Caring About Climate Change

Climate change.

If you had not heard of it before, you must be familiar with the term after this note-worthy week. From China’s new pollution-trading system initiative to the Pope’s message to Congress and the UN, climate change is one hot topic. To make sure you are truly knowledgeable, here is the foundation of what you should know:

Global warming is NOT synonymous with climate change. It is one aspect of climate change.

Global warming refers to the rise in global average temperatures near Earth’s surface. It is caused mostly by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which absorb radiation from the sun. This “Greenhouse effect” is natural and necessary to keep Earth at a temperature that can support life. It is the buildup of excess greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere by human activities that is dangerous, and contributes to climate change. Currently, carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas emitted, mostly due to the combustion of fossil fuels.

Climate change itself refers to any significant change in temperature, wind patterns, precipitation or other measures of climate that last for an extended period of time. Humans are largely responsible for the climate change that has occurred in the past few centuries, as visualized by the US National Climate Assessment in the graph below.

US Climate Assessment (2014)

Some good news: A new study states that 92% of all scientists, not solely climate scientists, agree that human-caused climate change is actually happening. Thus, “climate change should no longer be viewed as a controversy within the scientific community.” Thank goodness. We are facing a plethora of new challenges such as increased floods, droughts and severe heat waves. Our oceans are warming, ice caps melting and sea levels rising. All forms of life are at stake as the natural environment faces these increased threats. We need no distraction from trying to halt the climate trend. NOW is the time to start cutting back on emissions, investing in clean technologies, re-thinking the way we do industry; the future is truly at stake.

Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben



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