How Climate Change Impacts Antarctica? How Can We Help?

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  • Post last modified:October 29, 2021
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How Climate Change Impacts Antarctica? How Can We Help?

The impacts of climate change on the world are now widely known although action tends to be slow. One of the regions most affected is Antarctica with impacts already visible. But, what can we do as individuals to help reduce climate change in Antarctica?

The best way to help climate change is by reducing your carbon footprint through lower energy consumption, efficient transport, and eating sustainably.

To make a direct contribution to mitigating climate change in Antarctica, there are several charities you can donate to such as WWF and the ASOC which promote sustainability in the region.

Keep reading to find out more about the impacts that global warming is having on Antarctica and some detailed advice you can take to help reduce climate change.

How is Climate Change Impacting Antarctica?

The Antarctic peninsular has seen air temperature increases of almost 3°C over the last 50 years on average and reached a record high of 18.3°C in 20201 (source: World Meteorological Organization).

The rising temperatures are having several effects on Antarctica including melting ice, changes in vegetation, and impacts on the animals that live there.

The sea ice is vital for many animals in Antarctica. As it melts, penguins have to swim further to find food, and Antarctic krill (an important crustacean that’s vital in the region’s food chain) which rely on it for food and shelter have fewer places to thrive2 (source: Greenpeace).

The effects of global warming and ozone depletion are more evident in Antarctica than anywhere on the planet.


How Melting Ice in Antarctica Affects the World

One of the biggest impacts that climate change in Antarctica will have on the rest of the world is rising sea levels.

The volume of ice in Antarctica is not insignificant by any means. There are approximately 6 million cubic miles of ice which accounts for 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of the world’s freshwater3 (source: National Science Foundation).

As the ice melts in Antarctica, it will flow into the surrounding ocean causing sea levels to rise around the world. Most estimates suggest that if all of the ice in Antarctica melted, it will raise global sea levels around 60 meters4 (source; National Science Foundation).

However, the melting ice causes a second problem. Currently, the ice puts a lot of pressure on the land underneath which has forced a proportion of it below sea level.

An estimated 23% of the ice in Antarctica is formed on land that is below sea level5 (source: British Antarctic Survey). But, as the ice melts and the weight on the landmass reduces, it may begin to rise and as a result, will push more water into the ocean6 (source: Science Advances, L. Pan. et al, Vol 7, Issue 18, 2021).


How Can I Help Climate Change in Antarctica?

The steps to help reduce climate change in Antarctica are consistent with the steps to help climate change across the globe, they center around reducing carbon emissions.

We all have a responsibility to reduce our own carbon footprint as well as contributing to reducing the footprint of businesses, governments, and others around us.

Here are some practical steps you can take to help reduce climate change in Antarctica:

1. Make your voice heard

The best thing to do to help climate change is to make your voice heard.

Whilst we can all take individual actions to reduce our emissions as the following steps will cover, by using your voice to back good environmental initiatives and your vote to support parties with green policies, you can encourage much larger scale action on climate change.

This might be on issues related to carbon emissions or carbon capture such as planting more trees and maintaining existing green spaces.


2. Reduce energy consumption

Electricity and heat production is the biggest source of global carbon emissions so everyone has a role to play in minimizing these7 (source: Environmental Protection Agency).

Switching out your incandescent bulbs for more efficient LED bulbs and turning off devices when not in use are small changes that will add up over time. However, one of the biggest steps you can take to minimize your energy usage is to insulate your home.

This will not only have a benefit on your carbon footprint but in your pocket too. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates an insulated home can save 11% on total annual energy costs8 (source: ENERGY STAR®).

Key appliances to review in your home are your refrigerator and freezer which account for up to 13.7% of your home’s energy usage9 (source: US Energy Information Administration – EIA). Look for efficient models such as ENERGY STAR® certified devices in the United States or those with a high EPREL rating in the EU.

Aside from doing your part to reduce overall energy consumption, you can also consider using utility suppliers that focus on renewables or even install renewable energy sources in your home such as solar panels.


3. Use efficient transport

Although air travel often gets the most attention, passenger airplane travel accounts for 11.6% of transport emissions whereas passenger road vehicles account for 45.1%10 (source: International Energy Agency, 2019).

Switching to a more efficient vehicle such as a hybrid device or an electric vehicle can have a big impact. They are generally more expensive upfront, but you’ll also have a financial benefit over the lifetime of the vehicle due to lower running costs.


4. Cut down on flying

Just because air travel makes up a smaller proportion of total carbon emissions, this is due to the fact that only a small proportion of the population flies each year.

However, for those of us that do fly, the emissions will make up a large part of our carbon footprint. For example, a return trip from London to San Francisco emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 per person, that’s equivalent to half of the annual CO2 contribution from one person11 (source: BBC).

Reducing the number of flights you take and opting for road or even public transport is the biggest way to reduce your flying emissions. But, you can also fly more efficiently.

For example, taking non-stop journeys rather than multiple legs and flying economy where there are more people in the same space are two things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint from flying.


5. Eat responsibly

It might seem far-fetched that our diets can impact climate change in Antarctica, but it everyone does their part, it could have major positive impacts.

In the United States, meat accounts for 30% of average weekly household greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other food industry. Families that eat less meat (or no meat at all) have a much lower carbon footprint12 (source: A Comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Household Food Choices, R. Boehm. et al, 2018).

Another way your diet can help reduce your carbon footprint is by eating food grown locally so that it doesn’t rack up lots of air miles.


6. Reduce, reuse, recycle

Consumerism is a contributing factor to carbon emissions, not just in the production of goods but also in transporting them across the world. Studies suggest that the average consumer product results in carbon emissions 6.3 times its own weight13 (source: Carbon emissions embodied in product value chains and the role of Life Cycle Assessment in curbing them, C. J. Meinrenken. et al, Sci Rep, Vol 10, 2020).

A scheme known as the 3R’s encourages consumers to reduce, reuse, and recycle products.

The best way to minimize the impact of consumerism is to reduce the number of items you buy in the first place. This might be fewer presents or looking for items that have good repairability so that they don’t require replacing as frequently.

Next is the recommendation to reuse goods, this might involve buying or selling second-hand goods or even upcycling unwanted items. For those products that we cannot reduce or reuse, the final best thing to do is recycle them afterward.


7. Invest sustainably

The best way to show your commitment to reducing climate change is by putting your money where your mouth is. If you’re investing in funds or shares, ensure your investments are going towards responsible businesses.

There’s now a large market for ESG investments. These are investments that prioritize environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.

Studies have found that there is no financial trade-off to investing in sustainable funds compared to traditional funds14 (source: Sustainable Reality, Institue for Sustainable Investing Morgan Stanley). This is because they generally have a lower downside and are often more stable.


How are Humans Helping Antarctica?

As well as taking practical steps at home and in our own countries, organizations are working to mitigate the impacts of climate change in Antarctica itself.

Here are some examples of ways humans are helping Antarctica:

  • The International Protocol on Environmental Protection in 1991 marked a big leap forward in the conservation of Antarctica. It protects Antarctica from mining, marine pollution, waste disposal, and more15 (source: British Antarctic Survey).

Contribute to Charities Helping Antarctica

All of the above recommendations are practical ways we can all help climate change. However, if you’d like to make a more direct contribution to mitigating the effects of climate change in Antarctica, there are several charities you can donate to.

Here are some charities you can contribute to:

  • WWF – Through their ‘adopt a penguin’ they help safeguard wildlife in Antarctica, reducing illegal fishing, raise awareness of climate change.
  • Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) – This is a coalition of NGOs that have been formed to help protect the integrity of Antarctica from human activity. They are specifically mentioned as an observer in The Antarctic Treaty.
  • Greenpeace – Greenpeace have played a key role in campaigning for the protection of Antarctica from exploitation and continues to fight for the region. Whilst you can’t donate directly to their work in Antarctica, you can support the charity as a whole and help their vision for a greener, healthier, and more peaceful planet.

What’s the Future for Climate Change in Antarctica?

The future for Antarctica is not looking good. Scientists suggest that there is no feasible way of slowing down the melting of the six glaciers in west Antarctica which hold around 10% of the ice in Antarctica. Some are likely to disappear within 200-500 years17 (source: Geophysical Research Letters, E. Rignot. et al, Vol 41, Issue 10, 2014).

That might seem like a long time, but impacts are expected across the globe within our lifetime with sea levels predicted to rise by almost 1m by 210018 (source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013).

Experts predict that the melting of these glaciers is now beyond the point of no return19 (source: Time).

Whilst there is still time to reverse the trend of global warming, there will be impacts on the continent of Antarctica regardless of any changes we make.


Related Questions

Is There a Connection Between Global Warming and the Ozone Hole?

The ozone hole is an area in the stratosphere above Antarctica where ozone-depleting chemicals have destroyed ozone molecules. This allows more UV rays from the sun to enter the atmosphere.

Whilst there is a connection between the ozone hole and global warming, neither one is the cause of the other20 (source: NASA).

The ozone hole varies throughout the year, but since the Montreal Protocol banned many ozone-depleting chemicals, the general trend now suggests the ozone hole is getting smaller, allowing for annual variances21 (source: World Meteorological Organization).

Kieren

Kieren is the founder of Polar Guidebook. After visiting both of the polar regions and meeting the scientists and tour guides that work there, he developed a keen interest in the animals, climate, and geography of the Arctic and Antarctica.