“The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it.”
-Katharine Hayhoe, Climate Scientist
History of Climate Change:
Terms about climate change that you should know:
- Greenhouse Gases (GHGs): a collection of gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect
- Greenhouse Effect: when the heat of the Sun becomes trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere due to the collection of harmful gases (carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) )
- Fossil Fuels: natural fuels such as coal, gas, or petroleum
- Climate: the average or typical temperature and pattern of weather conditions across seasons for long periods of time (like a typical winter)
- Weather: the day to day outdoor conditions locally (such as rainy or sunny days)
- Climate Change: changes in weather patterns around the world over a long period of time because of both natural and human causes
- Global Warming: increase in the Earth’s typical temperature over a long period of time solely because of human causes
Dynamics of Climate Change
What is the issue of Climate Change?
Climate change is the long term changes in the Earth’s weather patterns caused by both natural and human influences. In the last 200 years, this change has increased faster than what is healthy for the planet primarily because of human activity. It is now important that we find ways to slow down this change so that the planet can remain healthy for future generations.
What contributes to Climate Change?
Climate change is caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. These fossil fuels when burned create energy that helps power our homes, businesses, and vehicles but also release harmful GHGs. We have become heavily dependent upon energy to maintain our style of life and therefore our daily actions and industries can have a big impact on contributions to climate change. The United States accounts for roughly 4.5% of the Earth’s population, yet we consume 25% of the world’s energy.2Rosenbaum, Walter A. Environmental Politics and Policy. Eleventh Edition. Washington, D.C: CQ Press, a Division of Sage, 2019.
While energy is the main contributor of GHGs, it is not the only source. Other large contributors include:
- Agriculture – the large farming of livestock contributes the GHG methane, released in animal waste
- Forestry – the clearing of forests depletes the amount of trees available to remove CO2 from the atmosphere
- Aerosol Production – aerosol products like sprays typically contained CFCs up until the international agreement, Montreal Protocol, came into effect
Why is Climate Change so difficult to stop?
As mentioned above, our way of life and economy has become incredibly dependent upon fossil fuels for energy production. Climate change requires everyone to adjust their daily habits and industries across the globe to commit to more environmentally conscious practices. This task is easier said than done because many of these greener adjustments come with higher costs to businesses and consumers.
Current Global Status of Climate Change:
Scientists today believe that 95% of climate change is driven by the greenhouse effect and global warming. 6NASA. “The Causes of Climate Change.” Global Climate Change. Accessed April 16, 2020. https://climate.nasa.gov/causes. There have been steps made to try and control climate change such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the UN Paris Agreement in 2016. Despite these legislative efforts, the environmental improvement has yet to be seen. Climate change is a global problem that requires global cooperation and collaboration; so far we have fallen short.
Some concrete evidence of global climate change shows just how much it is impacting the world as of late:
- 2015 to 2019 was the warmest 5 year period ever experienced worldwide
- Concentrations of GHGs has increased from 2015-2019 at a 20% higher rate (especially carbon dioxide)7World Meteorological Organization. “The Global Climate in 2015–2019,” 2019, 24. https://www.developmentaid.org/#!/news-stream/post/50662/global-climate-in-2015-2019-climate-change-accelerates.
- Natural disasters: 2010 to 2019 marked the costliest decade due to natural disasters on record at almost $3 trillion8Aon plc. “Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight,” January 2020. http://thoughtleadership.aon.com/Documents/20200122-if-natcat2020.pdf?utm_source=ceros&utm_medium=storypage&utm_campaign=natcat20.
Bill Nye on Climate Change:
Bill Nye, also known from his television show as “the science guy,” has been a staunch advocate for slowing down climate change. He has called upon the public and top government officials to begin taking more aggressive action against climate change’s acceleration.9Angel, Torres. “Bill Nye on Climate Change: ‘It’s Not 50 to 75 Years Away — It’s 10 or 15.’” MSNBC, May 16, 2019. http://www.msnbc.com/velshi-ruhle/bill-nye-climate-change-its-not-50-75-years-away-its-10-or-15.
Here in this video above, Bill Nye breaks down climate change in an easy to digest 4 minutes and reiterates many of the ideas we’ve expressed here!
Much of the progress on climate change the world has made is only evident legislatively. It is important to consider the effects of climate change are often not seen until much later than the causes or solutions have been introduced. As a result, the best global progress measure so far is in the quality and enforcement of legislation. Listed are a few important legal commitments with international repercussion:
- Clean Air Act of 1970 – A US law that enabled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate the amount of emissions companies produce
- Montreal Protocol (1987) – An international agreement that famously ended the production of CFCs in consumer products 10Molina, Mario, and Durwood J. Zaelke. “A Climate Success Story to Build On.” The New York Times, September 25, 2012, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/opinion/montreal-protocol-a-climate-success-story-to-build-on.html.
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – An objective signed by 166 nations to fight climate change & set up key principles for future debates11Environmental Protection Agency. “International Treaties and Cooperation about the Protection of the Stratospheric Ozone Layer.” Reports and Assessments. US EPA, July 15, 2015. https://www.epa.gov/ozone-layer-protection/international-treaties-and-cooperation-about-protection-stratospheric-ozone.
Current Status of Climate Change in NC
North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper has been a very outspoken advocate for finding solutions to climate change, but like everywhere else in the world climate change has negatively impacted the state. NC State University research produced the latest climate science report for the state, revealing greater need for effective action.
- The past decade (2009-2018) in NC was the warmest recorded and 2019 marked a single year high12Beckham, Tira L. “Executive Order No. 80: NC’s Commitment to Address Climate Change and Transition to a Clean Energy Economy,” January 22, 2020, 69.
- By 2080 the Charlotte climate will feel similar to Tallahassee, Florida13Johnson, Kimberly. “Climate Change Could Make Charlotte Metro Feel Like Tallahassee.” Charlotte, NC Patch, February 14, 2019. https://patch.com/north-carolina/charlotte/climate-change-could-make-charlotte-metro-feel-tallahassee.
- The number of heat-related ER visits has increased to 15.8 for every 1 degree above 9814North Carolina State University. “Effect of Climate Change on the Southeast.” North Carolina Climate Office, n.d. https://climate.ncsu.edu/edu/Impacts.
- The North Carolina coastline is most at risk; a one foot rise in sea level correlated with 200 feet of beach erosion15https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2019/09/10/duke-energy-grant-helps-power-up-electric-bus.html.
In the chart to the right, you can see just how dependent North Carolina is upon fossil fuels. A positive aspect about North Carolina’s energy sourcing is its access to nuclear power. Nuclear energy emits zero GHGs in its production process and North Carolina has been able to depend on this source for about a third of its production. Additionally, North Carolina’s solar energy production, while still at 5%, is a large improvement from just 2012!
The city of Charlotte has been trying to offset these climate changes by adapting greener habits…
- Local organizations like Sustain Charlotte, Clean Air Carolina, Trees Charlotte, and are dedicated to creating a more sustainable city for everyone
- Throughout the city more bike and walking paths have been created to promote environmentally travel
- Electric buses commissioned to help the city meet sustainability goals
- Over 150 electric car charging stations across the city 16Downey, John. “Duke Energy Grant Helps Power up Electric Bus Program.” Charlotte Business Journal, September 10, 2019. https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2019/09/10/duke-energy-grant-helps-power-up-electric-bus.html.
“More than 95% of climate change is due to human activity“
-National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Easy Daily Solutions: Consider these changes to your daily lifestyle
- Use public transportation
- Ride a bicycle or walk instead of driving
- Avoid single use plastics
- Eat locally sourced food
- Switch to LED bulbs
- Turn off lights when leaving a room
Civic Engagement: Have your voice heard in local environmental organizations
Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, advocates the importance of conversation about climate change. The only way for significant strides in the fight against climate change are to be made is if the public discusses the issue.
“70% of people in the United States agree climate change will harm plants and animals and it will harm future generations. But two-thirds of people in the entire United States never talk about it.”
What is a greenhouse gas?
What is the definition of climate change?
Is climate change only caused by humans?
What is a local Charlotte nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting climate change?
Which of the following is an easy, daily solution to taking action?
Which of the following is a projected result of climate change in Charlotte?
If you want to learn more about climate change and how you can help, look no further!
- Skeptical Science – includes great tips on how to have engaging climate change conversations & features weekly stories to keep you informed on current event around the topic!
- Yale Climate Connections – offers awesome, niche climate change articles and podcasts to learn how the topic intersects with various areas of life!
- Project Drawdown – provides innovative solutions to fighting climate change specific to sectors & shares the impact their ideas have already made!