Climate 101

Just the nuts and bolts in under 500 words

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What’s the Science?

Like a pendulum, the Earth’s climate naturally swings between hot and cold over long time periods. However, scientists have found strong evidence that people are influencing the climate by adding increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

“Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities.”

Source: NASA

But if the climate naturally changes, why does it matter if people warm the planet? The impacts are increase the likelihood of more extreme weather events, which is expected to challenge critical infrastructure and strain natural ecosystems.  Based on our current path, MIT forecasts about 5 to 7 degrees of additional warming by the end of the century.

A World of Agreement

Temperatures have increased 1.5ºF according to NASA, National Weather Service, NOAA, and other renowned climate trackers across the world. 

Source: NASA

Dr. Gavin Schmidt, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute

“The planet is warming. The reason it’s warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

“The question today is no longer if climate change is happening, but how we can confront the social, economic and health challenges it presents.”

Alan Mulally, Former CEO of Ford

“The time for debating whether climate change is real has passed. It is time for a conversation about what we, as a society, intend to do to address it.”

What’s the Evidence?

Certain gases in the air, most notably carbon dioxide, act as a blanket that warm the Earth. Life on Earth would not be possible without these ‘greenhouse gases’. Without any, the Earth would be well below freezing.

However, scientists have discovered people are causing unnatural warming by putting more of these gases into the air faster than they can be removed by plants and natural stabilizers. Since the warming can cause many indirect changes, the problem is commonly referred to as ‘climate change’.

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What are the impacts?

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It is not just scientists that are planning for change. Top leaders, including those with the CIA and Department of Defense, are preparing for a warmer world.

Leading businesses, including the world’s largest oil companies, are funding climate research — their questions are not whether it is real but how to prepare and cope with the coming changes.

How are climate & weather different?

Climate means the long term behavior of weather. Weather is local and short-term; climate describes the average weather for a region at a given time of year based on historical patterns. Climate change means the average temperature and precipitation is not following those old patterns.

Where is there scientific agreement?

The world’s leading scientific organizations, including MIT and NASA, agree that human-caused climate change is happening and just a few more degrees of warming will increase the risk of intense storms, sea level rise and other extreme weather events.

How much warming has happened?

People have caused about 1.5ºF of unnatural warming by putting greenhouse gases into the air since 1889. While it may not sound like much, the extra warming has been linked to some natural disasters such as wildfires in the U.S. and drought in the Mediterranean.

What are the solutions?

Research is underway all over the world to engineer technologies that produce less greenhouse gases, or even suck them out of the skies, and help us adapt to a warmer world.

People in developing countries, such as India and Vietnam, currently use less than 10% of the energy than the average American. As they plug into the luxuries of the 21st century, solutions must be workable for developing countries.

Many of the largest companies in the world, including Apple, General Motors, and Nike, see “tackling climate change [as] one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century”.

“The Earth’s average temperature is expected to increase 3 to 10 degrees by the end of the century.”

Source: NASA

Sources and Citations

  1. NASA, “Climate Change: Impacts”: www.climate.nasa.gov.
  2. MIT, “Climate Change: Impacts”: www.climate.nasa.gov.
  3. MIT, “Climate Change: Impacts”: www.climate.nasa.gov.

Photographs

  1. Fred Hotchkins, NASA.