The climate system and the human impact

The climate system and the human impact

The climate system provides the conditions for all living beings to thrive. Our actions during the last centuries though are increasingly disrupting the delicate balance of the climate system, threatening the survival of both humans and countless species.

The causes and effects are well understood, and solutions are ready. It just needs to be done.

What are we talking about?

Human-induced climate change is omnipresent – we are permanently confronted with media articles covering climate activism, unusual (local) weather and extreme events that cause infrastructure damages and even fatalities. Still, the magnitude of climate impacts on our lives are barely tangible and only partially affecting Europeans so far. 

Although changes in the climate system have always occurred, humankind faces an unprecedented challenge as the current scale and speed make it impossible to adapt to the changes completely. Therefore, we need to take urgent actions to ensure a liveable future.

What is the climate system?

The climate system consists of different components, such as the atmosphere, the biosphere where all living beings exist, and the recently explicitly designated anthroposphere which involves all human-made impacts that can no longer be neglected. These spheres interact with each other and alterations in one influence all others and vice versa. Therefore, the melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice caps and sea-ice, even though geographically far away, impacts the local weather and climate conditions over Europe. Furthermore, the complexity and size of the climate system makes it inert, so action must be taken now to ensure that the main risks identified for Europe do not materialise at an unmanageable scale: Food shortages, heat stress, water scarcity and flooding.

How do humans impact the climate system and vice versa?

Since the industrial revolution our society has evolved tremendously, but this has also led to extensive changes in the prevailing landscape through settlements and infrastructure while basing our economy and lifestyles on burning fossil fuels. These aspects directly impact different components of the climate system: consumption-intensive lifestyles affect the atmosphere through emissions, the consumption of land through the built environment affect the biosphere, the lithosphere providing space and resources – with each of the components mutually affecting each other. 

Consequently, also our local climate conditions are increasingly modified, resulting in ever more extreme weather events: droughts and related food scarcity, heat and related health risks, extreme precipitation and flooding. The threatening consequences of human-made climate change have been studied in detail already for decades. Thus, the causes and the extent of climate impacts are undisputed among scientists. Measures for mitigating climate change and adapting to inevitable changes have been developed but have yet to be sufficiently implemented, threatening our future additionally even though solutions exist.

We still have a chance – knowledge is power

Knowing the consequences of our actions for the climate system, we can define, explore and adopt measures to reduce or even avoid the impacts of these actions. The knowledge and tools are largely there, but the general awareness of them and the political guidelines for their implementation are lacking. KNOWING therefore aims to communicate this knowledge in a comprehensive and understandable way to all groups (policymakers, stakeholders and civil society) in order to provide clear guidelines for saving our future.

Mitigate and Adapt

Human activities have caused changes in our climate. We must stop engaging in those activities and adjust to the developments that can no longer be avoided. But what if our adaptation efforts continue to fuel climate change? 

A systems perspective is needed to understand what adaptation measures we can “afford” without further harming the climate.

All for one

In a world of constant change, we feel uncertain and overwhelmed. But: We don’t have to be driven by these changes! By joining forces and shaping our future, we can eliminate these uncertainties and determine the direction of change.

Together, let’s create a better world for ourselves and the generations to come.