An Ecopsychologist learns and reflects on Climate Change

February 17, 2016

As and Eco-psychologist, Horticulturalist and Landscape Designer, I have a key interest in the environmental humanitarian perspectives and responses to climate change and clarifying the role I can play in mitigation, healing and recovery. I have always felt deeply connected deeply to nature, plants and animals. I had an interest in Climate change issues and contributing human actions since first 'feeling' in my mid 20s that there was something not right about the speed weather was changing in my life-time knowing how old the earth is. Something ‘felt’ wrong.

 

I chose to study online Climate Change with the University of Exeter as Professional (personal) Development to gain necessary knowledge to assist my environmental programs and workshops and relate my landscape designs to align with my values. 

 

Climate Change is a complex issue.  Not only do we have the scientific data, evidence, predicted challenges and projections but we have complexities with humanitarian intervention in relationship to health, human rights, education, political, natural resources, economics, historical and current societal and cultural influences.

 

Intricate cycles work within the climate system which are fundamental to all life on Earth, following are the key scientific principles:

-Sunlight enters our atmosphere, some is absorbed by gases in our atmosphere, the rest reaches Earth's surfaces.

-Climate is regulated complex interactions. Some heat is reflected back out towards space (albedo effect) but some gets trapped by gases in our atmosphere. If the heat didn't get trapped our planet would be very cold, however, ‘greenhouse’ gasses are acting as a blanket trapping the heat and preventing the heat radiation continuing out into space.  

-Climate variations are natural and man-made. Scientific reports indicate 90% probability that the gasses which form the ‘blanket’ are consequences of human activities over the past 50-100 years. Burning fossil fuels have increased CO2 and to a lesser degree other human activity such as clearing land for agriculture and industry. Greenhouse gasses that contribute to Climate change are: Methane, Carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapour, Nitrous oxide and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

-All life on Earth depends on and is affected by the climate system. Climate change with global warming will have consequences on the Earths as a system made of multiple intricate systems. Predictions of Climate change repercussions are of unpredictable weather; some higher temperatures in some areas, some areas wetter and other areas dryer, therefor, greater incidence of flood, drought and fires.  Sea levels will increase due to the ocean waters expanding, glaciers and ice melting.  

 

Possible problems I am anticipating from anthropogenic climate change include:

-threats to food security/health issues, loss of food productivity, starvation, food wastage, food-crop damage, loss of plant species diversity, resilient and reliable food sources. Some plants will adapt favourably, but our ability to diversify and adapt will be key to food security.

-Access to clean water, corporation interference is supply

-Livelihoods threatened by unviable farmland, low-lying countries going underwater and increased ‘natural’ disasters.

-Health and well-being/depression and mental health repercussions as a result of migration, natural disasters, changes to livelihood, species decline and instinct, loss of home/country, loss/grief, challenges and adaptability issues.

-Species decline and risk of extinction; lack of diversity in species, animal and plant life.

-loss of ecosystems; reefs, tundra, forests and high regions, mangroves, salt marshes and coastal regions.

-Economic burden impact; disaster relief, health and wellbeing, cultural discord/racism/migration

 

Our climate system functions from interactions of cycles of feedback components to self regulate. These closed loops of cause and effect have 5 key feedback components:

  1. The atmosphere: Gases surrounding Earth

  2. They hydrosphere: Ocean, fresh water, rivers, lakes, groundwater.

  3. The biosphere: All living things and soils

  4. The cryosphere: ice sheets and sea ice, mountain glaciers

  5. The lithosphere: Surface of the Earth's crust

 

The water cycle, familiar to most of us demonstrates how 3 key feedbacks which greatly affect our climate interact:

Evaporation (water vapour feedback) interacts with radiation feedbacks and ice albedo feedbacks. (Albedo is the proportion of radiation/light that a surface reflects.)

Temperature relates to the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere. When more heat is generated it causes higher the atmospheric vapour, this results in higher temperatures and it cycles around... This feedback loop creates excess and is called positive feedback in the mathematical term, not as in a positive emotion.

Ice has high albedo, it is highly reflective whereas the ocean has a low albedo, it absorbs a lot of solar radiation.

When the temperature increases, it melts more ice, the ice becomes more ocean absorbing more solar radiation.

A warm ocean gives off more heat radiation to naturally cool its system, the result is negative feedback.

As the Permafrost thaws, the ice thaws to reveal soil which contains enormous amounts of CO2 and Methane, the gases now released will effect the 'greenhouse blanket' warming the atmosphere, temperature and effecting the feedback loop.

 

The relationship of understanding feedback loops is to understand the relationship of human actions creating a rapid increase in temperature in recent Earth history. The increase in temperature results in more water vapour trapped in the atmospheric blanket.

 

Our climate system is a series of complex components that interact with one and another to create a balanced climate system. Rapid climate change is what we are experiencing, rather than the usual fluctuations where the Earth systems re-balance themselves over longer time periods permitting natural evolution.  Rapid changes in our climatic system means many species do not have the time to adapt and evolve for the changing environmental conditions. The human species being adaptive and united with mitigation solutions will be factors influencing human survival and impact on the survival of millions of other species.  

 

Resources:

university of Exeter

https://www.climatecommunication.org

This NASA article explains the concept of a blanket (of greenhouse gases) around our earth demonstrating the change to our climate: http://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

Poster: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/docs/WGI_AR5_2013_Poster.pdf

 

 

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