What is Climate Change?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature precipitation, or wind patters, among other effects that occur over several decades or longer.”

Why is Climate Change happening?

“Over the past century, human activities have released large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The majority of greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy, although deforestation, industrial processes, and some agricultural practices also emit gases into the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect and is natural and necessary to support life on Earth. However, the buildup of greenhouse gases can change Earth’s climate and result in dangerous effects to human health and welfare and to ecosystems.

The choices we make today will affect the amount of greenhouse gases we put in the atmosphere in the near future and for years to come.” ~ Environmental Protection Agency

The Science

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the leading international advisory body comprised of over 800 esteemed scientists from around the world—recently released a report in March 2014.  The latest IPCC report was produced by a total of 309 coordinating lead authors and review editors, drawn from 70 countries. The report also enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers (United Nations).

The results of this unprecedented report are powerful with recommendations for reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent to 70 percent in the next 35 years to avoid what it said would be disastrous global warming.

“Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

In the United States, agencies representing the most prestigious scientists in the nation recently worked together to release the National Climate Assessment Report in May of 2014.  A team of more than 300 scientists guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Graph courtesy of NASA.

How do we know what we know?

Dr. Tad Pfeffer is a leading glaciologist from the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a professor at University of Colorado. In Chasing Ice, Dr. Pfeffer explains the process for how we know what we know:

“Ice Sheets are giant domes of ice that preserve climate records much like tree rings, snow is added to the top and turn into ice sheets. Scientist drill holes and pull out a core and examine bubbles of ancient air trapped in the ice. By looking at the chemistry of ice we can learn about past temperature and by looking at the air we can measure carbon dioxide content”.  ~ Dr. Tad Pfeffer

Pfeffer and many other leading scientists around the world have seen that for the past 800,000 years, past temperature and carbon dioxide levels vary together, they go up together and down together.

“Atmospheric carbon dioxide was never higher than 280ppm (parts per million), until we started adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Now levels have now reached 350ppm, about 40% higher than when carbon dioxide levels were varying for natural reasons, and now the a projected estimate is now 500ppm or more in the future.”

April 2006

2-Solheim Glacier April 2006 with line

October 2006

3-Solheim Glacier October 2006 with line

The “Debate”

climate change__Pie_Chart_

Over the last 23 years, of all the peer-reviewed literature that says anything about global warming—25,000 publications—only 00.1% deny that humans are contributing to global warming.  ~ James Powell, 2014

In fact, every major scientific agency that include climate scientists —over 200 organizations worldwide—all say that man-made climate change is happening. It is not just the scientific community that is stating that humans are contributing to the warming or our planet. The Pentagon, Walmart, the Dali Lama and many major religious leaders have also made statements about man-made climate change.

Pope Benedict XVI insists, “Before it is too late, it is necessary to make courageous decisions” to curb climate change. ~ Catholic Climate Covenant

Weather vs. Climate

Rising global temperatures are accompanied by changes in weather and climate. According to NASA, “the difference between weather and climate is a measure of time: Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere ‘behaves’ over relatively long periods of time.”  Simply put, even though we may have an extremely cold winter day or season, this doesn’t mean that the planet as a whole is not significantly warming over an extended period of time.

What does this mean for me?

The Environmental Protection Agency states “Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet’s oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big changes – oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. As these and other changes become more pronounced in the coming decades, they will likely present challenges to our society and our environment.”