By far the greatest challenge we face in the world today is global climate change. Decisions made today will ultimately impact the future of our planet. Those who are still in denial that the world’s climate is changing need to open their eyes. Global climate change is real and it is already having devastating impacts on the environment including food security, water shortages, catastrophic weather and the air we breathe.
We are at a crossroads in history and a political tipping point on how we are going to act to fight global climate change. The facts are frightening. 2012 was the hottest year in the recorded history in the United States. Furthermore, the 12 hottest years ever measured globally occurred within the last 15 years. The month of August was the 342nd month in a row where temperatures were warmer than the 20th century average. Ice is melting, oceans are warming up and our atmosphere is being treated as a huge garbage dump of our pollution. Global climate change is impacting us all. So what are we going to do about it?
I have asked Harriet Shugarman, the executive director and founder of ClimateMama and a mentor and Climate Leader for the Climate Reality Project to write a guest post for my blog in order to get the conversation rolling on global climate change and why it matters.
Harriet is an Economist, policy analyst, speaker, writer, and “mom” activist, Harriet travels the country educating and informing audiences about the realities of climate change and how people can feel empowered to take individual and collective action – in their homes, businesses and in their communities. You can follow Harriet’s insightful blog ClimateMama which is loaded with excellent articles and resources on global climate change.
Climate Change 101: What it is and Why it Matters to You
by Harriet Shugarman
Simply put, GLOBAL WARMING is the increase of the Earth’s average surface temperature, due to a build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
CLIMATE CHANGE is a broad term that refers to long-term changes in climate, including average temperature and precipitation.
Lets get to some of the nitty gritty. First, in regard to global warming, what the heck are “greenhouse gases” anyway and what do they have to do with the warming up of the atmosphere? And why does this matter anyway? Greenhouse gases occur naturally. There are many types of greenhouse gases, some of the most well known are nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapor. These gases aren’t “bad things” and in fact serve to keep our planet at a very hospitable temperature that supports all kinds of life, including our own.
As we increase the amount of these gases in the atmosphere thorough human induced occurrences, or through ‘anthropogenic” means, (a fancy word for “human caused”) we are making our atmosphere thicker, trapping the sun’s radiation and heating up the planet. Its kind of like putting a warm blanket around you; this blanket traps your ‘body” heat, making it warmer under the blanket than it would have been without it. We do this every day when we use fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas to heat our homes and business and to get to and from work and school. We also create greenhouse gases through our agricultural practices.
The problem for our planet however, is that when we cause it to heat up too quickly, all the living things on this planet, including us, aren’t equipped to change quickly enough to keep up with this temperature increase.
We see and feel the affects of global warming around us as the climate changes regionally. More precipitation in the form of rain is falling in certain areas, like the Northeastern US, so there is less snow in the winters then there was even 10 years ago. Droughts in the Western US and Eastern Africa are lasting longer and are more severe then in recorded past. All over the world, climate zones are changing and gardeners are finding that they can now grow plants that couldn’t survive previously in their climate zone, or that they can’t grow plants that they used to be able to, only a few years ago. Some indigenous species, both animals and plants, are finding that warmer temperatures are forcing them to move further north, or to higher elevations to survive.
So how are we humans causing this build up of greenhouse gases to happen? We are doing this primarily by burning fossil fuels, that’s the oil, gas or coal we use to heat our homes, to keep our factories going, and to keep our cars and trucks on the road. The earth’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide is reaching a saturation point, and there is nowhere for it to go but to build up in our atmosphere and in our oceans. A problem with carbon dioxide, different from a greenhouse gas like water vapor, which basically “disappear overnight”, is that carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for upwards of a 1000 years. So, when people in industrialized countries start pointing fingers at countries like China and India, as these countries take off in their quest to become industrialized nations, it’s important to remember that Europe and North America have had a big “head start”.
What can YOU do about it. You have heard the mantra, “ change your light bulbs, drive less, wash your clothes in cold water, turn down your thermostat in the winter and up in the summer” there are many “top ten lists” out there. Check them out; these are all important first steps and individual actions that add up. Also, we each can play a role by helping change laws and effect change in a “bigger way” all at once, as well as over time. You can be an advocate in your town, city or neighborhood. Make sure that your local, state and national candidates have a plan to work on climate change, and if they don’t they need to formulate one, or they won’t get your vote. There is no room for denialism around climate change. It’s a fact and not one that can be debated. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in September 2013 tells us with more then 95% certainty that climate change is real, here and now, and we are causing it to happen. It can be crushing and paralyzing when you hear about what it will cost and what is involved in reducing global emissions. But, as we show are kids, we can move forward through small acts, one action at a time, which help lead to big ideas and big picture solutions.
Finally, at ClimateMama have boiled it down to 3 things which we teach our kids, and which we feel can help us move forward in the fight against climate change, and for a livable future for our children:
- Tell the truth
- Actions speak louder than words
- Don’t be afraid.
To this final point, climate change it is very, very scary. We are at a precipice, and on a collision course with our environment. We know what will happen if we don’t do anything and it is not a rosy picture. But, scientists tell us there is still hope to avert the worst consequences of climate change, if we act now. So, as Anita Roddick once said: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito!” If you missed 24 Hours of Reality, the Cost of Carbon, http://www.24hoursofreality.org, check out highlights now to see how are paying for carbon pollution now.
ClimateMama and the Balancing Act on Lifetime TV!
Want to learn more?
Check out this documentary “The Cost of Carbon” produced by The Climate Reality Project
Mark Ruffalo narrates this short film on the cost of carbon pollution.
The science is settled. Our planet is heating up, and carbon pollution from Dirty Energy is to blame. The fossil fuel industry burns oil, coal and gas, sending heat-trapping emissions into the air. Ninety million tons of carbon pollution enters the atmosphere every day. That means a hotter world for all of us. It also leads to Dirty Weather, from extreme rainstorms to prolonged drought.
Nine of the ten hottest years on record were in the past twelve years. Just in recent months, extreme rainfall and floods have affected us everywhere from the Mississippi Valley to Beijing. Superstorm Sandy both devastated human lives and led to tens of billions of dollars in damages. The most severe drought in decades spread over half the United States. Climate change is already happening, and it has entered our daily lives.