Almost every part of the world is experiencing global warming. That much is certain. Atmospheric levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases have risen because of human activities, and a cornucopia of climate changes is now evident. Global normal temperature rose about 1 degree Celsius in the past century, and sea level has gone up more than 18 centimeters. Glaciers are melting worldwide, the major ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are fraying at their peripheries, and the imagined North-west Passage may soon open permanently. Rainstorms are intensifying in many areas, and summer heat waves have become more intense while winters are less severe.
The human understanding of climate change is a synthesis of a rather extensive field of knowledge that includes the science of Earth’s climate, how and why climate is changing, and the consequences of those changes. Climate science involves study of the workings of the atmosphere and ocean and of the interactions between the two and the other components of Earth, such as its flora. Furthermore, one cannot talk about climate change without talking about energy because future climate depends directly on human ability to control emission from fossil fuels burning and to apply alternatives technologies to satisfy the world’s insatiable appetite for energy.
Whether governments and the public will act sufficiently fast to stem the warming is perhaps the greatest, and most uncertain, part of the picture because global warming presents unique challenges. For political leaders, the issue is most difficult. The worst consequences of warming occur decades after a given level of atmospheric greenhouse gases is reached. By the time the changes are apparent, more gases have been emitted and more changes, some potentially disastrous, could be in the pipeline, irreversibly.
With further climate changes building surreptitiously, how can the risks be made clear to a public already assaulted by too many messages about too many problems, many of them quite threatening? For the average person, the climate is an arcane system based on abstract physical concept. To experts in the physics of radiation or ocean circulation or in Earth’s long climate history, the evidence is compelling. Otherwise, the scientific arguments can seem too dull and too complex to be worth the endeavor seemingly required to comprehend them.
Conclusively, what is known from the available records, both geological and observational, is that the climate is changing. Hardly a day goes by without some mention of it in the news. Earth’s climate is warming; carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been building up in the atmosphere mainly as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuel; and the scientific evidence is now overwhelming that this buildup is causing the warming. These statements are the facts of climate change.
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