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20 October 2014
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    The Environment
    The Basics | More Information | Web Links
    What is the environment?

    The environment is all the world around us. Not just trees and grass, but the air we breathe, the animals, birds and insects, buildings, plants and traffic. Everything, in fact, that surrounds us. All these things are connected. And we affect everything around us in a small or big way.

    Humans (that's us!) have changed the natural world around us by living and working in it.

    Climate change - An environmental disaster waiting to happen?

    • One of the biggest changes we have made over the centuries is to the climate - the type of weather we get over the years.

    • The world has always been hotter at some times and cooler at others but the last hundred years have seen a dramatic and unexpected rise in temperatures.

    • At the same time the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has also risen dramatically.

    • These changes have all happened since the development of heavy industry and the invention of cars, planes and electric power, all of them fuelled by burning coal, oil and gas.

    • Most scientists think that climatic changes and an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are connected. They think that mankind is causing the rise in temperature.

    What are fossil fuels?

    • Fossil Fuels are coal, oil and gas. They were formed from the carbon in prehistoric plants and living creatures, and locked away in the earth over millions of years.

    • When we burn fossil fuels, the carbon is released into the air as carbon dioxide gas. In a very short time we have released carbon that has taken many millions of years to lock away. This has led to carbon dioxide being created much faster than it can be used and absorbed by today's living things.

    • CO2 and other 'greenhouse gases' form a kind of blanket around the earth which stops heat escaping into space. It traps it. We need this blanket to prevent us getting too cold, but because there are more of these gases in the world, the blanket is getting thicker. This could have serious results for all of us.

    What are the Greenhouse Gases (GFGs)?

    • Many gases exhibit greenhouse properties. They trap heat in the atmosphere. Many gases naturally occur in the atmosphere, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

    • Man-made gases include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

    So what's the problem?

    • The main problem is that weather patterns will change (we already have hotter, drier summers and more storms) and there will be more natural disasters such as hurricanes, droughts and floods.

    • As the climate changes, diseases such as malaria could spread to new areas. Malaria is the biggest killer of humans on the planet.

    • The sea levels will rise, deserts will get bigger and the polar ice caps will melt. Over the years this will mean many islands and coastal areas will just disappear under water.

    What's all this got to do with me?

    We all affect climate change as we go about our daily business.

    Daily Transport
    Cars are a big source of greenhouse gases. There are 23 million cars in the UK all pumping out CO2 and other types of pollution. More children go to school by car than ever before making the problem even worse.

    Aeroplanes cause big greenhouse gas emissions. They are responsible for 3.5% of GHG emissions throughout the world.

    Emissions Chart

    For a typical journey of about 500 km the amount of CO2 produced per passenger is 0.17kg/km, 0.14 kg/km for travel by car, 0.052 kg/km for rail and 0.047 by boat.

    Daily energy and waste
    Energy - gas and electricity - used in the home is responsible for 25% of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions.

    So what can we do about it?

    We need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. The government has promised to do that, but we can help, too.

    There are things we can do. For example:

    • Using public transport, cycling or walking is much less damaging to the environment than going by car.

    • Go by rail if possible instead of flying.

    • Some people say we should pay more to travel by air to pay for the environmental damage we do.

    • Try to save power. We can all help reduce the emissions by switching our computers off when we are not using them.

    • Reduce, reuse, recycle or repair things rather than throw them away.

    • Plant a tree. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen so that we can breathe.

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