The Basics of Climate Change

To understand climate change, we first need to go over what climate change is and how it happens. Climate change is happening because of greenhouse gases that humans release into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases trap excess heat in the earth, warming our planet.

The most important GHG is carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide makes up 76% of global (human) GHG emissions.

Climate change is when human actions significantly alter the natural climate.

In our case, it's warming the planet.

The greenhouse effect is how the earth naturally stays warm, and how greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are warming the planet.

Human release GHGs, making the greenhouse effect too large.


Climate Change: In Brief

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as "a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods." But what does that mean? In essence, climate change is when human actions significantly alter the natural climate.

We are already experiencing climate change. Human activities, most importantly fossil fuel combustion, are releasing dangerous substances called greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. GHGs are gases that trap heat in the earth's atmosphere. You can think of them as a greenhouse, which traps heat to grow plants. Collectively, these GHGs create the greenhouse effect, which is the earth's primary heat-trapping mechanism. The earth needs some of the natural greenhouse effect, but climate change is making it too much. 


This leads to too many GHGs in the atmosphere. That traps too much heat in the atmosphere, warming the earth. These warmer temperatures have profound impacts