A recent open meeting in Skipton titled ‘climate change and the rural environment’ attracted a larger than expected audience. Here, Faith Johnson, environmental business owner and campaigner, who led the talk, and organiser, Andrew Murday, tell us about the impacts of climate change, and what we can do to help.

AT a recent meeting in Skipton, environmental campaigner and rural business owner Faith Johnson put to bed any lingering doubts amongst the audience that climate change is a myth. She explained the evidence showing our climate is changing and that human activity is responsible. On an optimistic note, she said “the technology already exists for us to avoid the looming disaster. Global political will is all that is needed and there are practical things every one of us can do to help create a brighter low carbon future.”

For those who remain in denial, just look at the evidence. Ice cores drilled from the Antarctic reveal amazing clues to the past. They contain ‘fossilised’ air pockets, as well as dust, pollen and lots of other evidence. They allow scientists to plot the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature over the past 800,000 years, and show that they are extraordinarily closely correlated. They also show that for all the years humans have walked the Earth, carbon dioxide concentrations have never been as high as they are now. This is the first time in human history and pre-history that the atmosphere has contained over 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That might not sound like much, but the effect is starting to dramatically show itself in extreme weather events across the globe.

President Donald Trump has taken the simplistic view, that if it is cold the temperature cannot be rising. However, the UK Met Office continues to publish data demonstrating that our climate is indeed changing: all 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1990; winter 2016 was the mildest on record; and seven out of the 10 wettest years since 1870 have occurred in the last 10 years. Met Office data also show the UK is now experiencing greater extremes of hot and cold, and of wind and rain.

So how do ‘greenhouse gases’ such as carbon dioxide cause climate change? Sunlight passes through the atmosphere and warms the Earth’s surface. The heat is radiated back towards space, but then is mostly absorbed by greenhouse gases and re-emitted back to Earth. This process is what makes our planet habitable. But as the concentrations of warming gasses in the atmosphere increase, so does the temperature of the Earth. This is what we are now witnessing.

Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas. Methane from livestock, nitrous oxide from cars, and halocarbons from fridges and air conditioning all play a part.

The latest government figures show that transport is responsible for 26 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Energy production is responsible for 25 per cent, industry 17 per cent, residential 14 per cent, and agriculture 10 percent. In fact as a country, we are doing pretty well with a reduction of over 40 per cent in total greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. However, nearly all of that reduction has

come from moving away from coal power stations and this masks our failure to make progress in other sectors.

Another really important issue is making sure all forms of carbon stay in the ground – both fossil fuels and natural sources of carbon. In our own glorious county of Yorkshire, moorland soils contain large stores of carbon, laid down as peat over thousands of years. We need to make sure that upland farmers and land managers are supported to take care of this peat: to make sure it isn’t damaged, eroded, or burnt in moorland fires, as this would release more carbon than deforestation.

Is all this beyond our control? No! Each of us can make a difference, but perhaps not as you might imagine. One very simple thing we can all do is learn facts about climate change and share them with the people we meet in our daily lives. The more we all talk about it, the more empowered we feel to act and, in turn, to ask more powerful people to act on our behalf.

The media have an important role to play: Climate change is the most pressing issue of our times, and we should push the media to cover it in this way. However important the current debate about Brexit is, it and other political issues must not drown out the crucial matter of preserving the Earth, our home. Encourage them by sending press releases about local environmental projects or campaigns!

Talking of politics, we must not allow our politicians to ignore climate change. Each one of us should scrutinise what our elected representatives are saying and, importantly, doing. Go and see your local councillor or MP and ask them to act on climate change. Share some of your climate facts with them too (they may not have attended their climate change briefings)!

Money talks. If you are fortunate to have savings, do you know how they are invested? Ask your bank or investment company whether they are investing in companies that extract fossil fuels. If so, move your money. Many pension and investment funds are now ‘divesting’ from fossils fuels, as they don’t see them as a safe bet for the future. So this might well prove to be good for your pocket as well as good for the environment.

Most important of all, don’t give up and think it is all too difficult or that what you do as an individual won’t make any difference. As Mahatma Ghandi said ‘Be the change you want to see’.