To understand climate change, it is best to first define climate. The climate of an area or region refers to the typical or average weather. For example, the climate of Hawaii is sunny and warm. When you hear about climate change, this is describing a change in the climate of an area, such as temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns that occur over several decades or longer. Climate change is also a change in the Earth’s overall climate, such as an increase in the Earth’s average temperature. Keep in mind that weather and climate are different. Weather is the short-term changes you see every day, such as a cool, rainy morning and a hot, humid afternoon. Think of climate as the average of the weather over many years. Climate changes slowly over hundreds and thousands of years.
Is global warming the same thing as climate change?
Global warming is just one aspect of climate change. When you hear about global warming, it is in reference to the recent and ongoing increase in the global average temperature near the Earth’s surface. However, there is often confusion surrounding the idea that global warming causes intense weather such as snowstorms.
One of the consequences of global warming is that the increased temperature has lead to an increase in both ocean evaporation into the atmosphere, and the amount of water vapor the atmosphere can hold. The high levels of water vapor create the perfect conditions for heavier precipitation in the form of rain, storms, and snow. In fact, the amount of rain or snow in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen 20 percent in the U.S., which equates to three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007. The pattern of increased precipitation will continue and become the new norm as heat continues to get trapped in the atmosphere through emissions. Scientists say if the trend continues, the amount of rainfall will increase by 40 percent by the end of the century.
What causes climate change and how do I know it is happening?
Unfortunately, humans are responsible for the recent climate change due to the creation of greenhouse gases. The most common greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane, and without their presence the Earth’s average surface temperature would drop to -20 degrees Celsius. Greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, but humans are increasing their concentration through the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy, industrial processes, and agricultural practices. These gases act like a blanket wrapping the Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and warming it up, which has led to changes in climate over the years.
The idea of climate change gets thrown around a lot, but there is physical evidence that the climate you live in is changing. For starters, the average temperature of the Earth has risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, and is expected to rise by another 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 100 years. The increased temperature of the Earth is causing changes in weather and climate, such as changes in precipitation that translate to more floods, droughts, and heat waves. Oceans are getting warmer and more acidic, sea levels are rising, and glaciers are melting. Evidence of climate change is happening around you every single day.
How can I help?
If humans are the main culprits when it comes to climate change, there has to be a way we can help. Start by taking a look at your commute to work. Transportation is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., as one gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. Consider using public transportation, walking, cycling, or carpooling. Reserve airplane flights for long-distance trips to prevent the release of emissions high in the atmosphere.
Adjusting your consumption habits can cut down on greenhouse gas emissions too. Whether you use a reusable grocery bag or replace your vehicle with a bike, cutting back on your consumption means fewer fossil fuels are burned to extract, produce, and ship products around the world. Changing your consumption could also mean buying more, such as purchasing groceries in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging.
Climate change is such a large-scale phenomenon that is often hard to grasp what exactly it is. The climate you live in is changing every day, so take a look at how you are contributing and make adjustments to slow the rapid change. Every small change counts.
Blog written by Neil Stawski – Climate Wise
A printable list of actions you can take against climate change can be found here.
Carrie from Sussex Green Living gives talks for young people and adults on Climate Reality, reasons to be hopeful and actions you can undertake. More information here.
Learn more about this awards winning documentary which explains the complicated subject of climate change and will inspire you to take action.
Or you might like to read this article about climate change and the receding reefs.
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