What is Climate Change?
“Climate Change” is a general term used when referring to a wide range of effects brought about by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and “heat island effects” resulting from buildings and pavement in the major human settlements.
Here is some of the facts you can learn all about climate change and how to prevent it:
The term “Global Warming” is used when referring to one aspect of climate change, the warming of global average temperature, caused in part by ever-increasing levels of “Greenhouse Gases” in the earth atmosphere.
Although both climate change and global warming occur naturally on earth, it is the high rate of increase in overall global temperature change and more extreme climatic events, clearly related to human activities (as confirmed by a vast majority of the world’s climate specialists), that is cause for much concern.
The latest research on climate change from the mainstream scientific community worldwide tells that climate change is being caused primarily by human changes to the planet and that there will be both positive and negative impacts with most of the impacts in the “negative” category. It’s likely to be very expensive in terms of the impact on our economy, human health, and loss of a wide range of plant and animal species.
An understanding of how we contribute to climate change, what we can do about it, and the economic and environmental benefits we will enjoy – now and later – if we commit to reasonable actions, is crucial to the economic and environmental sustainability of human and other life on earth.
This video illustrates how global temperature is dangerously increasing.
The climate on the earth is changing due to the release of greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, methane, and others) by man. They are called “greenhouse gasses” because they help trap heat in the atmosphere just as greenhouse glass traps heat in a greenhouse. Like glass, greenhouse gasses are somewhat “transparent” to high energy (short wavelength) sunlight yet somewhat “opaque” to the lower energy (long wavelength) heat trying to escape from the planet. Because warmer global average temperatures result from this process, it is referred to as “global warming.” It is important to distinguish between normal and abnormal levels of greenhouse gasses (see graphics below). Normal levels help keep the earth at its natural temperature, whereas abnormal levels make the earth warmer. The impacts of climate change created by man’s actions are important to understand if we are to sustain a healthy environment and economy over the long term.
Greenhouse Gases – Normal versus Abnormal
There has been a lot of conflicting information about global warming. This makes it difficult for the average person to decide whether the issue is real or not, and thus whether or not they should be concerned enough to do something about it. This section covers global warming in a purely factual manner, based on the views of a majority of the world top scientists.
The latest climate change is summarized in this official IPCC video.
The Plain And Simple Climate Change Facts
- The burning of fossil fuels and other human activities promote climate change
- The potential consequences of climate change are much too severe to ignore
- The solutions to climate change are beneficial to both the economy and the environment
- The global temperature has increased by 0.6 to 1 degrees Celsius during the 20th century.
- The U.S. alone generates 22% of world’s carbon emisions while it only constitutes 5% of the world population.
- Transportation contribute to 20% of carbon emissions in the United States.
- Around 70,000 deaths have occurred in Europe in 2003 due to diseases caused by rising temperatures.
The perspective of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
A series of reports from the U.S. Global Change Research Program are perhaps the least biased and the most comprehensive report on this subject. The IPCC was founded in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization with the mandate to assess the scientific and technical information about climate change. For the Second Assessment Report (1995), 2,500 contributing scientists from over 60 countries evaluated more than 20,000 papers in the scientific literature from widely divergent research fields including climatology, ecology, economics, medicine, and oceanography. This kind of comprehensive overview has rarely been attempted in any realm of science. The IPCC’s 1995 report, quite literally, represents the current human understanding on climate change.
The IPCC Second Assessment indicates that researchers have found convincing evidence that the measured atmospheric increase in heat-trapping gasses, principally carbon dioxide (CO2), is related to the burning of fossil fuels. The majority of the scientists involved agreed that global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels would continue to raise global average temperatures somewhere between 1.8 to 6.3 degrees over the next hundred years. It could cause profound alterations in the weather by changing patterns of water movement through the atmosphere, known as the global hydrological cycle.
The reports also include some recommendations for addressing global warming from both an economical and environmentally responsible point of view. For example, they recommend increased support for renewable energy technologies such as solar heating. They also support the elimination of fuel subsidies and the inclusion of externalities, so that market prices reflect the real cost paid by consumers for energy, allowing alternatives to compete on a level playing field.
The perspective of a majority of the Nobel Laureates in the sciences
In 1992, approximately 1,700 scientists worldwide, including a majority of the Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued the World Scientists Warning to Humanity. This document constitutes an unprecedented appeal from some of the world’s leading scientists on the destruction of the earth’s natural resources and what must be done if we are to sustain life on the planet.
Watch the final solutions that were proposed in the Paris Agreement in this video.
Solutions to Climate Change
Transportation energy use, a major contributor to greenhouse gasses, accounts for two-thirds of all the petroleum we consume in the United States. Because it’s such a major contributor to climate change, your choice of transportation can have a very positive – or negative – impact on the problem. In general, transportation is the #1 thing a consumer does that causes harm to the environment. Check these transportation links for a variety of sensible alternatives.
Residential and commercial buildings still account for 37 percent of U.S. primary energy use. We can cut that energy use in half using cost-effective efficiency and renewable energy solutions available today. And a 50% reduction in fossil fuel energy use translates into a 50% reduction in pollution!
Renewable energy sources such as the wind and solar energy are crucial solutions for addressing climate change, as well as other issues such as diminishing U.S. energy supplies and rising world energy consumption. Did you know that in many states you may be eligible for financing help, tax credits, rebates, or ALL THREE? Federal, state and even local governments offer a wide variety of programs to help people save energy.
With all the hubbub over electricity in the news, it’s common to hear people use the words “energy” and “electricity” interchangeably – as if “energy = electricity.” But we cannot forget about “gas” – and gas of all sorts – natural gas, propane, gasoline and the rest – that we use directly for transportation, space heating, and water heating. The potential for renewable energy to serve a significant portion of these energy needs is huge, and it’s sound economics too (as I have witnessed with my transportation, home heating-cooling-water heating and electricity are derived from renewable sources of energy).
For example, let’s take a typical home with a natural gas water heater. The water heater emits 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year – the most problematic greenhouse gas associated with climate change. Imagine how much CO2 that is – imagine it as filling up your 1/2 ton pickup truck with three loads (that’s a lot of weight!) at the end of every year and carting it off to the dump. But unfortunately, it doesn’t go to the dump. It goes into the atmosphere and is helping to change the climate of the only liveable spot I’m aware of in the universe!
Here is a great illustration of Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Volumes between 1979-2016
If a solar water heating system were used to offset gas usage, it would reduce both non-sustainable energy consumption (think “let’s not spend our children’s inheritance”) and greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 80%! And as a bonus, a solar water heater typically provides 100% of the hot water needs during summer months when most (urban) air quality problems are at their worst! Solar water heating is an important consideration for people concerned about the depletion of our natural resources, air quality, and climate change – and willing to do something about it!
The other big user of gas in a home is space heating. Fortunately, a broad range of high efficiency – and even solar space heating systems – are available that can also provide superior comfort and a sound investment compared to other options. For example, most homes can be designed or retrofitted to be more energy efficient, and even use solar power, in a cost effective way – check out pages here like practical tips for homeowners or sustainable design. When retrofitting an existing home or building a new home, sustainable design can reduce both gas and electricity use by 50-80% or more. The extra dollars you pay to build a more sustainable structure can save you so much on your monthly gas and electric bill; it’s like investing those extra dollars in an interest-earning account at an annual percentage rate of ten, fifty, or 100% (or more)!
Here is the list of the countries which have ratified the COP 21 agreement.
More resources on human-induced climate change:
- Climate change FAQs, by Road to Paris.
- Summary of climate change evidences, by NASA.
- IPCC infographics and interactive visualization of carbon emissions, by WRI.
- Health Impacts of climate change: Lancet report and video.
- History of atmospheric carbon dioxide (for the past 800,000 years), by NOAA (aggregated NOAA resources here).
More resources on how to transition to a low-carbon economy:
- New Climate Economy report.
- Pathways to Deep Decarbonization report, by U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.