Climate change the greatest threat humankind faces today. We’ve already seen significant glacial melting, rising sea levels, raging wildfires, the migration of dangerous parasites and disease vectors like mosquitos and ticks, and—most notably—extreme and devastating weather events. All signs show that the problem is only going to get worse. This is troubling news for the world’s scientists and anyone who happens to be living on Earth.
What Is Climate Change?
Climate change is the change in global or regional climate patterns over time. Most often, the term specifically refers to the rapid changes in the Earth’s temperature and weather patterns since the late 1800s. This is due to the use increased proportion of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
Climate change is sometimes referred to as “global warming”, but this term can be misleading. The term global warming makes some people think that all places on the planet are warming up as a whole, so when their hometown has the coldest, snowiest winter in 30 years, they assume global warming must be untrue.
The warming trend is measured globally, not regionally, and an increase in average global temperature of just 1-2 degrees Celsius can causes extreme weather of all kinds. Droughts, floods, severe storms, wildfires, heatwaves, frigid winters, and blizzards are all becoming frighteningly common.
The Facts About Climate Change
Climate change isn’t a topic of political debate. It’s is a real problem, back by objective scientific measurements and undeniable facts, and we have to take steps to reduce its impact. Here are some of the facts about climate change.
1. CO2 Matters
In 2017, global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) hit 405 ppm (parts per million)—a new record high. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is currently at its highest level in 3 million years.
Why is this a problem? Greenhouse gases like CO2 are the number one contributor to climate change. The last time CO2 levels were this high, the average global temperature was 2°–3°C (3.6°–5.4°F) higher than during the pre-industrial era, and the sea level was 15–25 meters (50–80 feet) higher than today.
Warmed by the sun, Earth’s land and ocean surfaces continuously radiate heat. Greenhouse gases like CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide, absorb that heat and release it gradually over time, like a hot frying pan after you turn off the stove. At normal levels, this greenhouse effect is a necessary, natural process. Without it, the planet would be too cold to support life. However, the rapid increase in CO2 levels has upset the balance, trapping too much heat and causing global temperatures to spike.
2. Transportation, Energy, and Industry Are the Top Contributors
By far, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of fossil fuels for transportation, energy, and industry. Combined, transportation, electricity production, and industrial applications account for almost 80% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Homes and business account for another 11%, mostly from heating and cooling. Farming makes up the remaining 9%.
3. Temperature Will Increase
In just the last few years, we’ve experienced some of the highest global temperatures since we started recording that sort of thing 138 years ago. The nine warmest years on record are 2016, 2015, 2017, 2014, 2010, 2013, 2005, 2009, and 1998. The year 2018 is well on it’s way to being added to that list.
Since 1901, the planet’s surface has warmed by 0.9° C (1.3–1.6° F) per century, but the rate of warming has nearly doubled since 1975 to 1.5–1.8° C (2.7–3.2° F). That may not sound like much, but consider the vast size and tremendous heat capacity of Earth’s oceans. It takes an unimaginable amount of heat energy to raise Earth’s surface temperature even a tiny amount. The planet is gaining heat energy at the rate equivalent to detonating four Hiroshima-sized atom bombs per second.[6,7]
4. Wildlife Will Be Affected
Humans aren’t the only creatures that will suffer the effects of climate change. Wildlife will see a huge impact from the rising heat. Climate change has already put much of the natural world at risk, and in the coming years, it will threaten entire ecosystems.
The most noticeable example of this is in the polar regions. Temperatures there are rising twice as fast as other places on the planet. The oceans are heating up, and glacial ice is melting, causing habitat loss and threatening food supplies. The climate change in the Arctic and Antarctic may be the most extreme example right now, but it only serves as an early warning system for the changes to come for the rest of the planet.
Humans can adapt to many climates, but many animals are specialists to their habitat. They’ll have to adapt quickly or face extinction.
5. Droughts and Floods Will Become More Common
The heating of the Earth has lead to an increase in extreme weather. Higher temperatures mean heatwaves and droughts, but it doesn’t stop there. Warmer air can hold more water vapor, meaning that the regions free from drought will actually see much more rain, snow, sleet, and hail. Warmer air also holds more energy, which means stronger winds and more devastating storms. This isn’t some future trend that we’ll have to worry about decades from now. It’s happening right here, right now.
Despite the hard science, climate change has become a polarizing, and political, issue especially in the United States. This has lead to the spread of some misleading information on the topic. Here are some common myths you may hear about climate change.
1. MYTH: More CO2 Is Good for Plants
A favorite myth of climate change deniers is that more atmospheric carbon dioxide is good for plants. Like all great oversimplifications, this one sounds like it should make sense at first. After all, plants breathe CO2, so more should be better for growing, right? Unfortunately, the reality is a little more complicated than that.
It’s true that plant growth increased in the 80s and 90s, but this trend seems to be slowing down. In fact, it may actually be reversing. The trouble is that with increased CO2, we also get increased temperatures and changes in weather that can harm plant life. Plants need carbon dioxide to live, but they also need water, and droughts are becoming more common and more severe. Recent studies show that the increased CO2 in the atmosphere is actually harming plant life.[8, 9, 10]
2. MYTH: Climate Change Cannot Be Attributed to Human Activity
Skeptics may claim that climate change is a natural process, not the result of human activity. At first glance, it seems like an alluring possibility. The Earth has gone through many dynamic climate changes over it’s 4 billion year lifespan, including multiple alternating ice ages and warmer periods, most of which happened long before humans showed up on the planet.
It’s convenient for some to believe that human activity is not affecting our climate because that would mean that we don’t have to change our behavior. However, upon further examination, it becomes clear that human-created greenhouse gasses are indeed the culprit. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientists and climate experts from many countries, there is a 95% probability that human-made greenhouse gasses are the primary cause of climate change.
Natural causes, like fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit, variances in the Sun’s temperature, and volcanic activity simply cannot account for the rapid rise in global temperatures. Human activity releases 100 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than volcanism, and even all possible natural causes combined would account for only a tiny fraction of the global temperature changes we’ve observed.[2, 11, 12]
Human-created greenhouse gasses, however, fit the datasets perfectly. There is no doubt about it, climate change is the direct result of human activity. It’s up to us to do something about it.
3. Myth: Clean Energy Is Too Expensive or Unreliable
The energy industry is the most significant contributor to greenhouse gasses. Since we can’t just shut off all the electricity on earth, adopting clean, renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectric is critical to our survival and advancement as a species. Some critics will say that green energy sources are too expensive or unreliable, but this simply is not true.
We’ve made huge advances in clean energy technology, and its cheaper and more reliable than ever before. The initial upfront cost of setting up green energy sources can be higher than that of traditional fossil fuels, but they more than pay for themselves in the long run.
How You Can Help
Climate change is a global problem, but there are many small steps you can take today, in your own home and life, to help reduce your carbon footprint. Walking or biking instead of driving, buying locally sourced food, and eating less meat and more vegetables are all excellent, simple ways to help. Where you spend your money also matters. Support energy suppliers Just Energy that embrace clean, renewable energy sources and dedicate themselves to proper resource management. Even better, add green energy to your energy plan to offset your energy usage! Just Energy customers can add JustGreen to their energy plans and offset up to 100% of their electricity and natural gas usage for a small monthly cost.
If you can adopt some of these simple steps, encourage others to do the same. If enough people make enough small changes, we can make a global difference.
- Stilberg, B. Why a half-degree temperature rise is a big deal. NASA.gov. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2458/why-a-half-degree-temperature-rise-is-a-big-deal/. Published June 29, 2016. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Lindsey R. Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. Climate.gov. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide. Published August 1, 2018. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Facts — Climate Change:Vital Signs of the Planet. Nasa.gov. https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. EPA.gov. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Global Climate Report – September 2018: 2018 year-to-date temperatures versus previous years. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2018/09/supplemental/page-1. Published September 2018. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Lindsey R, Dahlman L. Climate Change: Global Temperature. Climate.gov. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature. Published August 1, 2018. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Stover D. How many Hiroshimas does it take to describe climate change? The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. https://thebulletin.org/2013/09/how-many-hiroshimas-does-it-take-to-describe-climate-change/. Published September 26, 2013. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Nemani RR, et al. Climate-driven increases in global terrestrial net primary production from 1982 to 1999. Science. 2003;300(5625):1560-3. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/300/5625/1560. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Zhu K, et al. Nonlinear, interacting responses to climate limit grassland production under global change. PNAS. 2016;113(38):201606734. http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2016/08/30/1606734113.full.pdf. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Hawkins E, et al. Increasing influence of heat stress on French maize yields from the 1960s to the 2030s. Global Change Biology. 2013;19(3):937-947. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/gcb.12069. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. IPCC. http://ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- Roston E, Migliozzi B. What’s Really Warming the World. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world/. Published June 24, 2015. Accessed November 16, 2018.
- The Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Part One. EPA.gov. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-07/documents/mbg_1_multiplebenefits.pdf. Published July, 2018. Accessed November 16, 2018.