Everyone is noticing that the weather is unusual. It’s hotter or colder, drier or wetter.
While you can’t confuse day-to-day weather changes with climate, which is studied over decades and centuries, the effects of climate change are becoming more evident. The National Climate Assessment reports that U.S. farmers now modify planting times and other practices to adjust.
The latest studies of climate data show clear areas of concern. And although there is not just one solution, everyone can play a part in addressing climate change.
1. It’s getting hotter.
Temperatures near the Earth’s surface are rising. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report. NASA concurs in its February global analysis.
2. There’s more CO2.
Carbon dioxide — CO2 — levels in the atmosphere are rising, and this contributes to global warming. Motor vehicles are one of several sources of CO2 emissions. Their conventional internal combustion engines also emit particulate matter, including “black carbon,” compounding the problem. Global motor vehicle sales hit a record of nearly 83 million in 2014, according to consulting firm IHS Automotive. The entire transportation sector — motorcycles, cars, trucks, planes and ships — makes up 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Where will the polar bears — and people — go?
Polar bears are running out of sea ice, which is their chief habitat. But the bears are not the only ones at risk. People are too. New studies say polar ice sheets are melting faster than scientists earlier predicted. Interactive maps from NASA demonstrate the speed at which Arctic sea ice is decreasing. Its melt is among the main causes of harmful sea-level rise. Island nations such as Kiribati may be inundated. This video illustrates the far-reaching effects of sea-level rise.
4. There is water, water everywhere.
Events similar to Cyclone Winston, shown above, which recently hit Fiji hard, occur worldwide, creating coastal and inland flooding. Sea-level rise has increased from 1.7 millimeters a year throughout most of the 20th century to 3.2 millimeters a year recently. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts up to 1 meter of sea-level rise by 2100. As seas rise and severe storms increase, flooding will harm many more communities. Trends depicted on this interactive map show coastlines of Asia and the southern United States particularly vulnerable to flooding.
5. But in some places, there is drought.
Drought damages crops and livestock around the world. Currently, severe drought affects Asia from the Indian sub-continent to Vietnam. Across Africa, more than a dozen countries are in its grip. Ethiopia is experiencing the worst drought in decades. Lack of rain has cut Morocco’s wheat harvest in half. Canada and the United States, in North America, and Brazil and Colombia, in South America, also need more rain. Rainfall amounts vary throughout the year — and from year to year — but globally more regions are burdened by droughts made worse by climate change.
You can help.
You can do your part to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — the goal set by world leaders in the December 2015 Paris Agreement.
Making minor adjustments in your lifestyle choices can help stop melting glaciers, sea-level rise and other climate change impacts.
Since global temperature rise is linked to greenhouse-gas emissions, tackle those by changing your behavior close to home. Walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation when possible rather than driving. If you drive, choose to drive an energy-efficient, low-polluting vehicle if you can.
If you have access to clean energy — electricity that comes from solar, wind or other renewable energy resources — great. But everyone can strive to use less electricity — which often comes from polluting sources — by switching off unneeded lights. Install energy-saving CFL or LED bulbs, and turn off computers, TVs and other electronics when not in use. Water treatment, delivery and heating take energy, so conserve water.
Trees and shrubs absorb carbon. Planting a few in the garden removes pollutants that cause global warming.
Buying locally grown food means less produce will be transported thousands of miles — reducing the massive carbon emissions released by delivery.
Find out more about the effects of climate change and what other actions can be taken to adapt to it. A little adjustment by everybody will make a big difference in our future.