The holidays are a great time to reconnect with friends and family members, and to eat a lot of really good food. Conversations may range from friendly piecrust discussions to exciting political discourse. One subject that seems likely to come up over the holidays this year is that of climate change, you know, that thing where global climate patterns change as the planet warms up. Though global warming and climate change deniers may have an extra hop in their step given the political trajectory, we (and the earth) have science on our side! In preparation for those holiday discussions, check out some fact-based explanations to dispel climate change myths and to answer common questions below.
1. What’s the difference between climate change and global warming?
Global warming refers to the increase in the average temperature of the planet, which has risen most notably since the late 1970’s. Climate change is the change in the global climate as a result of the warming of the planet. The effects of climate change include sea level rise, accelerated ice melt, and changing blooming times for plants and flowers. (NASA FAQ, 2016)
2. What is the greenhouse effect?
The greenhouse effect is the absorption and radiation of heat from the Earth’s surface by water vapor and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Naturally, about 30% of sunlight is reflected back into space, and 70% is absorbed by the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Human activity such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests has led to higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, so instead of being reflected back into space more energy is being absorbed and radiating heat back to the earth’s surface. (NASA Earth Observatory, 2010)
3. MYTH: Not all scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans.
The majority of climate scientists - 97% to be exact – do agree that human activity is causing the current warming trend. The small percentage of scientists who do not accept human-caused global warming are not experts in the climate field (NASA, 2016).
4. MYTH: Climate change is natural because there have been periods of warming and cooling in the past.
According to the EPA, “Until the past century, natural factors caused atmospheric CO2 concentrations to vary… Warmer periods coincide with periods of relatively high CO2 concentrations”(2016). The current warming trend is occurring at an unprecedented rate, roughly 8 times faster than previous warming periods after ice-ages (NASA Earth Observatory, 2010). In addition, ice core samples show that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than it has been in the past 800,000 years. (EPA, 2016)
5. What are the predicted or current impacts of climate change?
While the effects on different areas will vary over time, scientists have already measured loss of sea ice, sea level rise, and more intense heat waves. Scientists anticipate other effects such as “more frequent wildfires, longer periods of droughts in some regions, and in increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms”. (NASA Effects, 2016)