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Climate Change: An Introduction

Climate change is an extended change in temperature and weather and can happen naturally or from human activities. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been increasing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the Earth’s temperature to warm. The Earth is now over 1 degree Celsius hotter than it was at the end of the 1800s, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the highest it has been for the past 2 million years.

This change in climate is impacting Earth’s systems and living things all over the world. Extreme weather events and changing annual climates have increased the amount of energy we use to warm or cool our homes. Households in the United States now use almost double the amount of electricity than they did 50 years ago. Changing weather patterns have altered the location of where crops can be grown. Farmers are battling extreme droughts, increased desertification, and inhospitable climates for growing their traditional crops. Warmer climates also lead to more disease, as disease-carrying species are migrating to more favorable climates. This will impact crops, livestock, our health, and so much more.

As we continue to rely on fossil fuels for transportation, heating and cooling, and manufacturing, more and more greenhouse gases will be released in the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s temperature to increasingly rise. Other human activities like deforestation, unsustainable livestock production/factory farming, and decomposition in our ever-expanding landfills also contribute to an increase of greenhouse gases.

Climate change is an environmental justice issue, and often those that emit the least amount of greenhouse gases are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. These communities may also have the least amount of resources to help them adapt, receive the health care they need, or migrate from their homes if necessary.

Learn more about Climate Change by reading the full topic overview.

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