biggest things you can do about your personal carbon footprint are, this article gives a nice rundown of the big issues.

For the University’s organisational carbon footprint and what we can do on campus, go here.