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"Climate change" is the term used to refer to changes in the average weather over time; as short a period as a few decades or as long as thousands of years.
The changes may come from Earth processes (volcano eruptions, orbital variations), can be driven by external forces (level of solar activity) and more recently, can result from human activities (deforestation, use of fossil fuels for energy).

Author / translator Andrea Bandelli

"Climate change" is the term used to refer to changes in the average weather over time; as short a period as a few decades or as long as thousands of years.
The changes may come from Earth processes (volcano eruptions, orbital variations), can be driven by external forces (level of solar activity) and more recently, can result from human activities (deforestation, use of fossil fuels for energy).
Currently, "climate change" usually refers to observed ongoing changes in modern climate, including the increase in average surface temperature, "global warming". Recent studies indicate that the increase in greenhouse gases over the last two hundred years is the primary cause of global warming.
According to scientific research, the warming produced as greenhouse gases trap heat, plays a key role in regulating Earth's temperature. However, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution (1800) and increased consumption of carbon based fossil fuels, the percent of greenhouse gases and especially carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, have risen to their highest level in hundreds of thousands of years.

Created 26 January 2010
Last edited 20 April 2018
Topics Climate, Environment, Science

Policy positions

Policy position 1

Adapt to climate change.
Don't try to prevent it. We've adapted to changes in the climate before, and adapting might be less expensive than preventative measures.

Policy position 2

Increase investment in climate science.
Governments should immediately support increased research on the science of climate change to improve the predictions.

Policy position 3

Offer economic incentives.
Governments should offer financial subsidies and tax reductions to encourage cleaner technologies and energy efficiency and reduce deforestation.

Policy position 4

Negotiate international agreements to protect the climate, taking effect by 2015.
Addressing climate change will require massive changes to the way we use energy and natural resources. Timely international cooperation is critical.

Story cards


I work in Hong Kong and travel around the world to get investors for new ventures in China. I am proud of my work to create jobs and more opportunity in China.
Sometimes I hear comments that China's increasing use of coal for generating electricity is the cause of global warming. I try to put it in perspective for them. The average US citizen consumes more than six times as much energy as the average Chinese citizen. The US is the world's largest producer of carbon emissions despite having one quarter the population of China.
From my perspective, it seems clear where the leadership in reducing carbon output needs to start!

Mary Chen

I am sick and tired of these energetic campaigns telling us all about climate change and global warming.

It seems that there are as many experts telling us the world is headed for catastrophe as there are experts saying that there is no need for alarm or that climate naturally varies a bit.

I see no need to pay attention to the predictions of doom until there is a consensus. Either all of us should worry or none of us.

Jim Panek

We all know how hard it can be to get our children to eat fruits and vegetables. I’ve found my daughter loves to eat peaches, but they have to be flown in from Chile in the winter.

I’m wondering if the positive of getting my daughter to eat a healthy diet is offset by the damage to the atmosphere from air freight transportation.

Anne Kirby

I work in the nuclear power industry and I know that concerns about carbon emissions from other energy sources are forcing re-consideration of nuclear energy. It feels good to be seen as part of the solution rather than the evil industry.

It looks as if there will be a whole new wave of building nuclear power plants to provide people with electricity with very little carbon output. Let's face it -- wind energy and solar energy sound nice, but they hardly provide enough energy, reliably enough to run today's modern homes and industries.

Jessica Brown

My wife and I renovated our 1930’s house and cut our home energy consumption by over 60%.

Our new addition and attic retrofitting are 2-3 times better insulated than required by building regulations. We installed specially engineered windows, a new boiler and a solar hot water panel. All air entering the house is pre-warmed by a sun porch.

We try to live a low carbon lifestyle apart from our annual flight to visit relatives. We offset the travel emissions by giving away 20 low energy light bulbs, each of which will save half a ton of carbon dioxide over its lifespan.

George Silverman

I’ve been flooded for the third time in seven years. I’m exhausted and fed up with replacing furniture and dealing with the insurance company.

I just want someone to do something so that I can feel safe in my own home. I was not impressed when a friend suggested that we attend an informational meeting on climate change.

I told her ‘I’m far too busy dealing with my soggy carpet to worry about climate change!’

Maria Silvio

I am a venture capitalist closely following the climate change news. I don’t think there will be international cooperation on this topic in the near future so I am interested in investing in companies that stand to grow and thrive in these changing circumstances. I wouldn’t invest in the insurance industry right now but with new shipping routes opening up in the North, I am putting money in new ports.

Eventually I expect market pressures to address many of these issues as the cost of energy will be taxed to limit consumption.

Roger Schwartzenberg

I’m an atmospheric scientist in Hawaii and I have been measuring the CO2 concentrations in the air. Measurements have been taken here since 1958 because the air at this elevation is not influenced by large industry activity or volcanic emissions. Over four decades there has been a 17% increase in CO2 volume in the air.

Both the increase in CO2 and the increase in the average temperature are unprecedented and are alarming to the scientific community.

What does it take for policy makers and voters to understand the situation?

Dr. Gillian King


We have no right to do this.

We do not have the right to degrade the planet for future generations. Nor do we have the right to cause the extinction of other species.

Do you agree?


The US’s 2004 CO2 emissions were greater than the CO2 of South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East combined. Developing countries are the first to experience rising sea levels and violent weather patterns.

Is this eco-aggression?

Learning from our mistakes.

Many developing countries have vast unused resources of coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

Having taken full advantage of our own coal resources, can we tell them not to use theirs?

The possibility of catastrophe.

Even if scientists do not completely understand how the atmosphere affects temperature, does the scale of possible damage force us to take action?

Or should we wait and see?

The cost of food habits.

The CO2 emissions created by a meal of beef and imported vegetables is 8 times greater than a vegetarian meal made from locally produced ingredients.

How can you change your food habits to reduce emissions?

What will we leave for our children?

Just as smoking now can cause cancer later in life, what we do now to the planet will affect future generations.

Do we have a responsibility to future generations? Or should we expect them to take care of themselves?

Scared into apathy.

‘I ignore what I see in the media about climate change. I become scared and overwhelmed with the contrasting opinions, and believe the effects of climate change will not be felt for decades so it is not my problem.’

Do you think this is a common feeling?

Sustainable living.

There are many simple ways to adopt a sustainable lifestyle through building practices and energy use.

Why aren’t more people trying to change their personal impact on the planet?

I am an island.

‘I am an island. How I live has no current or future effect on other people, animals, plants, or the planet. The earth and the plants and animals on it are ours to use as we wish.’

Do you think this is a common opinion?

Think of the children.

‘It’s for the children. I want my grandchildren’s children to enjoy the beauty of the planet and to feel secure and safe in its familiar weather patterns, crops and water supply—just as I have done.’

Should my children’s needs mean more than my own?

Maybe we’re better off.

Warming can lead to savings on the costs of heating fuel in Northern regions, bigger crop yields in Canada, and better cod fishing in Greenland.

Could the gains of warming outweigh the losses?

Hidden benefits?

There could be some positive economic impacts for agriculture, forestry and tourism in some regions of the world.

However the negative impacts on Africa, Asia and South America could lead to food and water shortages, flooding and species extinctions.

The power of technology.

Tony Blair said:
‘If we harness new technology, the evidence is mounting that we can achieve a target of 60% reduction in emissions—and at a reasonable cost.’

Do you agree with him, or is this just wishful thinking?

Corporate tax incentives.

Some large companies have found a way to profit from saving energy. For example, DuPont has saved $2 billion in energy costs since 1990.

Should we give extra tax incentives to companies who behave this way?

Require more energy from renewable technologies

Governments could require that more of their countries energy comes from renewable sources. India has a target of 10% renewable energy by 2010 and Germany’s target is 12% by 2010.

Setting a good example

If all government buildings were required to be five star rated energy efficient buildings the savings in energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions would be enormous.

Require more energy efficient vehicles

Governments around the world should require better fuel efficiency in new cars because transportation accounts for almost 1/3 of CO2 emissions.

We have bigger issues.

Poverty, terrorism, rising crime and other issues are more important than climate change.

Deal with our oil addiction

While we will continue to use fossil fuels for years to come we should not increase our drilling and oil consumption to meet our energy needs. The more fuels we burn, the more we bring about climate change. We need to invest in cleaner energy technologies.

Changing lives.

The ultimate hope is that a meaningful solution to the climate change crisis could potentially be the beginning of a much larger transformation of our social and economic lives.

Do you think people want this transformation?

When there’s a will…

Dire predictions notwithstanding, we can still act to ensure a livable world. It is crucial that we know this: we can meet our needs without destroying the Earth, our life support system, if we have the will to do so.’

Human impact.

We are a fundamental part of the planet. Even the water we drink has cycled through rivers, seas, clouds, rain, animals, plants and humans. What we do to the planet we do to ourselves.

Concerns of extinction.

Extinction is absolute and final; it cannot be remedied or reversed. So should we worry about the extinction of all creatures, including small worms and snails?

Or is human extinction our biggest concern?

The power of green—money or the environment?

There is always large focus on money and economic growth.

Do you think there has to be an economic impact to climate change before political interest is raised?

What is the relationship of fossil fuels to carbon dioxide?

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is directly influenced by human activity. When we use fossil fuels (coal, oil, gasoline, and diesel fuels) we increase the level of carbon dioxide in the air.

Approximately 87% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels.

What does polar ice reveal about carbon dioxide levels?

Ice from below the surface of Antarctica showed fluctuating but stable amounts of carbon dioxide until the start of the Industrial Revolution (1800).

Then the amount of carbon dioxide began to rise sharply.

How does deforestation affect carbon dioxide levels?

Deforestation releases the carbon stored in trees and results in less carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere.

Worldwide, an average area of more than 45,000 football fields of forest is lost each day.

Record setting temperatures

In 146 years of measures of global temperature (land, air and sea) 20 of the 21 highest temperatures have been recorded in the last 25 years.

The average global temperature is now rising at the rate of 2.5 to 10 degrees F over the next 100 years.

Alaska is already experiencing effects of higher temperatures.

Temperatures in Alaska are rising ten times faster than in the rest of the world.

The permafrost (permanently frozen ground) is thawing for the first time in thousands of years. Roads are buckling and houses have sunk into the ground as a result of thawing permafrost.

What do the experts say?

Top NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen has been studying climate change for more than 15 years.

He has stated that there are clear dangers if we continue to delay measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

How might global warming create a shortage of fresh water?

Lima, the capital of Peru, depends on melting glaciers for its water supply. When the glacier melts away there will be no more water for this city of more than 8 million people.

The Himalayan Glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau provide more than half of the drinking water for 40% of the world’s population.

Could global warming be causing increased flooding?

With warmer weather, storms can hold more moisture and greater rainfall or snowfalls can result. The number of large flood events has increased each decade worldwide since 1950.

In July 2005 in Mumbai, India there was a downpour of 37 inches of rain in 24 hours. At least 1000 people died as a result of the floods and mudslides.

Deadly heat waves and mild winters.

The 2003 European heat wave caused approximately 35,000 extra deaths, mainly among the elderly, the very young and the chronically ill.

However, warmer winters also mean fewer deaths from cold weather.

Could global warming affect food supplies?

Increased nighttime temperatures caused by global warming could cause significant reductions in yields of rice – the staple food for over half of the world’s population.

What is the impact of global warming on coral reefs?

Coral reefs have the highest biodiversity of any marine ecosystem.

Global warming is expected to contribute to coral reef degradation in the decades ahead and the pace of warming exceeds the ability of the reefs and marine organisms to adapt.

Climate change is already affecting many species.

Dr. Terry Root analyzed numerous research papers on effects of global warming on plants and animals. She found that of 1500 species, 1200 already exhibited changes consistent with a global warming effect.

Two species, the red squirrel and the fruit fly, have shown genetic changes from global warming.

Polar Bears headed for extinction?

Polar Bears hunt for seals near the edge of the ice shelf in the Arctic. As the ice shelf has diminished and portions have broken off, polar bears have become stranded hundreds of miles from the main ice shelf.

The average weight of polar bears has declined by 25% in the last two decades and many have died from starvation.

Fish on the move

Alaska's Bering Sea pollock fishery is the world's largest. But fishermen there are struggling as climate change moves Alaska’s -valuable fishing resource into cooler waters in Russian fishing grounds.

As the Southern Bering sea warms by as much as 4 degrees F., fishermen have seen the effect of the Northward migration of marine life.

Africa will be severely impacted by warming

Although Africa has the lowest per person use of fossil fuels it may be the most affected by greenhouse gas warming.

Reduced rainfall, dwindling water supplies and loss of agricultural land will contribute to famine, disease and an economic downward spiral.

Carbon cost of a plane

Aviation is responsible for an estimated 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Some airlines offset carbon emissions by investing in projects that save energy, such as investing in technology which allows industry to be more efficient and increasing the generation of renewable energy.

Lifestyle choices can have a big impact.

Individuals can substantially reduce their carbon output by their own choices. Adjusting their home thermostat to reduce energy used for heating and air conditioning as well as passive solar heating and cooling can have a large effect on your household’s carbon output.

Changing light bulbs

Each time you replace an incandescent standard light bulb with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb, you start saving energy and reducing carbon output.

Fluorescent bulbs cut greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs by 75% while producing the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb.

Coal burning provides more than half of electricity in the US.

Power plants that use coal to generate electricity are the single largest source of CO2, contributing 1/3 of the total US output of CO2.

What is "carbon offsetting"?

After taking action to reduce a business or household’s carbon output, the remaining carbon output can be mitigated by investments or actions that absorb or reduce carbon.

Some examples of these “carbon offsets” are planting trees, paying for wind energy, and contributing to organizations providing alternative or renewable energy sources.

Any change in climate will have wide ranging impact

Some of the human activities and resources affected by climate include: agriculture, water supplies, energy resources, timber management, fisheries, transportation, insurance, tourism, disaster relief and public health (for vector borne diseases).

Changing the chemistry of the atmosphere

If the Earth were shrunk to the size of an apple, its atmosphere would be the thickness of the apple skin.

The Earth's atmosphere is so thin that we can change its chemical composition by human activity that has increased the output of carbon dioxide.

Climate destabilization as a result of warming.

"Global warming is a destabilizing factor that will make abrupt climate change more probable." Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
The ocean circulation system that carries heat through out the planet could be disrupted causing some regions to become more frigid as other regions experience warmer temperatures.

Lessons from the "Little Ice Age"

In the "Little Ice Age" of 1550 to 1850, residents of London skated on the Thames and snow fell in Sydney, Australia.
The era of the Little Ice Age was marked by crop failures, famine, disease, and mass migration of populations. With the world's present population, any similar abrupt change in temperature would have disastrous effects.

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