Global climate change is driven by the “greenhouse effect,” a natural, widely acknowledged phenomenon essential to life as we know it.
Without the greenhouse effect, the Earth would be permanently icy and inhospitable. Water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gases in the Earth’s atmosphere act like a blanket over the Earth, absorbing some of the heat from the sunlight-warmed surface of the planet instead of allowing it to escape into space. Having a moderate amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere allows the Earth to be just the right temperatures for humans, plants and animals. Increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causes the earth to become warmer – like wearing a thick jacket year-round.
Increasing the amount of these gases, often referred to as “carbon emissions” in the atmosphere essentially makes the blanket thicker—trapping even more heat around the Earth.
The impacts are much broader and more complex than a simple increase in temperature, however. Global warming is accompanied by:
- changes in precipitation patterns,
- increased frequency and intensity of storms,
- wildfires, droughts and floods,
- rising sea level, changes in water quality, and
- substantial changes in habitats, including the range of pests and diseases.
Why is it happening?
Global climate change happens when we overload the atmosphere with too much carbon by burning fossil fuels for energy—whether it’s to drive our cars, or to power and heat our homes and businesses.
Fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline, diesel, fuel oil and natural gas are made of carbon that has been stored underground for millions of years. Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, manufacture goods, grow food, power our homes and run our vehicles, transforms this stored carbon into carbon dioxide gas, which is then released into the atmosphere.
Another way greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase is through releasing the carbon stored in plant matter and soil by destroying forests and converting wildlands for farmland and housing. Further, by reducing the number of trees and plants that otherwise would remove carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, we decrease the Earth’s capacity to re-absorb carbon back out of the atmosphere.
Global climate change is happening because we are putting too much carbon in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels for energy. Scientists estimate that the Earth’s atmosphere can safely handle around 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, and we’re already above that threshold.
The above presents only a small taste of climate research. There is much more to the topic than we can fit here.
A Few Good Places To Start:
- The Montana Climate Assessment
- Montana’s Changing Climate – The Wilderness Society
- U.S. Global Change Research Program Fourth National Climate Assessment
- Skeptical Science
State And Federal Agency Websites On Climate Change: