The Basics of Climate Change

Climate change is the most important global challenge we face today. It threatens our security, our quality of life, our economic future, and our very lives. This climate crisis is not a threat in the distant future -- it is happening right now. But there are common-sense solutions to the crisis. Keep reading to learn more.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change -- also known as "global warming" -- is the gradual warming of the Earth's atmosphere to the point where the delicate ecological balance that keeps our planet livable becomes increasingly fragile and starts to break down.

This breakdown is already leading to what we call "extreme weather": larger and more frequent hurricanes, melting of the polar ice caps, droughts, unusually harsh and frequent blizzards, longer and hotter summers, and other dangerous changes in weather patterns.

As climate change gets worse, so will these extreme weather patterns, making life for us and other creatures increasingly hard -- perhaps even impossible -- to sustain.

What Causes Global Warming?

Global warming occurs when too much heat from the sun becomes trapped in our atmosphere and wrecks the planet's ecological balance.

After the sun's rays deliver heat and energy to Earth, part of that heat is released into space while part is trapped in our atmosphere by greenhouse gases. These gases -- like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, among others -- have always trapped part of the sun's heat on Earth, keeping the planet warm enough to make life relatively comfortable.

But too much CO2 in the air can trap too much heat, which leads to climate change.

CO2: How Much Is Too Much?

We measure the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in parts per million (ppm). Our planet needs enough CO2 to trap enough heat from the sun to sustain life -- but not so much that it causes climate change.

earth 275ppm
Historically, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has hovered around 275 ppm -- the right amount to keep our planet warm and comfortable for life. But over the last 200 years, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased dramatically due to human activity.
earth 392ppm
Scientists have concluded that the safe upper limit of CO2 we can have in out atmosphere is 350 ppm. Today, we are at 392 ppm, and it shows: Extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 winter blizzards are happening with alarming frequency.
earth 450ppm
If we continue our current pace of increasing CO2 by 2 ppm every year, we'll reach 450 ppm by 2050. Dangerous climate change is expected if concentrations of global warming pollution in the atmosphere exceed 450 ppm and the global average temperature increases by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) from pre-industrial levels.

Where's All This CO2 Coming From?

In one word: Us. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been pumping much more carbon (CO2) into the air than there ever was before.

earth coal oil

Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and others to power our homes, businesses, cars, planes, and economic development has pumped more than enough CO2 into the air to trigger global warming.

Can We Solve This?

Yes! There are common-sense solutions that can prevent catastrophic climate change and rebuild our economy at the same time. To seriously tackle climate change, we need to start cutting the amount of carbon (CO2) we put in the air by cracking down on the worst climate polluters.

earth coal oil closed

In the U.S. and much of the world, that means cracking down on coal power plants. The largest amount of CO2 emissions produced in the U.S. comes from electricity -- and most of America's electricity comes from coal. These power plants also emit other kinds of pollutants that endanger the health of our communities, so it makes sense to either clean them up or shut them down.

earth clean energy

Another solution is to invest in clean, renewable sources of energy. Investing in clean energy technologies like solar, wind, geothermal and certain types of biomass will not only cut the amount of climate pollution we put in the air: It will also create millions of well-paying, career-track jobs in the U.S. that cannot be outsourced.

Find out more about the 1Sky Solutions to tackle climate change and build a clean energy economy.

Some Say Climate Change Doesn't Exist -- Are They Right?

climate skeptic The vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is happening, that it's getting worse, and that the cause is our reliance on fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Unfortunately, there are many who choose not to believe the scientific facts. The best way to correct their mistaken ideas is to know the facts yourself and how to communicate them. Here are some resources:

Are you ready?

Right now, across the country, scores of organizations, leaders and everyday citizens are ready to tackle global warming and transition to a new clean economy. The movement is growing at an astonishing pace. But to bring about the change we needed, we need you to get involved.

Share |