A Changing Climate
As glaciers retreat at the poles and animals around the world slowly shift their ranges to adjust to changing environmental conditions on land and at sea, scientists still struggle to communicate powerful messages to legislators and the public. Climate change is a complex and controversial issue and it is important to seek out information to remain informed about the latest research, policy initiatives, and potential impacts to human communities and the natural environment.
Read more about the process behind climate change from the Union of Concerned Scientists and explore general information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NOAA, and the EPA, all recognized as global authorities on the issue.
Much of what we know about climate change is based on computer modeling and simulations. Like any other complex environmental process, climate change is likely to have different effects on biodiversity, the oceans, the forests, the coasts, and local weather patterns all over the world. For example, in the U.S., the Midwest and Southwest regions will likely become hotter and drier, while northern coastal areas may experience greater precipitation and Gulf States may experience more intense storms and hurricanes. These regional changes are difficult to predict, but will likely alter the landscape of the country noticeably within the coming decades.
- Modeling and mapping information from NASA and NOAA
- According to an article in the Huffington Post, some noticeable changes and predictions have already been realized on a local scale
- Treehugger compiles expected impacts in the U.S. Southeast
- A 2003 article explores trends in wildlife characteristics that can likely be attributed to climate change
- Key Findings in the latest report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program
Sea Level Rise
Rising sea levels have already been measured and have the potential to displace millions of people in cities, islands, and rural areas around the world. Melting ice caps, receding glaciers, and general thermal expansion are the driving forces behind our rising seas. Urban planners and security forces have been at work for years developing adaptation strategies that involve building coastal barriers, beach nourishment, reinforcing storm protection, and building farther from the coast.
- Maps of the U.S. and Washington D.C. and NOAA’s Digital Viewing tools
- Predictions and planning from the EPA
- Changes are noticed sooner than expected in many areas
Precipitation and heat are often at the forefront of our minds when we think of climate change. It only takes one chilly spring day for a co-worker to crack a joke along the lines of, “Climate change? Ha!” We know that changes in global mean temperature are rising slowly, but researchers do claim that while many areas will get hotter and drier, this is not universally the case. Precipitation changes will likely occur because hotter or colder temperatures determine how much moisture reenters the water cycle through evaporation. Without sufficient water, some landscapes may no longer support vegetation and the area can become a desert.
- Regional projects and reports from the UN Convention on Combating Desertification
- Science Daily writes about precipitation changes in the tropics
- Fresh water availability from the Climate Institute
- Read the latest blog information about desertification
Not only does carbon dioxide alter our atmospheres, but it also changes the chemistry of the ocean, leading to an overall acidification within the marine environment. Animals and plants are adapted to the delicate balance of elements and nutrients within the ocean, and chemical changes such as this can have large consequences and make it difficult for animals to live and grow.
- NSF and NOAA explain devastating effects on coral reefs such as bleaching events and Oceana works to raise awareness about the issue
- Fisheries are affected, and individual fish have trouble smelling, grow more slowly and have fewer offspring
- Shellfish depend on calcium to grow, with significant predicted impacts on aquaculture due to acidification
- More information on ocean acidification and marine life
Animals and plants take their cues from nature when it comes to knowing when to fly south, when to flee a wildfire, when to stock up on food for the winter, and where to find water. Even small changes can have huge ecological ramifications such as species expanding their ranges, living higher up in the mountains, invasive species pushing out native ones, or animals having to change what they eat because their traditional prey is no longer available. The trouble is that human development and pollution have already limited the places that plants and animal communities can thrive, and if a changing environment further displaces them, they will not be as resilient to the altered conditions as they have in past centuries.
- The IPCC provides an extensive list of predicted impacts on wildlife and ecosystems at each temperature
- Read about the impacts of beetles, invasive species, changing fisheries, arctic animals, migratory birds, and others from the Climate Institute
- Climate and wildlife from the USGS
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife work to conserve species and implement their climate change Strategic Plan
- Check out WWF’s climate change advocacy work and blog and the regional resources from the U.S. Global Change Research Program
Climate change is a significant arising threat to national security and human health around the world. Not only must communities struggle for access to water rights and agricultural land, but will also have to fend off new and emerging diseases from insects and viruses that may colonize new areas become more problematic in many regions with little access to health care. In wealthy, developed nations, projected impacts include a rise in heat-related conditions and damages from natural disasters.
- The U.S. Global Change Research Program outlines impacts to human health such as heat stroke and viral-borne diseases that are expected to increase
- The Climate Institute tracks and projects the prevalence of diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, hantavirus, and lyme disease in addition to the societal impacts of natural disasters such as floods and fires
- World Health Organization projects on community adaptation and preparation
- Climate prospective from the New England Journal of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, and the Center for Disease Control
Policy and Legislative Frameworks
Climate change is difficult to address through legislation because it is simultaneously a global and local problem that is steeped in economics, politics, and contentious international relations. However, governments and organizations around the world have united in efforts to minimize the impacts and build resilient communities ready to adapt.
- Domestic policies and initiatives according to the EPA, with regional and local projects in your state
- International efforts by the European Commission, the UN Convention, and COP15
- Read about the crucial role of science in policy decisions.
- Climate and Energy from the World Resources Institute, including projects to bolster growing economies and support microfinance efforts to secure food and water
The study of climate is a well-established academic field dating back to the exciting days of documenting atmospheric composition and studying weather patterns in hurricane chasers. These days, you can become an expert in countless different topics relating to climate change, such as paleobiology, marine science, historical meteorology, international negotiation, resource economics, or biogeochemistry. Check out some of the programs listed below for some inspiration.
- Climate Science at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
- Climate and Society at Columbia University offers an applied perspective on the social impacts of climate change
- MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute prestigious partnership in marine science
- Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences at Princeton University
- Diverse earth science graduate research programs at Yale University
Women: Science, Communication, and Climate Advocacy
While the future impacts of climate change are difficult to predict, one thing is certain: there are many threats that are specific to women. In many cultures around the world, women are responsible for gathering food and being family caregivers. In the face of food shortages and changing agricultural patterns, women should be prepared to integrate their traditional customs with new ways of finding clean water, sufficient food, and combating arising diseases. Read below to learn about organizations highlighting women’s prominent role in climate change.
- UNFPA and WEDO promote education and encourage women to be advocates for environmental issues with a focus on Rio Conventions
- Post on Women and Climate Change from Care
- NGOs talking about the Subcommittee on Women and Climate Change
- DAWN advocates for women participating in climate negotiations relevant to agriculture
- Women’s Environment & Development Organization on their National Climate Change Advocacy Project
- Science writer Sheril Kirshenbaum on science, climate, and women’s issues
In the Media and Further Reading
- NPR’s suggested climate change reading list
- Compilation of websites from NASA
- The Council on Foreign Affairs suggested literature
- Center for American Progress on China and climate change
- Mike Hulme writes in Why We Disagree
- Chris Mooney presents climate change complexities in Storm World
- New York Times explains Ocean Acidification
- The Economist presents the challenges of climate change and the media
While climate change is a slow process, researchers and institutions are talking about it all the time. Stay knowledgeable about the latest models, predictions, and impacts.
- Follow NOAA’s National Climate Data Center RSS Feed
- Read the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions Blog
- Calculate your own Carbon Footprint with the EPA
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