Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between climate and weather?
Climate is often confused with isolated weather events, so that, for example, when the temperature in the southern part of the US dips below 30°F some people might question whether global warming is really happening. To help understand misconceptions like this, Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, President of the American Meteorological Society, used a simple analogy: “Weather is your mood and climate is your personality.”
If climate is the personality of the planet, then it is changing from a relatively calm, familiarly stable, even nurturing persona to a much more moody and destructive persona. While the fields where we once grew our corn and the beaches where we played with our kids might have experienced the occasional heavy rainstorm or hurricane, climate change will generate storms of such ferocity on a more frequent basis that some of those fields and beaches will no longer be available to our children and grandchildren.
Isn’t “climate change” just a part of the natural cycle of the planet? What makes you think we humans can do anything to change it?
Yes, the Earth goes through periods of warming and cooling, but the rise in global average temperatures since the 1800s is a sharp spike, as revealed in this NASA graph:
That spike closely correlates with the steep increase in man-made emissions of greenhouse gases resulting from industrialization. As western economies developed, and populations worldwide multiplied, more fossil fuels were burned to keep up with rapidly increasing demands for power. The resulting CO2 emissions as well as the increased emissions of methane from industrialized agriculture, both greenhouse gases, produced the accelerated rise in the global average temperature.
The fact that human society had this kind of impact on Earth’s natural cycle once suggests that we have the capability to further affect the system a second time.