LEARN A Citizen’s Guide to Climate Change

There is no question that climate change is THE environmental issue of our times. This is where our focus needs to be. You are needed. We all are. The stakes are enormous.

What is climate change?

Climate change is the increase of the earth’s average surface temperature from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, or natural gas. When fossil fuels are burned, they release gases into the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide. This is causing a “greenhouse effect,” which is heating up the earth.

When was climate change first noticed?

Climate change was documented as early as 1896, when Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, proposed that the burning of coal during the Industrial Age could eventually result in warming of the earth. (Interestingly, he believed it would prove a positive change.)

Since that time, there have been further similar pronouncements, but little attention paid to them. In 1958, scientist Charles David Keeling began to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in Hawaii and in Antarctica. Within four years, there was proof that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were rising. This data collection project continues today.

In 1965, a U.S. President’s Advisory Committee panel termed the greenhouse effect a matter of “real concern.” In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was formed by the World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environment Program to collect and assess evidence on climate change for the world’s governmental leaders and policymakers. The IPCC, the top global expert on the issue, has concluded that climate change is happening and caused by humans. Predictably, there has been long-standing and strong opposition from fossil fuel interests who have denied that climate change is happening. Their propaganda has gained public support, and has helped to stall progress at reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

What are the effects of climate change?

Effects are already being documented and include: shrinking glaciers, loss of sea ice, the accelerated rise of sea levels, longer and more intense heat waves, ice on lakes and rivers breaking up sooner, shifting of plant and animal ranges, and earlier flowering of trees and plants. Future effects could be more frequent wildfires and longer droughts in drought-prone regions, as well many problems not even yet imagined. The results of the earth’s warming are anticipated to continue and become more severe. One chilling result could also be economic and political instability across the globe. In 2009, the CIA established the Center on Climate and National Security to assess and monitor the effects of climate change on the stability of other countries.

Current status

Even though efforts to reduce greenhouse pollutants have lagged, some progress has been made. Two of the most significant advances include the federal Clean Power Plan and the Paris Climate Agreement.

For the first time ever, there are now pollution standards for carbon emissions in the U.S., as part of the Clean Power Plan. Most importantly, the U.S. has joined with nearly 200 other countries and signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Agreement took effect just last month and commits world leaders to keeping warming increases to below 2 degrees Celsius. Scientists believe that warming beyond this point could be catastrophic and irreversible.

What’s next?

Unfortunately, progress could be halted very soon. Not only has the president-elect termed climate change a “hoax” and stated that he would “rip up the Paris Agreement,” Republicans, who control the Senate and House in Congress, are poised to roll back protections, such as the Clean Power Plan.

What can you do?

There is much to do, but two activities should be your top priority. 1) Keep learning more. 2) Urge your elected leaders to meet targeted climate change goals.

Read and bookmark these informative websites:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (www.ipcc.ch). Scientific reports on climate change and information about activities and meetings of the Panel. NASA Global Climate Change ( http://climate.nasa.gov). Current data, scientific articles, evidence of climate change, information on mitigation and adaptation, and resources for educators and others.

Inside Climate News (https://insideclimatenews.org). Nonprofit, nonpartisan Pulitzer Prize-winning organization that covers climate change, energy, and environment issues.

Climate Science Watch (http://www.climatesciencewatch.org). Protects the ability of federal scientists to communicate freely and debunks climate change denials.

Climate Denial Crock of the Week (https://climatecrocks.com). Videos that explain climate change and track and disprove information on climate change denial.

Contact Congress and the White House with your concerns. Find addresses and phone numbers at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.


Tanya Cabala is a lifelong resident of the White Lake area in Muskegon County, and has been an environmental and community activist for over 25 years, working to restore White Lake and aiding efforts to protect the Great Lakes. She is also an elected city council member, freelance writer, and consultant. Readers are encouraged to contact her via www.tanyacabala.com.


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