THE MORE YOU KNOW
by
Amy Valm
Jan 22
7 Climate Change Facts That Might Surprise You (and Where to Find Out More)

While the basic facts of climate change are pretty simple—human activities are creating excessive greenhouse gases, which are warming the planet and triggering widespread problems—it’s the details that can get complex.

There’s a lot to know, and the depth and breadth of information is far more than any of us can scan through while sipping our morning coffee. 

To help, we’ve curated this list of seven quick hits on important climate change topics, with plenty of links if you want to dive deeper.

You’ve got time for a second cup of coffee, right?

Air conditioning units on the side of a building, contributing to climate change.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

1. Air conditioning heats the planet

We call this the air conditioning climate spiral. It’s a vicious cycle. As the earth heats up from global warming, we use more AC to cool down. And all the power and refrigerants producing that cold air create greenhouse gases that are heating up the world

There’s now nearly one AC unit for every four people on the planet, and along with electric fans, they’re responsible for 20 percent of global electricity use.

2050 predictions say they’ll be in two-thirds of the world’s households, making them as ubiquitous as cellphones are now. 

One solution to help lower that projection? Building better, more efficient air conditioning.

The technology hasn’t really changed since it was invented in 1902. Until we get there (and even once we do), Let's do our best to use less of it to slow down the cycle.

Learn more about how smart thermostats can cut your heating and cooling costs (and energy usage).

2. Plant-based foods reduce your carbon footprint

The carbon footprint of legumes like peas and lentils is less than 3 percent that of beef, making them the official winner among protein-rich foods from the climate’s POV. 

If you're still craving meat, try Faux meat. While it's processed, it’s still sustainable: imitation beef products like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger create about 5 percent of the emissions of real meat.

In the end, while the relative healthfulness of processed meat substitutes is up for debate, when it comes to global warming, that plant-based burger patty or “neatball” is the better option, whether it was made in a factory or your own kitchen.

Learn more about how to adopt a sustainable, plant-based diet.

3. Your cool fridge leads to global warming

Fridges and freezers are a triumph of innovation, giving us luxuries like blueberries in the winter and ice cream all year round. But in the process of keeping things chill, they’re heating up the planet in an alarming way. 

Refrigerants emit greenhouse gases during their entire life cycle, and especially when they’re disposed of improperly. They also damage the ozone layer, which helps protect the planet from solar radiation. 

Thankfully, updated regulations mean new models are less harmful.

If you’re getting rid of an old fridge or freezer, be sure to do it responsibly. And if you’re in the market for an upgrade, consider buying as small a fridge as possible and picking an Energy Star certified model.

Learn more about how to reduce your carbon footprint at home.

4. Composting is better for the environment than landfills

Landfills aren’t just malodorous eyesores that supply garbage to the ocean.

All that trash is contributing to climate change, too: globally, it released a massive 800 million tCO2e in 2010 alone. 

Food remains being properly composted.
Photo by Skorzewiak on Shutterstock

Specifically, organic waste in landfills (read: orange peels, yard waste and well-intentioned bunches of kale) produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Projects to capture and use this gas are in progress. But the biggest opportunity is simply to reduce our waste and to compost what we do discard rather than sending it to the dump. With both strategies in place, this is one climate change problem where a solution is in sight.

Learn more about the biggest contributors to our food's carbon footprint.

5. Nature absorbs carbon dioxide (carbon sinks)

Nature-based solutions could provide a third of the GHG reductions we need to succeed in limiting global warming, and it’s all thanks to the power of plants.

During photosynthesis, they take in CO2 from the air and use the carbon to make food and build up their bodies and root systems. 

A mangrove acting as a natural carbon sink.
Photo by Pradeep Ghildiyal on Unsplash

As long as those plants are alive, most of the carbon stays there—which is why long-living trees are such a powerful carbon-storage tool. When they die, some of the carbon is released during decomposition, but much of it remains in the soil

That’s why shifts in agriculture like the no-till movement, and conservation methods that leave natural spaces intact, are so important in the fight against climate change. Undisturbed soil is carbon-rich soil—which means less carbon in the atmosphere.

Learn more about an offset project in Alaska that’s conserving forests to keep carbon out of the atmosphere

6. Leo’s climate crusade

He’s famous for his big-screen roles and standing at the bow of the Titanic, but Leo has a leading part as an environmental activist, too.

Since the ’90s, he’s been using his heartthrob status for good, shedding light on climate-related issues and becoming one of the most famous climate action champions in the world. 

But it isn’t just UN speeches, low-emissions cars and climate-change docs.

Among other endeavors, the actor is a big-time investor in plant-based food companies. Since 1998, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has funded more than 200 organizations with climate action and ecosystem protection on their agendas. That’s a romance we can get behind.

7. Greta Thurnberg sailed for 15 days for climate change

To practice what she preaches en route to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, activist Greta Thunberg journeyed by solar panel–equipped yacht.

Her 15-day trek across the Atlantic, which would create about 1.56 tCO2e by plane, was a completely zero-carbon mission. 

Greta Thurnberg on a sailboat en route to COP19.
Photo by Lev Radin on Shutterstock

The 60-foot boat was cozy, to say the least. Accommodations could be likened to camping on the sea, with only thin mattresses, sleeping bags and freeze-dried vegan eats.

And in true roughing-it style, there was no toilet—a blue bucket that was emptied overboard after each use did the trick.

Learn more about ways to cut your carbon footprint at home.

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This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada, RBC Ventures Inc., or its affiliates.

Amy Valm
Written By
Amy Valm

Amy Valm is a writer and editor who probably makes the same jokes as your dad. She has been a pretty big fan of the planet since the '80s.

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