Climate Change

green grass and blue skies on the left, dry grass and reddish skies on the right

What is Climate Change?

Climate change is the long-term change in average temperature and weather patterns. These changes in temperature and weather patterns can occur naturally but are essentially influenced by human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels.

Burning fossil fuels releases more greenhouse gases which trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. This causes the Earth’s average surface temperature to rise.

The more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the more heat is trapped, and the warmer the planet becomes.

Solar radiation from the sun passes through the atmosphere and warms the Earth's surface. Some of this heat is radiated back into space, but some of it is trapped by greenhouse gases.

visual of solar radiation hitting the earth and heat being trapped in via greenhouse gasses

The greenhouse effect is a natural process, but human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Explore ways to make a difference on the Living Sustainably page and learn more about climate change on the EPA website.

Effects of Climate Change

  • An increase in adverse weather conditions such as drought, flooding, hotter temperatures, etc. Extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornados, and wildfires are becoming more intense.
  • Sea level rise from melting sea ice and glaciers. This can cause several effects on coastal cities such as flooding, damaging infrastructure, and eroding coastal ecosystems.
  • Changes in ocean waters such as warmer temperatures and acidification. The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, so does the amount of carbon dioxide the ocean absorbs. This leads to a decrease in pH which causes the water to become more acidic. This change affects ocean life.
  • Changes to ecosystems, especially to those that are more vulnerable such as the Arctic and coral reefs. Coral reefs are susceptible to warmer waters which causes bleaching, stronger hurricanes that can destroy reefs, and sea level rise that can smother reefs with sediment while the Arctic is experiencing the loss of land ice.
  • Human health is impacted by compounding factors. Extreme weather events such as tornadoes cause death and displacement, extreme heat can also cause death, wildfires cause difficulty breathing, etc. The most vulnerable populations are the elderly, children, low-income communities, and communities of color.
  • These are only a few effects from a growing list. Read more on the impacts of climate change at NASA or from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Climate Change for Kids

  • NASA has a great guide to climate change for kids that examines common questions and topics related to the climate change. You can also find videos that simply explain climate change as well as printable guides.
  • The EPA also offers educational information for students.