Climate Change refers to global warming, but it also includes melting glaciers and ice sheets, sea level rise, and changes to weather patterns such as drought. These changes are the result of human activities, and they affect people, wildlife, ecosystems, and the things we depend on for survival and well-being, such as water, food, shelter, energy, transportation, and more.
Human activity is the primary cause of climate change. It has already increased global temperatures, and it is expected to continue in the coming decades. This warming is caused by emissions of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, which prevent the planet from releasing its stored energy into space. This imbalance of heat in the atmosphere is called the greenhouse effect.
A few examples of climate change:
The world’s temperature is rising, causing sea levels to rise, glaciers and ice sheets to melt, river and lake ice to break up earlier in the season, and plants and trees to bloom sooner. This is the direct result of humans increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the air.
These gasses, such as carbon dioxide, are produced by the decay of plant and animal matter, and they are also released into the atmosphere by volcanoes. The natural cycle of carbon dioxide uptake and release stabilizes atmospheric levels, but human activity has disrupted this system.
Changing global temperatures have caused the oceans to become more acidic, which is damaging marine life. In addition, longer and more intense droughts are threatening crops, reducing freshwater supplies, and triggering wildfires in the Southwest. Wildlife is also at risk, from polar bears in the Arctic to marine turtles off Africa’s coast.
Global warming is also pushing some ecosystems toward “tipping points” that could lead to irreversible and dangerous changes. This is especially true for land species, which are being pushed closer to extinction. At current emission levels, scientists believe it is likely that more than 18% of the world’s land species will be at high risk of extinction by 2050.
The climate science community is working to reduce the risks of harmful impacts from climate change, including extreme weather events and sea level rise. In particular, there are a number of international agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions and support climate adaptation. The goal is to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.