What's the big deal about climate change?
Ok, so the first thing I want you to do is to imagine you have a piece of string and you lay it on your kitchen table. You grab both ends and pull it tight, so it looks straight, and then gently let go. Does your string look completely straight like string 1? Or does it have some lumps and bumps in it like string 2?
String 1.
String 2.
Most of your strings should look like string 2. The Earth's temperature has changed in similar "waves" as the string. The wave that goes up is when it gets warmer (like after the dinosaurs died) and the waves that go down is when its colder (like ice ages). It's pretty normal for the Earth's climate to change over thousands to millions of years.
Why does it matter that the climate is changing right now?
Going back to our string example, you can see that these bumps look pretty small. They are actually only 5-10°F differences, usually. The Earth we know has a set percentage of land to water to ice, but when the Earth changes by 5-10°F in a postive or negative way, the Earth can change a lot. The Earths below show that difference with 5-10°F colder.
Earth at a normal temperature of 57°F.
Earth 5-10°F colder (during an ice age).
The Earth's climate has been getting much, much hotter than normal. Not only that, but it's been happening in a very short amount of time (compared to the Earth's normal thousands of years to change timeline). Over the past 150 years, scientists say that we have warmed up by around 1.5° - 2°F. Relating this back to our string example, this would be like if some came over and started moving the right edge of the string up as high as it could go - it's a very steep movement in not a lot of time. The yellow string below shows an example of this.
String 3.
Why has the Earth been warming up so quickly?
When plants and animals die, their bodies go underground and over time become oil and gas. Companies have big machines that can drill down to their remains to get these resources, which can power our cars, homes, and almost everything else. These types of power are called "fossil fuels" because it's the fossils that make them!
When we burn these fossil fuels, CO2 is one of the main products that is released into our atmosphere. A way to think about how much gas is being released is by imagining you've been storing poisonous gas for a year, but it only hurts you in large amounts. Usually the poison filters out a little bit every day and everything is fine. Then, someone decides it's ok to let out more and so all of a sudden all the gas that should have taken a year to let out, has been let out in a couple days and you're starting to get sick. That's what it's like for Earth and fossil fuels. Now, fossil fuels aren't the only place we get CO2 from - humans and animals both release it from breathing and, a-hem, passing gas. But so many fossil fuels are burned each day from cars, trains, airplanes, and large companies, that they're having big impacts on our world.
Dinosaurs like this Apatosaurus are some of the fossils that create fossil fuels. Plants and other animals do as well.
This is a greenhouse! Usually greenhouses have glass walls so that when sunlight comes through, the heat is trapped and plants can grow better.
BUT - not all fossil fuels are bad. When the right amount of CO2 is released into our atmosphere, some of it becomes trapped and is reflected back to Earth, allowing Earth to stay warm. This is called the "Greenhouse Effect" and keeps life on Earth here. The Greenhouse Effect has been working in overdrive since humans started making machines that use fossil fuels in the mid to late 1800s. This is the main cause of the Earth warming up too much and too quickly.
What can happen to the Earth because of climate change?
Climate change is speeding up the changing of temperatures from thousands to millions of years to instead just hundreds. There are many different things happening right now that are due to climate change and others that are predicted to happen. You can click the pictures below to learn about some of them.
Sea levels have started to rise around the world. This is mostly due to melting ice (4th picture) and it could force a lot of people to move to new places as land becomes ocean. Scientists predict that if climate change continues how it currently is, sea levels could rise 20-30 feet!
Climate change can cause weather to be more extreme. This means that hurricanes, tornadoes, and storms could happen more often and be more dangerous.
Around the world, oceans are being affected by climate change. The waters are getting much warmer, and becoming more "acidic". Coral is an example of this - it turns white when the animals living in it leave because the waters are too acidic or hot! The next page will have more information on this!
The north and south of Earth are covered in ice. Climate change is causing the large sheets of ice and iceburgs to melt sooner in the year and refreeze later. This is really bad for different animals that depend on the ice to live.
Climate change will continue to happen unless the world we live in begins to make changes. This includes countries, states, cities, households, and YOU! The big businesses are those making the largest impacts on the environment but people - adults and kids - can each contribute to trying to make the world a better place. The next page will delve deeper into how climate change is affecting the oceans, but the Games page after that will give you some tips on what you can do to help!