What is Climate Change?

Climate Change is a significant and long-term variation in weather conditions — including temperature, precipitation, wind, and oceans — that persists over many decades or more. It’s different from “weather,” which refers to specific local weather events, like rainstorms, drought, heat waves, and tornadoes.

Climate change is caused by human activities that increase the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, causing Earth to warm up. These activities include the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and deforestation. These activities also release carbon dioxide that has been locked up in the body of living plants and animals for millions of years. These carbon dioxide emissions contribute to the global warming we’re experiencing.

Scientists agree that unmitigated carbon emissions will lead to global warming of several degrees Celsius by 2100, which poses high risks for people and natural ecosystems. However, there is also consensus that, with prompt action, it is possible to limit warming to 1.5C.

A warmer world has a host of negative impacts, including higher sea levels, drier forests, more extreme temperatures, and reduced biodiversity. It also makes it harder for plants and animals to find the food and water they need to survive, while increasing the spread of insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and Lyme disease. In addition, climate change is already forcing people from their homes and villages. According to the United Nations, the number of displaced people due to climate-related events is 60 percent higher than it was four decades ago. Displacement brings with it the added stress of urban crowding, trauma, social unrest, lack of clean water, and transmission of infectious diseases.

The planetary surface is currently warming faster than at any other time in the history of our planet. This is primarily because of human-caused emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, including CO2.

As Earth warms, the melting of glaciers and ice sheets increases, raising sea levels. More solar radiation is absorbed by the surface of the planet as well, and less of it is reflected back into space. This is also driving more intense heat waves, which are killing thousands of people each year worldwide.

The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural practices also increase the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This causes the atmosphere to act like a giant greenhouse, keeping the Sun’s energy trapped on Earth. The resulting climate change is threatening all life on the planet, including humans.

Across the Northeast, we’re already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Record flooding, raging storms, and hotter temperatures put pressure on agriculture and public infrastructure and threaten the health of communities. These impacts affect all people, but they disproportionately affect the poor and the marginalized, especially those who have contributed the least to the root causes of climate change.

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