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What is climate change?

Climate change includes many observed changes such as global temperature rise, warming oceans, melting polar ice, glacial retreat, sea level rise, increased extreme weather events and ocean acidification. These are the result of on-going human activities, especially burning of fossil fuels, which has added more than 1.5 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide to Earth’s atmosphere since the pre-industrial period, increasing its concentration from below 300 parts per million (ppm) to over 415 ppm today. One would have to go back millions of years in Earth’s history to find such a high level of carbon dioxide. The last time carbon dioxide levels were at similar levels was 3-5 million years ago before the evolution of modern humans, when the world was 2-3°C warmer and the sea level was 15-25 meters higher than today.

How fast is climate change happening?

The past five years each ranked as the five hottest on record globally, as did 19 of the past 20 years in this century. Global warming is fueling destructive weather events, for example increasing wildfires and more intense storms around the world. Greenland and Antarctica are losing unprecedented amounts of ice and contributing to faster sea level rise. Record high temperatures of the oceans are being recorded, which were the hottest ever in 2019, and before that in 2018, and before that in 2017. Climate change is accelerating and leading to increasingly common and destructive weather events, food and water insecurity, and threatening human health.

What can we do to protect our future?

Immediate actions that are necessary to avoid the worst damages include suspension of fossil fuel uses and their rapid replacement with carbon neutral (or carbon negative) energy sources, prioritizing renewable solar and wind energy. Concurrently, careful management of carbon sequestration assets such as coastal marshes, forests and agricultural lands is also essential. The world’s nations committed to reducing greenhouse gases through the Paris Agreement in 2016 and it is imperative that these commitments be adhered to and enhanced in 2021 to avoid irreversible damages to Earth’s natural cycles and ecosystems and threaten human societies. Responses and actions are also needed at the national, regional, and local levels by institutional and individual leaders and citizens. 

How do I learn more about climate change?

Many resources are available to understand the magnitude of the climate change problem as well as the impacts and solutions. Links are provided below to the Climate Change Data Center for viewing facts and figures on global warming and climate change, NASA's climate time machine to view climate change effects occurring globally and over large regions of the world. NOAA's sea level rise viewer may be employed to show the effects of different levels of sea level rise on coastal regions. Additional valuable tools and information are provided by the UN Climate Change website, NASA's GISS website, and Carbon Brief website. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides detailed information on the health effects of climate change.

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