What is climate change?

If global warming is taking place, hurricanes should become more frequent.

Climate change occurs when the Earth’s average temperature changes dramatically over time. Just a degree or two can be considered dramatic changes because the Earth’s ecosystem depends on a very delicate balance and even small changes can have a far-reaching impact. A drop in average temperature can also be considered climate change, but in modern times people using the term are usually talking about global warming.

Polar bear populations may have become vulnerable due to what is interpreted as global warming.

One of the reasons climate change has become a popular and sometimes controversial topic is that many people believe it is primarily the result of human activity. Burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal produces by-products such as carbon dioxide gas. Since there aren’t enough plants on Earth to quickly turn all that emitted carbon dioxide into oxygen, the gas remains in the atmosphere. Through a process known as the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide captures solar heat, which leads to global warming.

Rice fields can produce large amounts of methane, which contributes to climate change.

Other causes of climate change that can be attributed to humans include deforestation or widespread cutting of trees and the production of methane gas. Methane is normally produced in large quantities by mining, large-scale livestock farms, rice paddies and landfills. Commercial use of fertilizers that release nitrous oxide also contributes to pollutant levels.

Many people believe that the effects of climate change can already be seen, in melting permafrost near the North Pole and rising sea levels. Rising sea levels cause concern about shrinking coastlines and island landmasses. Warmer weather can also cause more severe weather to occur, because weather phenomena such as hurricanes gain strength from warm, humid air.

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Some say that evidence of global warming can also be found in the reduction of wild animal populations. Some animal species, such as the polar bear, are slowly losing their icy habitats and have shown smaller populations in recent years. For this reason, many wildlife groups want the polar bear to be added to endangered species lists.

The concept of climate change is not new. The long-ago ice age is well documented and was another form of climate change, not caused by humans. Modern climate changes, which are the result of human behavior, can be positively affected by changing personal lifestyles. Although some people consider global warming just a theory, it is becoming more widely accepted that the planet’s climate is changing and that people are not innocent.

Many simple lifestyle changes that people can make to help combat climate change focus on conserving energy resources. Actions like turning off unnecessary lights, buying used items instead of new ones, and using public transport or cycling instead of driving can make a difference. Recycling as many goods and materials as possible is another useful way to conserve. If humans ignore climate change, it could continue to accelerate and dramatically change the planet in both predicted and unforeseen ways.

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