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For many people around the world today, climate change is a stark reality.
Lifestyles and livelihoods are being impacted in devastating ways as temperatures increase, ice vanishes, and sea levels rise.
But this is where human ingenuity comes into play. Here are just some examples of communities around the world working together to combat climate change.
The Alps are warming faster than the global average. In Austria, for example, temperatures have risen by 2C since 1880, compared with 0.85C, globally.1 Glaciers are shrinking because of global warming and this threatens groundwater supplies for many regions. In the case of the Morteratsch Glacier, glaciologist Dr Felix Keller is working to halt its retreat. His MortAlive project aims to “recycle” meltwater from the glacier by turning it into artificial snow that is sprayed back on top of the ice, forming a defensive layer that reflects the heat of the summer sun.2 This follows success with the Diavolezzafirn glacier, where a covering of white fleece blankets protected it in summer, resulting in the ice thickening by 32 feet (10 metres) in a decade.
In the Himalayas, the Ladakh region of India has a similar problem and an equally original solution. It’s one of the most arid places in the world and in response to the loss of natural glacier ice, local engineer Sonam Wangchuk came up with the idea of creating artificial glaciers. In winter months, stream water fountains up from underground pipes, freezing into 98ft (30m) tall “ice stupas”, so-named because they resemble Buddhist stupas, or shrines. Due to their pyramid-shape, they don’t melt until late spring – and they hold enough water for agriculture throughout summer. The idea is so successful that scientists from the University of Aberdeen are developing it for use around the world.
Summer meltwater from the Himalayas has increased because of global warming and is one of the causes of flooding in Bangladesh. In agricultural communities, farmers have adapted to the changing climate by turning to the ancient technique of building “floating farms”. These long mats of woven hyacinth plants rise and fall with the water levels and can remain in use during heavy monsoons – they even provide shelter for poultry and cattle. They’re most common in the districts of Gopalganj, Barisal and Pirojpur, and in 2013, the government provided $1.6m (£1.2m) to roll the scheme out to 50 locations around the country.
At the coast, Bangladesh’s polders have come under threat. These artificial islands are protected by a 5,700km network of walls, but defences are straining as storms become more frequent and intense. Attention has turned to controlled flooding inside the polders. As well as water, this brings in sediment that then settles and eventually raises the land. At Polder 32, where this was trialled, land rose by over 3 feet (1 metre) in a few short years.
The name “polder” is borrowed from the Netherlands, where the port of Rotterdam is also looking at the controlled flooding of specific areas. A number of spaces in the city are designed with a dual purpose: recreational during dry spells and floodwater containment during severe weather. Homes in “occasional flood zones” also have their electrics above flood levels meaning basements can flood without adversely affecting daily life. There are even plans to build floating residential areas; a solar-powered floating pavilion is the first step in that direction.
Extreme storms also afflict Fiji more frequently, but it bears the brunt of climate change in other ways, too. Since 1880, world sea levels have risen more than 8 inches (23cm), 3 inches (7.62cm) of which occurred in the past 25 years. Each year, the sea rises another 0.13 inches (3.2mm)3 – but since 1993 Fiji has recorded a 0.24 inch (6mm) annual rise in sea level – almost double the global average.
Islanders have adapted by turning to nature. With help from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), they’re restoring, protecting, and planting mangroves. These resilient plants thrive in saltwater environments and their sturdy root systems prevent coastal erosion by tightly holding the ground together. The roots and branches also form a rigid interlocking mesh, which acts as a natural flood barrier.
Studies by NASA show that one-third of today's sea level rise is due to water expanding because it is warmer, while two-thirds is due to the addition of melted land ice. Both are the result of global warming – but in other areas, the absence of water is the problem.
In 2015, South Africa suffered its lowest annual rainfall, while Cape Town experienced a record-breaking high of 42C (107.6F). In March 2022, the government set out its ‘Western Cape Climate Change Response Strategy: Vision 2050, in which it aims to become “climate resilient” by 2040 and a net Zero Emitter by 2050. Urban gardens planned for Cape Town will reduce the impact of intense heat waves, whilst also providing green spaces that are known to aid mental wellbeing – alleviating the stress of global warming. It’s part of an action plan that also tackles the root of the problem – global warming itself – with zero-emission zones, car-free spaces, more shaded areas, and cooling centres accessible across the city.
Global warming and human activity are also causing desertification; land degradation in drylands. But the determination of just one person can make a huge difference. In China’s Inner Mongolia, Yin Yuzhen set out to hold the Ordos Desert at bay and did just that by planting a million trees in 70,000 hectares. It took 30 years and they now serve as a barrier against damaging sandstorms, improve the soil, and help the community thrive. What began as a one-woman endeavour went on to inspire 2,000 other households.
Adapting to the changing climate was once seen as a cop-out; admitting defeat rather than tackling the heart of the problem. For many people though, it’s become a necessity. As Alaskan biologist Craig George put it, “The term is no longer 'climate change'… It is 'climate changed.’”
To this end, a Global Commission on Adaptation was launched in October 2018 – and that December, the World Bank and partners committed $200 billion in climate finance over five years.4
The climate crisis now has a twofold response: alleviating the immediate effects of global warming, through endeavours both great and small, whilst also continuing to tackle its cause.
#OurFrozenPlanet is a digital initiative from BBC Earth in association with The Moondance Foundation, bringing you urgent stories about the effects of climate change around the globe, and accounts of the people dedicated to championing positive change to protect the future of our planet.
Featured image © thexfilephoto | Getty
This article was published on Friday 21st October.