Image by Cris DiNoto

What Is Climate Change?

 

Do you know the difference between weather and climate?

Credits: NASA

Burning coal, oil and gas to create energy releases gases.

Credits: NASA

 

Many NASA satellites study Earth and its climate.

Credits: NASA

This article is part of the NASA Knows! (Grades K-4) series.


To learn about climate change, you first must know what climate is.

What Is Climate? How Is It Different From Weather?
You might know what weather is. Weather is the changes we see and feel outside from day to day. It might rain one day and be sunny the next. Sometimes it is cold. Sometimes it is hot. Weather also changes from place to place. People in one place might be wearing shorts and playing outside. At the same time, people far away might be shoveling snow.

Climate is the usual weather of a place. Climate can be different for different seasons. A place might be mostly warm and dry in the summer. The same place may be cool and wet in the winter. Different places can have different climates. You might live where it snows all the time. And some people live where it is always warm enough to swim outside!

There's also Earth's climate. Earth's climate is what you get when you combine all the climates around the world together.

What Is Climate Change?
Climate change is a change in the usual weather found in a place. This could be a change in how much rain a place usually gets in a year. Or it could be a change in a place's usual temperature for a month or season.

Climate change is also a change in Earth's climate. This could be a change in Earth's usual temperature. Or it could be a change in where rain and snow usually fall on Earth.

Weather can change in just a few hours. Climate takes hundreds or even millions of years to change.


Is Earth's Climate Changing?
Earth's climate is always changing. There have been times when Earth's climate has been warmer than it is now. There have been times when it has been cooler. These times can last thousands or millions of years.

People who study Earth see that Earth's climate is getting warmer. Earth's temperature has gone up about one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years. This may not seem like much. But small changes in Earth's temperature can have big effects.

Some effects are already happening. Warming of Earth's climate has caused some snow and ice to melt. The warming also has caused oceans to rise. And it has changed the timing of when certain plants grow.

Climate Change Mitigation

Mitigation – reducing climate change – involves reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, either by reducing sources of these gases (for example, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat or transport) or enhancing the “sinks” that accumulate and store these gases (such as the oceans, forests and soil). The goal of mitigation is to avoid significant human interference with the climate system, and “stabilize greenhouse gas levels in a timeframe sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner” (from the 2014 report on Mitigation of Climate Change from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, page 4).

Climate Change Adaptation

Adaptation – adapting to life in a changing climate – involves adjusting to actual or expected future climate. The goal is to reduce our vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change (like sea-level encroachment, more intense extreme weather events or food insecurity). It also encompasses making the most of any potential beneficial opportunities associated with climate change (for example, longer growing seasons or increased yields in some regions).

Throughout history, people and societies have adjusted to and coped with changes in climate and extremes with varying degrees of success. Climate change (drought in particular) has been at least partly responsible for the rise and fall of civilizations. Earth’s climate has been relatively stable for the past 12,000 years and this stability has been crucial for the development of our modern civilization and life as we know it. Modern life is tailored to the stable climate we have become accustomed to. As our climate changes, we will have to learn to adapt. The faster the climate changes, the harder it could be.

While climate change is a global issue, it is felt on a local scale. Cities and municipalities are therefore at the frontline of adaptation. In the absence of national or international climate policy direction, cities and local communities around the world have been focusing on solving their own climate problems. They are working to build flood defenses, plan for heatwaves and higher temperatures, install water-permeable pavements to better deal with floods and stormwater and improve water storage and use.

According to the 2014 report on Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (page 8) from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, governments at various levels are also getting better at adaptation. Climate change is starting to be factored into a variety of development plans: how to manage the increasingly extreme disasters we are seeing and their associated risks, how to protect coastlines and deal with sea-level encroachment, how to best manage land and forests, how to deal with and plan for reduced water availability, how to develop resilient crop varieties and how to protect energy and public infrastructure.

Global warming looms large over humanity. According to the EPA, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human activities increased twenty six percent from 1990 to 2005. The rise in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere accounts for approximately eighty percent of this increase. Often debated, the effects of global warming on the planet and the human population are frightening and mostly self-inflicted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main Causes of Climate Change*

Power Plants

Forty percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions stem from electricity production. Ninety-three percent of the electric industry emissions result from burning coal. According to the EPA coal-fired power plants, municipal and medical waste incineration account for two-thirds of U.S. mercury emissions.

Transportation

EPA reports state that thirty-three percent of U.S. emissions come from the transportation of people and goods.

Brought to you by Sciencing

Farming

Industrial farming and ranching releases huge levels of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Farming contributes forty percent of the methane and twenty percent of the carbon dioxide to worldwide emissions.

Deforestation

Deforestation to use wood for building materials, paper and fuel increases global warming in two ways -- the release of carbon dioxide during the deforestation process and the reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide that forests can capture.

 

Fertilizers

The use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers increases the amount of heat cropland can store. Nitrogen oxides can trap up to 300 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Sixty-two percent of nitrous oxide released comes from agricultural byproducts.

 

Oil Drilling

Burn-off from the oil drilling industry impacts the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Fossil fuel retrieval, processing and distribution accounts for roughly eight percent of carbon dioxide and thirty percent of methane pollution.

 

Natural Gas Drilling

Touted as a cleaner fuel source, natural gas drilling causes massive air pollution in states like Wyoming; the hydraulic fracturing technique used to extract natural gas from shale deposits pollutes ground water sources as well.

Permafrost

The melting of permafrost releases tons of trapped green house gases which further speeds up the melting of more permafrost. Scientists calculate that approximately five-hundred gigatons of carbon is trapped in the Siberian permafrost alone. A single gigaton equals one billion tons.

Garbage

As trash breaks down in landfills, it releases methane and nitrous oxide gases. Approximately eighteen percent of methane gas in the atmosphere comes from waste disposal and treatment.

Volcanic Eruption

Volcanoes expel large quantities of carbon dioxide when they erupt. Volcanoes have an overall small effect on global warming and an eruption causes a short-term global cooling as ash in the air reflects greater amounts of solar energy.

*Source: Sciencing

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Getting Started

Positively Impacting

Climate Change

  1. Start Small

  2. Start Local

  3. Expand

  4. Involve Employees

Biden's - US Climate Priorities

  • Zero Carbon Industrial Goods

  • Carbon Capture​

  • Renewable Energies

  • Infrastructure

  • Investment & Innovation 

  • Green Jobs

  • Clean Air & Water

  • 100% Carbon Pollution Free Electricity

  • Reduce Emission from Forest & Agriculture 

    • Carbon Sinks - Carbon Credits​

  • Made in America

  • Reduce Carbon Pollution from Transportation

    • Electric Vehicles​

  • Home Efficiency Upgrades

    • Heating​

    • Cooking