People holding up signs about climate change.

A Deep Dive into the Human Causes of Climate Change

We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission.

The human causes of climate change may not be apparent at first since people do many different things to the planet. We’ll cover the top five causes to clear things up.

1. Transportation

Most vehicles run on fossil fuels, which makes transportation one of the biggest human causes of climate change. In the United States, it produces 30% of greenhouse gas emissions — the biggest source in the entire country. Of course, lumping all cars, planes, trains, and boats together can make finding a clear root cause tricky. 

To find the root cause, we need to look at which kinds of transportation contribute the most. In the United States, people’s personal cars cause more greenhouse gas emissions than planes, trains, or boats. Thankfully, this fact might change soon since electric vehicles are getting more popular every day.

That being said, people’s personal vehicles only create more greenhouse gases because they outnumber everything else. In other words, nobody needs to feel guilty about driving or riding in a car. If you need convincing, know that one person on a private jet emits up to 20 times more carbon than someone on a commercial plane.

There’s no doubt transportation is one of the top human causes of climate change — but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Sustainable fuel, walkable cities, and more public transportation options would immediately improve things. If anything, you and your family can help by walking or biking. 

2. Urbanization

Cities tend to be warmer than the places surrounding them. In fact, urban areas are 1°F – 7°F hotter during the day and 1°F – 5°F warmer at night. This event is what scientists call a “heat island” — an area where the temperature is higher because the concrete, glass, and metal absorb enough heat and reflect enough light that it turns a space into a furnace.

More people are moving to cities — a process called urbanization — so the heat island effect is becoming more common. Even though it doesn’t have a massive impact, it’s still something people should pay attention to. After all, anyone living in cities will feel the rising temperatures much more intensely.

Fortunately, out of all human causes of climate change, this is the easiest to fix with things like sustainable building materials, special paint, and vegetation. For example, green roofs lower energy usage by naturally cooling buildings. You and your family could help the planet just by planting more greenery around your house.

These methods are little things, but they have a tremendous impact. For example, reflective pavement alone could reduce the number of heatwaves by 41% in the United States. If you want to help, you could try using cool construction in your own home.

3. Agriculture 

Together, crop and livestock farming is one of the most significant human causes of climate change. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, considering farmers need to constantly supply food to stores around the world. 

Crop farming contributes to climate change through land development and soil erosion. The use of farm machinery also creates greenhouse gases. These operations have to be massive enough to supply food to people around the world, so they emit lots of greenhouse gases.

Animal farming also contributes significantly. People need roughly 100 million livestock for meat every single day. Creatures like cows produce a lot of methane when they’re alive. After they get turned into meat, the trucks driving them around to stores creates a lot of greenhouse gases. 

Since food demand will increase by 80% as early as 2050, the world needs a solution now. Thankfully, there are multiple possible things we can try. For starters, farmers could raise pigs or chickens instead of cows to reduce methane emissions. They could also switch to climate-friendly farming methods like algae-based fish farming.

4. Development 

Land development is one of the hidden human causes of climate change. When people strip land of plant and animal life, they prevent the trees from absorbing carbon dioxide. When they then build new buildings, they create even more greenhouse gases — meaning they essentially double their impact. 

Deforestation — where people cut down a lot of trees at once — is pretty well-known. Its reputation is no surprise, considering it’s been the cause of 30% of all carbon emissions since the mid-1800s. Even when people replant the trees they cut, the impact is still negative. After all, saplings can’t filter carbon dioxide as well as fully-grown trees and it takes decades for them to mature.

Land development doesn’t only apply to forests. It can also damage coral reefs and wetlands — crucial ecosystems that help protect the planet from climate change. They don’t often get as much attention as deforestation, but their impact is just as significant.

In only a few hundred years, the United States has lost around 50% of its original wetlands. Despite being vital ecosystems, about 75% are privately owned and have no formal environmental protections. As a result, roughly 60,000 acres disappear every single year.

5. Energy

Energy-related things are another one of the leading human causes of climate change. Since everyone around the world creates and uses electricity, it has a big collective impact. 

Simply keeping the lights on and the air conditioner running takes up a tremendous amount of power. As a result, building operation makes up nearly 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions related to energy production. Thankfully, fixes like smart lights and renewable use are already widespread solutions. 

Fossil fuel development is another story — many people want to keep using oil because it’s the way they’ve always done things. Drilling, fracking, transporting, refining, and using it emits a massive amount of greenhouse gases every year. 

You can do your part by using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Solar panels are much better for the environment than oil. You can also help by getting smart lightbulbs so your lights turn off whenever you leave the room.

 Human Causes of Climate Change  

The good news about all of these human causes of climate change is that they’re fixable. Since people are the root cause, it only takes a behavior change and effort to find a better path forward and help the planet recover.

Share on

Like what you read? Join other readers!

Get the latest updates on our planet by subscribing to the newsletter!

About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.