Climate change: Answers to your most asked questions

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During the last worldwide school strikes in March, BBC News asked for your questions on climate change.

Since then, thousands of you have been talking to our climate change chatbot on Facebook Messenger.

Below are some of the topics that came up many times – with some answers from science and our climate team.

You can chat to our climate bot here.

You asked: Can we adapt to climate change instead of fighting it?

Humans are already adapting. In South Korea, farmers are growing different crops to future-proof themselves against changing temperatures.

London’s Thames Barrier was designed to help the city deal with an increasing risk of flooding.

And the United Nations has made adaptation a key part of its strategy, alongside measures to curb rising global average temperatures.

Under the Paris climate agreement, richer countries have agreed to help poorer nations by providing “climate finance” to help them adapt.

You asked: Should I change my diet?

Avoiding meat and dairy products is one of the biggest ways to reduce your environmental impact.

Cutting these from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by two-thirds, according to one Oxford study.

Beef and lamb have a big environmental impact, as the digestive systems of livestock produce methane – a powerful greenhouse gas.

The UN says we need to eat more locally-sourced seasonal food, and throw less of it away.

How and where your food is produced is also important, as the same food can have very different impacts.

For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land is responsible for 12 times more emissions than cows reared on natural pastures.

You asked: What can I do?

Lots. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the world cannot meet its emissions targets without changes by individuals.

It says:

  • Buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter and more locally sourced seasonal food – and throw less of it away
  • Change how you get around. Drive electric cars but walk or cycle short distances. Take trains and buses instead of planes
  • Use video-conferencing instead of business travel
  • Use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer
  • Insulate homes
  • Demand low carbon in every consumer product

Research reported by the IPCC also said people tend to overestimate the energy-saving potential of lighting, and underestimate the energy used to heat water.

It also says people don’t think a lot about the energy used for the creation of products they buy.

You asked: Why has so much changed in food labelling for personal health but not planet health?

In 2013, the government set out plans for a consistent “traffic light” food labelling system to help people easily understand what’s in their food.

But we don’t have a similar system for the carbon footprint or environmental impact.

It would involve considering things such as air freight versus importing food by sea, the use of water in food production, as well as the impact on land and forests.

Tesco did try it in 2007 – it started calculating the carbon footprint of every one of its 70,000 products.

But five years later the supermarket gave up, saying it was “a minimum of several months’ work” for each product.

In 2007, Walkers Crisps was the first UK firm to put carbon footprint figures on its products. But the company confirmed to the BBC that it has since removed them.

You asked: What about the world’s increasing population?

Human-induced climate change is happening. And the UN estimates the world has added approximately one billion humans since 2005.

But depending on where in the world you live – and your lifestyle – a person’s emissions can be very different.

Generally, people living in countries like the UK depend heavily on fossil fuels.

According to one study, having one fewer child is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your emissions.

But this result is contentious and leads to many philosophical and ethical questions which we’re not going to wade into here.

Like, if you are responsible for your children’s emissions, are your parents responsible for yours?

You asked: What are governments doing on climate change?

Individual governments are choosing to tackle climate change in various ways.

But the one thing that has pulled the world together is the Paris agreement.

The deal has united nearly 200 countries in a single agreement on tackling climate change for the first time ever.

Nations pledged to keep global temperatures “well below” 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C.

However, scientists point out that the agreement must be stepped up if it is to have any chance of curbing dangerous climate change.

You asked: How much hotter has the world got – and how hot will it get?

Global temperatures rises are generally compared to “pre-industrial times”. Many researchers define that as 1850-1900 – before the world was chugging out greenhouse gases on a global scale.

The world is now about 1C warmer than it was back then, according to the IPCC.

For decades, researchers argued the global temperature rise must be kept below 2C by the end of this century to avoid the worst impacts.

But scientists now argue that keeping below 1.5C is a far safer limit for the world.

It’s hard to know much hotter the world will get. But if current trends continue, the World Meteorological Organization says temperatures may rise by 3-5C by 2100.

You asked: Why doesn’t BBC News do more on climate change?

Covering climate change and its impact on people around the world is a top priority for BBC News.

We know climate change is an increasingly important subject. Younger audiences in particular tell us they would like to see more journalism on the issue, the BBC says.

There has been a significant increase in the number and range of stories across our output.

This includes prominent coverage of the latest scientific research, extreme weather events, climate protests, how climate change is affecting people’s lives and the search for solutions to this enormous global challenge.

These stories are resonating with our audiences and it is a subject we are committed to covering in depth across BBC News.

You asked: What if I can’t afford to change my way of life?

Being climate conscious can often feel very expensive, from changing your food habits to buying an electric car.

But there are some things that will save you money – like eating wonky vegetables instead of red meat and cycling to work instead of driving.

And making your home more energy efficient should actually bring down your bills.

Chat to our climate change bot on Facebook Messenger

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