Green Tips: Communicating on Climate Change
Green Tips | February 8, 2019
A growing number of Americans believe that climate change is happening, and 59% of voters think that humans are the primary cause. As we start to see the impacts of a changing climate, the topic of climate change may be coming up more often in conversation than it has in the past. If you’re talking with someone who seems to be rethinking their skepticism about global warming, be an informed spokesperson for the environment by mentioning these quick facts about climate change and its impacts.
Climate Change Has Always Been With Us
It’s true that the earth’s climate has changed many times over the centuries, but until a few hundred years ago, these changes were due to small variations in the earth’s orbit. These orbital shifts affected the amount of solar energy that our earth received and caused climate fluctuations. Today’s warming is far more dramatic. Researchers say that it’s more than 95% probable that this unprecedented rate of change is due to human activity, and much of this warming is caused by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb infrared radiation (IR) from the sun and radiate that heat in all directions. Common greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and any fluorocarbons. Some of these gases are naturally produced, like water vapor, and a certain amount of greenhouse gases are necessary for our ecosystem to function. But, some of these gases are increasing rapidly because of human activity. Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased by 40% since the dawn of the industrial age in the 1750s. Fossil fuel use is the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions. Other greenhouse gases emitted through human activity are methane from farming, waste management, and energy use; nitrous oxide, mostly from agriculture; and fluorinated gases, from industry, refrigerants, and consumer products.
The Greenhouse Effect
These gases warm the earth through a natural process called the greenhouse effect. Check out a diagram here. Basically, when the sun’s heat hits the earth some is absorbed and some is reflected back to space. Greenhouse gases absorb heat and keep it all from leaving our atmosphere, which helps keep the earth at a temperature suitable for sustaining life. However, the more greenhouse gases that exist in our atmosphere, the more heat that is prevented from escaping into space and, consequently, the more the earth heats.
Over the past hundred years, greenhouse gas emissions have been growing at an accelerated pace. Since 1970, carbon dioxide emissions have increased by about 90%, with emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial processes contributing about 78% of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase from 1970 to 2011. Agriculture, deforestation, and other land-use changes have been the second-largest contributors.
Climate Change’s Impact
The increase in earth’s temperature triggers additional changes in our climate. Heat waves, drought and extreme weather patterns are all signs of a warming planet. In turn, these events have consequences for our economy, infrastructure, and the health of our communities. Below are a few examples of impacts we are already seeing.
- Extreme Weather
The earth’s warming is behind the increase in extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy downpours, drought and flooding. Since the mid-1970s, the number of hurricanes that reach Categories 4 and 5 (the highest levels) in strength has roughly doubled.
New York has felt the impact of such hurricanes–and not just in coastal areas. In 2011, Hurricane Irene tore through upstate New York, hitting counties including Albany, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster. The storm caused $1.3 billion worth of damage and caused 1 million power outages. In New York City, the city’s subway system shut down.
A year later, in October 2012, SuperStorm Sandy brought unprecedented storm surges and flooding that devastated many communities throughout the five boroughs of NYC. Large parts of the city and surrounding areas were without power for days, fires consumed 100 homes in Queens, and water flooded subway and road tunnels and highways. Thousands of homes were destroyed.
- The Economy
New York City suffered an estimated $19 billion in economic losses from Hurricane Sandy and restoration costs for the state were an estimated $32.8 billion.
Extreme weather events hit all of us in the pocketbook. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, grocery prices spike after extreme weather events.
Damage caused by storms and flooding is also hitting the insurance industry hard and that hurts consumers. Because of a spate of devastating losses due to severe storms, insurers have been drastically curtailing their underwriting of homeowner policies. Almost 3 million U.S. households lost coverage between 2003 and 2007, and only half were able to find new coverage. Other insurance companies have raised their premiums dramatically, effectively denying coverage to millions of homeowners.
- Water and its Uses
Another – less major but still upsetting – way climate change is impacting our daily lives is by threatening the major ingredients in beer. Drought and heavy rains have hurt hops and barley production and some breweries are reporting shortages of clean drinking water. These changes can also affect the coffee industry. Most beans come from Arabica beans that thrive on cool mountain slopes. Due to climate change, coffee growers have to move higher up the mountain. Globally, we could lose 50% of the land suitable for growing coffee by 2050.< Back to Citizen’s Toolkit
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