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Climate Change: Overview

What's the Problem?

Climate change refers to major decadal changes in the earth’s temperature, rainfall, snow, and wind patterns. Human activities are mainly responsible for the drastic warming we’ve seen in recent decades. We release greenhouse gases (GHGs) as a result of burning fossil fuels (like coal and oil), using energy to drive, using electricity to light and heat our homes, and through other activities that support our quality of life. GHGs trap heat in the atmosphere, causing the earth’s temperature to increase. As a result of the warming climate, sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, and precipitation patterns are changing.

Climate change affects many areas of life, including health, water resources, food production, agriculture, forestry, wildlife and energy supply.

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Who's at Risk?

Everyone’s affected by climate change. Some communities are more at risk than others, such as:

  • Poor communities
  • Small islands and coastal regions
  • Developing countries
  • Megacities
  • Mountain regions
  • Polar regions

Can It Be Prevented?

The extent and speed of global climate change is driven by human activities. If we continue emitting GHGs at or above the current rate, the average global temperature is expected to increase by 3° to 7°F by 2100. Although this increase might seem minor, it’s a larger and faster increase than anything we’ve seen over the past 10,000 years. As the earth’s temperature continues to warm, the effects of global climate change are expected to be more severe:

  • Heat waves will be more common, severe, and longer lasting
  • Storms will be stronger
  • Flooding and damage in coastal areas will increase

In order to slow the rate of global climate change, we need to lessen the amount of GHGs being emitted.

The Bottom Line

We produce GHG emissions through many of our daily activities. The amount of emissions we each contribute to the earth varies. It depends on our location, habits, and personal choices.

Here are some ways to save energy and reduce GHG emissions:

Change your lights

  • Replace regular light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs

Heat and cool smartly

  • Clean air filters regularly
  • Get your heating and cooling equipment tuned annually by a licensed contractor
  • Replace old heating and cooling equipment with high efficiency models and make sure they’re properly sized and installed

Use green power

  • Use green power, which is environmentally friendly electricity that’s made from renewable energy sources like wind and sun
  • Buy your power from a company that uses green power
  • Create a greener home by installing solar panels and researching incentives for renewable energy in your state

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

  • Recycle newspapers, beverage containers, paper and other goods
  • Use products in containers that can be recycled
  • Use items that can be repaired or reused
  • Buy products made from recycled materials

Use water efficiently

  • Water your lawn or landscape only when needed and do it during the coolest part of the day, early morning is best
  • Turn the water off while shaving or brushing teeth
  • Fix leaky toilets and faucets

Drive smart

  • Choose the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets your needs
  • Go easy on the brakes and gas pedal, avoid hard accelerations, reduce time spent idling
  • Use overdrive and cruise control on your car
  • Unload unnecessary items in your trunk to reduce weight

Give your car a break

  • Use public transportation, carpool or walk or bike whenever possible to avoid using your car.
  • Combine your activities and errands into one trip
  • Consider working from home

Case Example

Sarah is a 22 year old student who was born and raised in Los Angeles. For the past few weeks, Sarah found herself having hard time breathing. Just to be on the safe side, she visits her physician. At the appointment, Sarah’s surprised to find out she has asthma. It’s a chronic condition that usually starts in childhood, but can also start in adulthood. Sarah’s even more surprised to find out what may be contributing to her asthma: climate change. She knew that climate change affects the environment, but she had no idea it could affect her health, too. Her physician explained that there’s a link between climate change and worsening cases of asthma. Because of climate change, we’re all being exposed to more air pollutants like pollen, dust, ozone and other irritants that trigger asthma. At that moment, Sarah decides she wants to lessen her contribution to climate change.

Related Links

  • Page last reviewed: December 12, 2012
  • Page last updated: December 12, 2012
  • Content source:
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