What's The Deal?

Greenhouse Effect
What's the deal with climate change?

What’s the deal with climate change, anyway? Well, you can sum it up in three words:

Simple. Serious. Solvable.

Let’s break it down…
 

Simple.

It’s true. The science behind climate change isn’t that complicated! You really just need to understand two things: the greenhouse effect and fossil fuels.

The greenhouse effect: Sunlight passes through our atmosphere and shines down on Earth. When it hits the surface, it gets absorbed by the Earth and released as heat. Greenhouse gases in our atmosphere trap that heat, holding that warmth close to the surface that otherwise would have escaped into space.

What are greenhouse gases? Here are a few of the main ones:

  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • water vapor (H2O)
  • methane (CH4)
  • ozone (O3)

We've got to love these greenhouse gases, because without them, this place would be ice cold. No life would exist. Thank goodness for the greenhouse effect!

Now comes the second part: fossil fuels.

Our modern lives require energy. For a long time, the best way to get that energy was by burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas.  

Keeling Curve

But what we didn’t realize is that when we burn fossil fuels in our cars and trucks, to produce electricity, and make all our stuff, we produce CO2. And more CO2 means more heat trapped in our atmosphere. So, that’s what’s causing climate change.  

To the left is a graph called the Keeling Curve. It shows the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere since 1958. No doubt it’s going up.

 

So, that’s the science behind climate change. Now let’s talk about the...

Serious.

Climate change isn’t just happening to polar bears in the Arctic who are losing sea ice or to small islands in the Pacific that are being flooded by sea level rise. (Although it’s happening those places, too.)

It’s happening right here, right now, where you live.

Northeast flooding

  • Do you live in the Northeast? You’ve experienced the very biggest rainstorms getting 70% bigger in the last 55 years, as well as sea level rise that’s three to four times faster than the global average. That makes huge storms like Hurricane Sandy that much worse.
  • Do you live in the Southeast? You’ve seen an increase in the number of days each year over 95º. Young people are one of the groups most affected by heat stroke. Heat waves kill more people in the U.S. each year than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and lightning combined.
  • Do you live in the Midwest? Eleven of the fourteen most costly weather disasters of 2011 were in the Midwest. More big storms means more flooding of sewers and more sewage going straight into Lake Michigan, where seven million people get their drinking water. Yuck!
  • Do you live in California or Nevada? You’re experiencing one of the worst droughts in your state’s history. It started in 2012 and continued for years. Most of the water in these states comes from snow — and snowpack in the Sierra is expected to drop by up to 90% this century. California and Las Vegas also have some of the worst air quality in the country. That smog comes mainly from burning fossil fuels. Smog is especially bad for kids with asthma, but smog is like a sunburn on your lungs for all of us.

Seriously depressing, huh? But here’s the last thing: Climate change is also...

Solar PV Panels

Solvable.

That’s right. We have lots of ways to use less energy or to get our energy from cleaner, renewable sources. Did you know the Earth gets more energy from the sun in an hour than the whole planet uses in a year? Imagine all the solar panels and wind turbines that could power!

So, where do you start? You can start small by picking a DOT — that’s Do One Thing to fight climate change. Then, work your way up to some bigger projects, like helping your school reduce its energy use or writing a letter to the editor of a local paper.

Need some inspiration? ACE has tons of tips and resources for you. Get started now!