How do we solve climate change?

The opportunity

Carbon dioxide, the main cause of climate change, is a byproduct of almost everything we use. A 10-minute shower makes about 7 pounds of carbon dioxide. A gallon of gasoline? 20 pounds. A pair of Nike shoes? 40 pounds. Adding up all the sources, the average American puts about 60 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air every day.

Most scientists agree our emissions must be reduced rapidly to minimize the significant risks of climate change. Luckily, our carbon emissions can be drastically cut because opportunities to reduce carbon dioxide are virtually everywhere, from turning off unused lights to using more fuel efficient cars.

Source: NASA

Addressing climate change is not a choice between the economy and the environment. Apple, General Motors, and Nike are just three of over 1,200 companies that see “tackling climate change [as] one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century”. 

Currently, the way energy is produced and used makes up about 75% of the world’s total carbon emissions. For this reason, scientists are focusing their efforts on making new energy technologies more affordable and efficient. Clean energy sources (such as nuclear, solar, and hydropower) that don’t release any heat-trapping gases make up about 30% of U.S. electricity sources today, and can be scaled up quickly. Technologies have also been proven to capture 90% of all fossil fuel emissions. Others being developed, such as ways to filter emissions from fossil fuels, could even eliminate emissions at no extra cost.

Darren Wood, CEO of Exxon

“The risk of climate change is real and warrants action”

Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo

“We call for leadership and cooperation among governments for commitments leading to a strong global climate agreement.”

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.”


The IPCC’s results are supported by observable changes today: more intense heat waves, shorter winters, and larger wildfires. These events are a result of complex interactions and feedbacks between greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, ocean, land, ice, and living things. NASA and MIT software models, based on complex mathematical formulas run on supercomputers, predict more warming and extreme weather if climate change pollution remains unchecked. In recent years, professionals from all sectors are seeing the impacts of climate change.

Medical professionals have observed public health consequences of climate change; the U.S. military has emerged as a vocal advocate for climate adaptation; and economic reports such as a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report have outlined the serious economic consequences associated with climate change.

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.

Technology Solutions

Drawing from numerous sources of scientific and historical evidence, research efforts around the world have recreated past records of temperature and greenhouse gases. Scientists have determined that global carbon dioxide concentrations have approached record high levels that people have never experienced. They combine satellite data and other instrumental observations with ‘natural’ methods that approximate past climatic conditions, such as from ice cores, marine sediment, and tree rings. For example, scientists can link the carbon building up in our atmosphere back to fuels burned in our power plants and cars using subatomic “fingerprints”.

Piecing together clues like these, scientists identify human activity as the main contributor to recent climate change. Natural factors on the Earth’s climate, such as changes in the earth’s orbit and sun, cannot explain the recent rise in temperatures. Only the sudden increase in global carbon dioxide by people can plausibly explain the levels of observed warming.

Policy Solutions

City, state, and national governments around the world are joining in and taking action. Some are upgrading their infrastructure to withstand more extreme weather. Others, including the European Union and China, have policies that encourage clean technologies and these technologies help reduce warming and extreme weather risks. Total global emissions and temperatures are expected to rise unless countries work together. The United Nations has been leading international climate talks for nearly 25 years. In 2009, the world’s countries recognized that climate change was a large risk and made it a goal to limit warming to 3.6 degrees F, a threshold that’s been deemed hazardous by leading scientists. 

In December 2015, virtually every one of the world’s countries (174 countries) signed an agreement to limit carbon dioxide emissions. This agreement, called the Paris Agreement, is seen as the first step in permanently curbing emissions but many details have yet to be determined.

Sources and Citations

  1. NASA, “Climate Change: Impacts”:
  2. MIT, “Climate Change: Impacts”:
  3. MIT, “Climate Change: Impacts”:


  1. Fred Hotchkins, NASA.