What Are the Main Causes of Climate Change?

Did you know that the global sea level has risen by about 8 inches in the last century? Or that the Earth’s average temperature has jumped by 2° F since the late 19th century? The planet is also losing its glaciers because they’re melting so fast.

So, it’s no wonder floods, extreme temperatures, and droughts have become more common.

Climate change, in turn, is one of the chief factors behind those events. This global phenomenon is primarily a result of human activities.

So, what exactly are the main causes of climate change? Most importantly, is there anything humans can do to prevent it from worsening?

We’ll answer all those questions in the guide below, so please read on.

Generating Power From Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas, and petroleum, are non-renewable resources. They’re non-renewable because their formation requires hundreds of millions of years.

The primary use of fossil fuels is for power generation, particularly electricity. For example, in 2021, the U.S. generated about 4.11 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. Approximately 61% of that came from fossil fuels.

Generating power from fossil fuels requires burning them. That combustion, in turn, releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Some examples of GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). Once released into the atmosphere, they act like a blanket around Earth. That “cover” traps the sun’s heat, which, in turn, causes global warming and climate change.  

The methods used to extract and refine fossil fuels also rely on energy. They also cause air, land, and water pollution and uproot wildlife habitats. So, they already harm the planet even before humans can use fossil fuels for energy.

Transportation Use

Using transportation causes climate change since most modes of transport use fossil fuels. For instance, in the U.S. alone, over 90% of transportation fuels come from petroleum. These include gasoline and diesel.

Manufacturing of Goods

Manufacturing and industrial processes rely on energy, primarily from fossil fuels. However, they also produce GHGs through chemical reactions needed to make goods.

Such processes also require the mining of raw materials. This contributes to a warmer climate, as operating mining equipment needs fossil fuels. 


Deforestation is the intentional and permanent clearing of forests. Its primary use is to make space for farming commodities, such as beef, soy, palm oil, and wood.

Deforestation causes climate change and global warming by releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. This happens when humans burn felled trees for energy. That burning causes the CO2 trees naturally store to go back into the air.

Deforestation also causes global warming and climate change by eliminating carbon-sequestering trees.

Sequestering carbon (carbon sequestration) is when plants remove CO2 from the air. For example, as forest trees grow, they sequester carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. They then store this gas in their woody parts for as long as they live.

Thus, the more trees humans cut, the fewer carbon sequesters remove CO2 from the air. Instead, the GHG stays in the atmosphere, accelerating global warming and climate change.

That makes direct air capture (DAC) one of the best climate change solutions. It’s a technology that captures carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Some of the most effective ones are equivalent to 20,000 trees, capturing up to 500 tons of CO2 yearly.

Food Production

Food production processes emit CO2, CH4, and other greenhouse gases. After all, they involve deforestation, fertilizer production and use, and farm equipment operation. Likewise, fishing boats typically run on GHG-emitting fossil fuels.

Food packaging and distribution also generate climate change-causing GHGs.

Powering Buildings

Globally, commercial and residential buildings account for about 40% of power usage. Their primary energy users are heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Refrigerators and freezers also consume lots of electricity.

Thus, caring for the environment can start at home, such as by switching to renewable energy. For example, why not use solar instead of fossil fuel-based electricity? Besides, solar power systems are becoming cheaper, even more so than fossil fuels.

Replacing old HVAC systems and appliances with energy-efficient models can also help. They use less power than their non-efficient counterparts, emitting fewer GHGs. That also means their use can help you lower your energy bills.

Excessive Consumption and Waste

The production of goods, from food to clothes and electronics, requires energy. After that, they add even more GHGs through packaging and transport. So, they already add to climate change before consumers even purchase them.

So the more people consume, the more climate-changing greenhouse gases they emit. 

Excessive consumption also contributes to climate change through waste. For instance, people who buy too much food often can’t consume everything. That results in the food going bad and getting thrown.

Unfortunately, decaying food emits GHGs, including carbon dioxide and methane. Indeed, food loss and waste in the U.S. alone generate about 170 million metric tons of CO2. That’s equivalent to the CO2 emissions of over 40 coal-fired power plants!

While rotting food emits less methane, this gas is more potent than carbon dioxide. Experts say it has 80 times more warming power than CO2 in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

So, moderate consumption is also one of the best ways to start caring for the planet. For example, buy just enough food for your family to prevent wastage. Doing so also cuts the need for GHG-emitting synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.

Another excellent way to be more eco-friendly is to avoid fast fashion. While such products are cheap, they go out of style quickly and don’t last long. As a result, they tend to end up in landfills, where they degrade and emit GHGs.

Time to Control the Main Causes of Climate Change

As you can see, the main causes of climate change are humans. That’s because of our emissions-generating activities, from generating power to manufacturing goods.

Because it’s our doing, it makes sense that we’re also responsible for fixing it. We can do that by switching to renewable energy and making our homes energy efficient. Another is by reducing our consumption to also cut back on our waste.

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