The melting polar ice caps are only the tip of the icebergWWF Climate Change Program

Environmental issues are the biggest threat to humanity. Of course, other factors seem more imminent right now, and I am not trying to detract from the seriousness of such issues. But the focus should not solely be on the short-term, while the health of our planet is being largely ignored. Climate change is irreversible past a point and needs to be addressed now if it is not going to be catastrophic for humanity. It is an impending threat that is so often overlooked in politics because it is something ‘for future generations to worry about,’ whilst we temporarily benefit from overexploitation of the earth’s resources.

Global warming is not a faraway problem, its impacts are happening already. NASA and NOAA data shows that 2016 was the warmest year on record. Sea levels are rising, respiratory problems are worsening, lives are being lost, whilst the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of weather is increasing.

Rising temperatures and extreme variations in precipitation are going to worsen malnutrition and undernutrition which, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report, already cause 3.1 million deaths every year. Flooding and precipitation of increasing intensity and frequency are also more likely. According to the WHO, increased flooding is likely to affect fresh water supplies and increase the risk of water-borne diseases. The number of reported weather-related natural disasters has already more than tripled since the 1960s.

“The situation seems dire, because it is. But we can reduce the rate and severity of the impact”

The very causes of climate change pose major challenges for humanity, never mind the consequences of global temperature changes themselves. Extracting resources may seem to make economic sense right now, but it is not sustainable and we will suffer for it later. Not only does deforestation, for example, emit massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but it also removes vital ecosystems and resources that communities rely upon. The earth has a massive amount of water, but we can only drink fresh water – according to NASA this is only about 3.5 per cent of the water available! Over-extraction paired with increased extremes of drought and flooding will result in massive water scarcity, starvation, and conflict.

The irony of the situation is that those who are the biggest players in causing global warming are those that think ‘climate change isn’t real’. The proof is there. It is real, and it is serious. I have seen the severity of the impacts. Seven months ago, I took part in a conservation project on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The first time I put my head under the water I gasped in awe so much that my snorkel filled with water and I began choking! It was so beautiful. But not all the reef was the same as some areas have been hit harder than others. The impact of climate change, overfishing, pollution and unsustainable tourism is devastating and the resultant coral bleaching is happening at an exponential rate.

Often when people think of protecting the environment, it is with regards to protecting other species that are ‘less important than us’, which is obviously rubbish. Not only because these species deserve to survive, but because, if we want to be selfish, we need wildlife to survive too! The coral reef I visited in Honduras, for example, protects communities from coastal erosion and storms, provides medicine, income from tourism and fishing, and is home to a multitude of species that local communities rely upon not only for sustenance, but food for the soul. Coral reefs are also massive carbon sinks. The destruction of coral by climate change will only lead to even more dramatic increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide as vital carbon sinks are destroyed, and thus further temperature increases and further damage. There is a positive feedback effect – now that global temperatures have begun to increase, the situation will worsen exponentially.

But it does not have to be this way. I have only begun to scratch the surface here of a tiny amount of the possible impacts that climate change will have on humanity. And the situation seems dire, because it is. But we can reduce the rate and severity of these impacts. It is those living in poverty that are most vulnerable. As those lucky enough to be largely ignorant to the massive impact of climate change, whilst being the driving force for it, we need to stop fuelling this inequality.

Obviously, pushing for a move towards reducing emissions through renewable energies is key. We can also plant more trees and protect other vital carbon sinks such as coral reefs. Tropical forests provide up to 30 per cent of the solution towards climate change. On a smaller scale, we can recycle, eat less meat, or take a walk. But this will only slow the process of climate change. According to Conservation International, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is the highest in three million years. Thus, providing vulnerable countries with the ability to adapt to increasing issues is also vital.

Oxfam believe that if world leaders act together now then disaster can be avoided. Conservation International have found that it would requires less than 0.1 per cent of global GDP to make the changes humanity needs to adapt to a warming world. This is 227 times less than the global GDP spent on defence. It is a small price to pay. The longer world leaders deny the existence of climate change to benefit themselves, however, the harder it will be to reverse the damage that humanity has caused the world. But just wait, the world will throw it back in our faces 10 times harder.