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Climate Change was once considered a possibility for the distant future, now current data and scientific information show that it is a reality of the near future and will likely have catastrophic effects for humans and the environment worldwide. As it becomes clear that human activity is a leading cause of Climate Change, political leaders, religious leaders, and others have joined the scientific community in calling for urgent action to address this increasingly dire threat.
Climate refers to long-term prevailing weather conditions including temperature, humidity, precipitation, and other factors. The earth’s climate changes slowly and has gone through many stages, including ice ages and melts. Current Climate Change differs because it’s happening more rapidly and is influenced by human activities like burning fossil fuels, which produces carbon dioxide, and farming and landfills which produce methane. Carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases which, when released into the atmosphere, create a barrier that allows solar heat to enter but makes it harder for heat to escape. Because the first affect is to cause temperature increase many people use the term global warming. The term Climate Change accounts the temperature increase and also other changes it causes. As the temperature increases it melts ice at the poles and release cold fresh water into the oceans causing the seas to rise and their temperatures to changes. This is one of the factors that can change weather patterns and climate around the world.
Greenhouse gases have always been present in the atmosphere in certain quantities. However, in the early 1900s the human population grew and new technologies like factories and cars, which burned fossil fuels, became more common and the amounts of greenhouse gases being released began to increase dramatically. In 1900 less than 1billion metric tons of carbon dioxide were emitted from fossil fuels globally; in 2010 it was 9billion metric tons. Correspondingly, between 1906 and 2005 the average global surface temperature rose by about 1 degree Celsius. Over the next 100 years NASA and other climate scientists predict the temperature will rise by at least 2.5 degrees and the negative impacts of Climate Change, like higher seas and severe droughts and storms, will get worse. These changes could be disastrous for human populations, sea level rise could displace billions who live along coasts and temperature and precipitation changes may prevent us from growing enough food.
Though there is wide spread scientific agreement that Climate Change is occurring and human activity is contributing to it, there are some who choose to disagree. These “climate deniers” claim that temperatures aren’t rising, or that current changes are part of the earth’s inevitable climate cycles and aren’t caused by humans increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, those willing to accept the reality of Climate Change seem to be in the majority and there has been a global movement to take action. In December 2015 leaders from 195 countries, including the U.S., agreed to sign the Paris Agreement, a commitment to limit greenhouse gas emissions and take other steps to prevent a temperature increase of more than 2 degrees over the next century. This is a good start but additional changes to policy, individual behavior, and industry will probably be required to avoid the worst affects of Climate Change, especially in top carbon producing countries like the U.S. and China. The necessary changes will be difficult and expensive but ultimately if we fail to act in time the price paid by future generations will be even greater.