In the 1980s, scientists discovered a hole in Antarctica’s ozone layer caused by human activities like burning fossil fuels. The term “hole in the ozone layer” was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, especially when scientists found that aerosols found in deodorants and hairspray were exacerbating the problem.
We don’t hear that term much these days, mainly because widespread consumer action has resulted in the hole gradually closing again.
Global warming then seemingly replaced the hole in the ozone layer as a primary environmental concern. While global warming wasn’t a new idea, the term only came into common usage in the late 1980s.
Since then, climate change has become a much more commonly used phrase, whether it be about global political agreements or the elimination of single-use plastics (and no more plastic straws in Starbucks).
The terms “climate change” and “global warming” are often used interchangeably to refer to any damage caused to our environment or extreme changes in weather patterns. But just as weather and climate have distinct meanings, as we’ve previously discussed, so do climate change and global warming.
As the term suggests, global warming refers to an increase in our planet’s temperature. Records show that the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in history in the last 50 years. Additionally, all but one of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000.
According to scientists, unless we try to stop global warming, average U.S. temperatures could increase by up to 10°F in the next hundred years.
Global warming is caused by something called the “greenhouse effect. This happens when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap heat. These gases let in light but keep heat from escaping.
When we burn fossil fuels, this increases the greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere, which is why scientists attribute the current status of global warming in large part to human activities. The US electricity sector (namely coal-burning power plants) currently produces about two billion tons of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) every year. The transportation sector generates about 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.
Climate Change encompasses global warming and other long-term changes in climate patterns. It is a more commonly used term than global warming since some areas may temporarily experience cooler climate conditions.
According to NASA, many signs prove. That that our climate is changing rapidly:
- Global temperature rise
- Warming ocean
- Shrinking ice sheets
- Glacial retreat
- Decreased snow cover
- A rise in sea levels
- Declining Arctic sea ice
- A record number of extreme weather events
- Ocean acidification
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that climate change’s net damage is likely to be significant and to increase over time. That change will continue beyond this century.