Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas, but it is much more efficient at trapping heat. In , the gas accounted for about 9 percent of all U.
The EPA reports that methane has 20 times more impact than carbon dioxide on climate change over a year period. Methane can come from many natural sources, but humans cause a large portion of methane emissions through mining, the use of natural gas, the mass raising of livestock and the use of landfills, according to the Inventory of U. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks report from to In fact, according to the EPA, humans are responsible for more than 60 percent of methane emissions.
What is climate change?
There are some hopeful trends in greenhouse gas emissions. Though U. Much of the reason for this recent decline is the replacement of coal with natural gas, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. The U. Fuel-efficient vehicles and energy-efficiency standards for buildings have also improved emissions, according to the EPA.
Global warming doesn't just mean warming — which is why "climate change" has become the trendier term among researchers and policy makers. While the globe is becoming hotter on average, this temperature increase can have paradoxical effects, such as more serious snowstorms.
There are several big ways climate change can and will affect the globe: By melting ice, by drying out already-arid areas, by causing weather extremes and by disrupting the delicate balance of the oceans. Perhaps the most visible effect of climate change so far is the melting of glaciers and sea ice.
The ice sheets have been retreating since the end of the last Ice Age about 11, years ago, but the last century's warming has hastened their demise. A study found that there is a 99 percent chance that global warming has caused the recent retreat of glaciers; in fact, the research showed, these rivers of ice retreated 10 to 15 times the distance they would have if the climate had stayed stable.
Glacier National Park in Montana had glaciers in the late s. Today it has The loss of glaciers can cause the loss of human life when icy dams holding back glacier lakes destabilize and burst , or when avalanches caused by unstable ice bury villages. At the North Pole, warming is proceeding twice as quickly as it is at middle latitudes, and the sea ice is showing the strain. Fall and winter ice in the Arctic hit record lows in both and , meaning the ice expanse did not cover as much of the open sea as previously observed.
According to NASA, the 13 smallest maximum winter extents of sea ice in the Arctic have all happened in the last 13 years. The ice also forms later in the season and melts more readily in spring. Some scientists think the Arctic Ocean will see ice-free summers within 20 or 30 years.
Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions.
In the Antarctic, the picture has been a little less clear. The Western Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than anywhere else besides some parts of the Arctic, according to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. The peninsula is where the Larsen C ice shelf just rifted in July , spawning an iceberg the size of Delaware. The sea ice off Antarctica is very variable, though, and some areas have actually hit record highs in recent years — though those record highs could bear the fingerprints of climate change , as they might result from land-based ice moving out to sea as the glaciers melt, or in warming-related changes to wind.
In , though, this pattern of record-high ice abruptly reversed, with a record low. On March 3, , Antarctic sea ice was measured at an extent of 71, square miles , square kilometers less than the previous low from Global warming will change things between the poles, too.
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Many already-dry areas are expected to become even drier as the world warms. Scientists have used both terms for decades. As of early , the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit more than 1 degree Celsius since , when records began at a global scale. In the 19th century, scientists discovered that certain gases in the air trap and slow down heat that would otherwise escape to space.
Carbon dioxide is a major player; without any of it in the air, the Earth would be a frozen wasteland. The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more of the gas was made in The gas has increased 43 percent above the pre-industrial level so far, and the Earth has warmed by roughly the amount that scientists predicted it would. Sign up to receive our in-depth journalism about climate change around the world. Hard evidence, including studies that use radioactivity to distinguish industrial emissions from natural emissions, shows that the extra gas is coming from human activity.
Carbon dioxide levels rose and fell naturally in the long-ago past, but those changes took thousands of years. Geologists say that humans are now pumping the gas into the air much faster than nature has ever done. In theory, they could be. If the sun were to start putting out more radiation, for instance, that would definitely warm the Earth. But scientists have looked carefully at the natural factors known to influence planetary temperature and found that they are not changing nearly enough. The warming is extremely rapid on the geologic time scale, and no other factor can explain it as well as human emissions of greenhouse gases.
Instead of negotiating over climate change policies and trying to make them more market-oriented, some political conservatives have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science. President Trump has sometimes claimed that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public, or that global warming was invented by China to disable American industry. Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say, the climate is likely to gradually warm, with more extreme weather. Coral reefs and other sensitive habitats are already starting to die.
The emissions that create those risks are happening now, raising deep moral questions for our generation. The simple reality is that people are already feeling the effects, whether they know it or not. Because of sea level rise, for instance, some 83, more residents of New York and New Jersey were flooded during Hurricane Sandy than would have been the case in a stable climate, scientists have calculated. Tens of thousands of people are already dying in heat waves made worse by global warming.
The refugee flows that have destabilized politics around the world have been traced in part to climate change.
What Is Global Warming? | Global Warming Facts | Live Science
Of course, as with almost all other social problems, poor people will be hit first and hardest. The ocean has accelerated and is now rising at a rate of about a foot per century, forcing governments and property owners to spend tens of billions of dollars fighting coastal erosion. But if that rate continued, it would probably be manageable, experts say. The risk is that the rate will increase still more.
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Many experts believe that even if emissions stopped tomorrow, 15 or 20 feet of sea level rise is already inevitable, enough to flood many cities unless trillions of dollars are spent protecting them. How long it will take is unclear. But if emissions continue apace, the ultimate rise could be 80 or feet. Scientists have published strong evidence that the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. It is also causing heavier rainstorms , and coastal flooding is getting worse as the oceans rise because of human emissions.
Global warming has intensified droughts in regions like the Middle East, and it may have strengthened a recent drought in California. In many other cases, though — hurricanes, for example — the linkage to global warming for particular trends is uncertain or disputed. Scientists are gradually improving their understanding as computer analyses of the climate grow more powerful.
Society has put off action for so long that the risks are now severe, scientists say. But as long as there are still unburned fossil fuels in the ground, it is not too late to act. Choosing food items that balance nutrition, taste and ecological impact is no easy task.
Foodstuffs often bear some nutritional information, but there is little to reveal how far a head of lettuce, for example, has traveled. University of Chicago researchers estimate that each meat-eating American produces 1. It would also take far less land to grow the crops necessary to feed humans than livestock, allowing more room for planting trees. Stop Cutting Down Trees —Every year, 33 million acres of forests are cut down.
Timber harvesting in the tropics alone contributes 1. That represents 20 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and a source that could be avoided relatively easily. Improved agricultural practices along with paper recycling and forest management—balancing the amount of wood taken out with the amount of new trees growing—could quickly eliminate this significant chunk of emissions. And when purchasing wood products, such as furniture or flooring, buy used goods or, failing that, wood certified to have been sustainably harvested.
The Amazon and other forests are not just the lungs of the earth, they may also be humanity's best short-term hope for limiting climate change. Unplug —Believe it or not, U. Televisions, stereo equipment, computers, battery chargers and a host of other gadgets and appliances consume more energy when seemingly switched off, so unplug them instead. Purchasing energy-efficient gadgets can also save both energy and money—and thus prevent more greenhouse gas emissions. Swapping old incandescent lightbulbs for more efficient replacements, such as compact fluorescents warning: these lightbulbs contain mercury and must be properly disposed of at the end of their long life , would save billions of kilowatt-hours.
In fact, according to the EPA, replacing just one incandescent lightbulb in every American home would save enough energy to provide electricity to three million American homes.
One Child —There are at least 6. Environmental Program estimates that it requires 54 acres to sustain an average human being today—food, clothing and other resources extracted from the planet. Continuing such population growth seems unsustainable.