When it comes to contentious political topics, there are fewer more divisive than climate change. But among scientists and researchers, there is very little (to almost non-existent) debate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” In other words, the global scientific community is not debating the presence of global warming. Climate change can be confusing to the average person in terms of its causes, evidence, impact, and possible solutions. Here are some common questions about climate change, answered.
If there’s global warming, why is it still snowing?
When someone uses a big snowfall to attempt to discredit the existence of global warming, they are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of climate change and confusing weather with climate. Changes in Earth’s climate can cause erratic weather patterns, and the fact that it’s still cold sometimes in many places across the globe is not evidence against climate change.
How do we know climate change is occurring?
One way we know is the increase in carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere and its effect on average temperatures.
“Increased human fossil-fuel consumption over the past two centuries has increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Atmospheric CO2 recently surpassed 400 parts per million, the highest level in more than 800,000 years. As a result of increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, global surface temperatures have increased by about one degree centigrade since 1880,” notes Scientific American.
The ten hottest years in recorded history have taken place in the 2000s. The last three years have been the hottest overall on record.
Other evidence includes sea level rise (8 inches in the last century), warming ocean temps (0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969), declining arctic sea ice, increase in extreme weather events like floods and hurricanes, and the acidification of the oceans.
How is climate change dangerous?
According to the National Wildlife Federation, “the current pace of global average temperature rise puts approximately 25 to 35 percent of plant and animal species at increased risk of extinction.”
If that’s not scary enough, the EPA lists these as outcomes of climate change: increasing heat waves; more extreme weather; intensified droughts: negative impact on crops production (over the past 40 years, climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased, and this is expected to continue); more wildfires; and negative impacts on health (climate change is increasing our exposure to extreme temperatures, extreme weather events; degraded air quality; diseases transmitted through food, water, and insects; and stresses to mental health and well-being).
What can I do about it?
Many attempts to combat the effects of climate change must be made at the governmental policy level – internationally, federally, and through state and local governments. You are not going to be able to “green” your way to mitigating all the effects of climate change.
But that doesn’t mean that individuals and communities can’t make a difference.
You can make your home more green by switching to energy-efficient light bulbs like LEDs. You can step up your recycling and composting efforts. You can install low-flow faucets and showerheads. You can learn about reducing your water output for irrigation. You can install solar panels to reduce your footprint.
When commuting, you can choose to ride a bike, walk, or take public transportation. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of time in your automobile helps.
And finally, germaine to the first point, you can call and write your congresspeople and let them know that you care about climate change. Ask them what they are doing to combat its effects. If you are unhappy with how your leaders are addressing an issue that’s important to you, work to replace them.
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