What is Climate Change?
Climate change is the average change in climatic conditions involving temperature and rainfall in a region over a long period of time. Global climate change refers to the changes in the average conditions over the entire Earth.
It is caused by an accumulation of gases in the atmosphere which has the property to capture heat coming from the sun leading to the overall increase in Earth’s temperature. These gases are called Green House Gases (GHG) and are responsible for making Earth habitable for life. The most prominent GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4). However, if there is the uncontrolled release of GHGs in the atmosphere, it causes a high rise in temperature or global warming making life on the planet unhabitable. One such example is the sister planet of Earth, Venus, which around 2 billion years ago had oceans but is today the hottest planet in the solar system, all due to uncontrolled release of GHG in the atmosphere due to volcanic activities.
Climate Change is due to both, natural and human factors. Natural causes of climate change include volcanic eruptions which release a huge quantity of GHGs into the atmosphere, changing ocean currents, Earth’s orbital changes, Sun’s solar variations. However, natural climate change results in a rise of 0.6 degrees Celsius on an average time-scale of 20,000 years.
Scientists have observed that due to human activities, Earth’s temperature has risen up to 1 degree Celsius in the last 150 years only. Scientists in the IPCC warn that if the current scenario continues, then the earth’s temperature will rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. Some of these human activities include –
- Industrial revolution which was mainly powered by fossil fuels
- Deforestation and large scale agriculture for the growing population
- Dumping of industrial waste in the rivers leading to ocean acidification
Global warming has led to –
- rising sea levels due to the melting of ice in Greenland, Antarctica, Arctic
- unpredictable rainfall pattern causing both drought and floods
- severe cyclone formation
- shrinking mountain glaciers causing scarcity of fresh water in rivers
- desertification of land leading to a shortfall in food production
- increase in extinction rate of species like polar bears, penguins, bees
Why children need to be taught about climate change
Children are the most vulnerable group to climate change as it directly impacts their ability to survive, grow and thrive. Although children are not responsible for climate change, they will have to bear the greatest burden of its impact.
Children need to be educated about climate change as it is their future that is at stake. Climate change impacts their rights in several ways –
1. Right to fresh air
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), children breathe at twice the rate of adults and they have the highest rate of mouth breathing. They also have an underdeveloped detoxification system in their body making them more vulnerable in the polluted environment to respiratory diseases like pneumonia, asthma. In 2019, out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world, 21 were in India. It is estimated that nearly 16 lakh people died due to air pollution in 2019 in India out of which 1.5 lakh were children.
Growing up in these polluted environments while on one hand exposes them to lung problems, also forces their parents to keep them indoor resulting in less physical activity and poor social skills.
2. Right to freshwater
With the temperature rising, the glaciers which are the primary source of freshwater for the rivers are melting at a faster rate resulting in droughts and over-dependence on the groundwater. According to a NASA-led study, many of the world’s freshwater sources are being drained faster than they can be replenished resulting in an acute shortage of water across the globe.
Scientists warn that the next world war will be fought over water as the global demand for freshwater is set to increase by 55% between 2000 and 2050. One such example of future conflicts is the ongoing Syrian civil war that began in the backdrop of the worst droughts in the country’s history between 2007 to 2010 which decimated its rural community and led to mass migration towards the cities.
3. Right to nutrition
As the global population rise, the burden on agriculture to grow more crops will increase. With 70% of global agriculture currently dependent on depleting groundwater, there is a high risk of food shortages across the globe, particularly in poorer parts of the world. Global warming has further intensified the problem by causing lower yields in crops and loss of land due to desertification or rising sea level.
This has severely impacted the malnourishment problem in the children resulting in stunting and poor cognitive development. According to the 2018 Global Nutrition Report, India is currently home to a third of the world’s stunted children.
4. Right to a healthy life
Children are most vulnerable to vector-borne diseases like dengue, malaria, and diseases due to poor water quality, poor sanitation like diarrhea. According to UNICEF 2015 report, malaria led to around 4.38 lakh death globally in which more than two-thirds were children under the age of five. In 2019, in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar, 154 children died in three weeks period due to encephalitis.
Due to climate change, the area of reach of these vector-borne diseases is increasing and is now affecting the population of the colder climate which were previously unaffected making them more vulnerable as they have little to no immunity to fight these diseases.
5. Right to dignity of life
United Nations Preamble guarantees the dignity of life to every human, but as climate change brings in new challenges, be it drought, cyclone, food insecurity, rising sea levels, we are now being introduced to a new term called ‘Climate Refugees’ wherein huge migration of population is taking place to a new location. Children are the biggest victim of this migration as they are not only denied proper education but also they have to go through the trauma of becoming a refugee in an unknown land. This makes them vulnerable to unsocial elements in society as they lose the protective environment of their community.
Kiribati, an island nation in the middle of the pacific ocean due to rising sea levels will become completely uninhabitable. This has led to it buying land in the Fiji island nation to transfer its entire population making it the first official case of an entire nation becoming uninhabitable due to climate change.
6. Right to education
With climate change posing the threat of extreme weather events like droughts, floods, severe cyclones, the education of the children suffers due to lack of infrastructure. One can observe this in the yearly floods of Bihar and Assam where there is the destruction of land and infrastructure like schools severely impacting the education of the children often resulting in high-drop out from schools, particularly for the girl child.
7. Right to nature
Climate change due to natural factors has led to five mass extinctions till now, mainly due to volcanic eruptions or meteor strikes as in the case of Dinosaurs. However, due to the human activity of the use of fossil fuels, acidification of the oceans, pollution, and deforestation, we have entered the sixth mass extinction which is 1000 times faster than previous mass extinction events.
One such example is the loss of coral reefs due to rising temperature and acidification of oceans which has converted this ocean rainforest into a whitish desert. Loss of pollinating agents like bees will devastate food security around the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), 100 species of crops provide 90% of humanity’s food, and 71% of these are pollinated by bees.
Confucius once said, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” Climate change is a global issue and it requires collective leadership and responsibility to be tackled. Bhumi’s Eco-Champs Program is continously striving to educate children on this need of the hour and turn them into more eco-conscious citizens.
Wordsmith: Ashish Chandra, Intern-Bhumi