Global warming

And what we can do about it

To those of us who live in the chilly north of the northern hemisphere, global warming might sound like a good thing.  Don’t be misled – it isn’t.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change devotes its 2012 special report to the risks of extreme events and disasters. (  So the question is, for us as individuals, what can we do to help reduce those risks?  We can get out of our cars and bike or walk.

Global Warming

How does this make a difference?

When we drive a car, we burn distilled oil – petrol – sending carbon dioxide out of the exhaust pipe into the atmosphere. The more carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere, the more heat from the sun is trapped in it: the ‘greenhouse effect’. So the atmosphere warms up. And the trouble with burning oil or gas or coal is that the carbon in them hasn’t been around in the atmosphere for a very, very long time. So burning them adds extra carbon dioxide to the carbon dioxide that’s already there. 

We can look at it this way. Millions of years ago, forests grew and as they grew they took carbon out of the atmosphere. Over time they fell, turned to peat and got buried deep underground – where they stayed, locking the carbon out of the atmosphere. This led to a cooling of the global climate, allowing us humans to evolve. Eventually the trees turned into coal and oil and gas.

Unfortunately, in the last few centuries, we have been digging up the coal and pumping up the oil and gas and burning them. Which means that we have been putting the carbon back into the atmosphere! With hindsight, this looks like a big mistake.

But it may not be too late to do something about it – if we all do our bit, and do it now. That’s why walking and cycling, instead of motoring, are not only good for our health – they are one of the best things we can do to safeguard the world as we know it, and all creatures in it.

And other exercise as well, because exercise keeps us healthy, which means we are less likely to need hospital treatment; and hospitals – like a lot of other places – use a good deal of carbon-based energy.

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