The cause of climate change is human activity

Background - 1 July, 2016
Climate scientists agree: an overload of greenhouse gas emissions is causing global warming and climate change. The dirty fossil fuels we burn for energy — coal oil and gas — plus forest destruction, are the main culprits.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by about 36 percent in the last 200 years and is rising still. We can't wait any longer to put an end to the dirty, polluting energy systems fuelling this climate crisis. 

About the greenhouse effect

Just as the workings of gravity and tides are well known, scientists understand the heat-trapping potential of greenhouse gases. These gases let sunlight pass through the atmosphere but, like a blanket, absorb heat and prevent its escape back into space. They then release that heat, warming the atmosphere.

Earth would be too cold to sustain life as we know it without naturally occurring greenhouse gases. These include water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane.

Burning coal, oil and gas ramps up the greenhouse effect

The danger lies in how human activity is rapidly increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  

With the start of the industrial revolution, humans began to burn vast amounts of fossil fuels, coaloil and gas for power and heat. When burned, these carbon-containing fuels release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. They build up in the atmosphere, ramping up the natural greenhouse effect. This traps more heat and raises the planet's surface temperature.

Scientists agree humans cause global warming

The debate is over.

Scientists agree that our growing greenhouse gas emissions are causing the global warming trend and climate change.

The time to solve this urgent problem is now.

Forest damage makes the problem worse

Trees are climate friendly: they absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. Cutting, burning and harming forests and other natural vegetation releases this stored carbon from plants' leaves, stems, roots and soil, sending it into the atmosphere.

Cutting and destroying forests turns these valuable carbon "sinks" into sources of greenhouse gases — further fuelling climate change.

Tackling climate change is among the many important reasons Greenpeace works to protect forests.

Industrial livestock agriculture

Industrial livestock agriculture, raising cows, pigs and chickens, also generates  greenhouse gas emissions as much as all cars, trucks and automobiles combined.

Who is responsible?

Just 90 of the world's largest producers of crude oil, natural gas, coal and cement account for almost two thirds of the problem. That is, they produced 63 percent of global industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and methane since the start of the industrial revolution.

Today, many of these producers continue to profit from these polluting fuels that destroy our oceans and lands and make us sick. They are blind to the injustice and misery of other people who suffer real and devastating effects of climate change.  

What's happening now?

Human activity has already increased carbon dioxide concentrations by 36 percent. That's an increase from 280 to more than 400 parts per million since the industrial revolution began. (Before this, for hundreds of thousands of years, the level stayed much lower than today, between 200 and 300 parts per million).

Emissions are still rising — by about two part per million each year — adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Yet many fossil fuel companies plan to exploit still more coal, oil and gas.

What can we do?

Together we must put an end to dirty, polluting energy systems and make the urgent leap to 100 percent clean, safe renewable energy from the sun, wind, oceans and earth.

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