The Science, Simply:
Climate change is a term that refers to major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer. Both human-made and natural factors contribute to climate change.
Human activities are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases is necessary for life to exist on Earth—they trap heat in the atmosphere, keeping the planet warm and in a state of equilibrium. But this natural greenhouse effect is being amplified as human activities (such as the combustion of fossil fuels) add more of these gases to the atmosphere, resulting in a shift in the Earth’s equilibrium in the same way that a penny will shift a scale in balance.
Although the Earth’s climate has changed many times throughout its history, the rapid warming seen today cannot be explained by natural processes alone. What is clear is that the Earth’s temperature and atmospheric carbon are linked: when one is high, so is the other.
Since the Industrial Revolution – in about the last 150 years – humans have impacted this natural rhythm. We’ve done this primarily by digging up long-buried carbon in the form of coal, oil and natural gas, and burning these fossil fuels – releasing this eons-old carbon into the atmosphere. Also, as our population has increased, methane from waste and agriculture has also increased dramatically. The result is that we have increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to the point where we are warming the globe faster than ever before and causing our climate to change. It’s important to note that the warming of the planet is not in question by the scientific community. And the cause–human combustion of fossil fuels–is accepted by 98% of climatologists and every independent scientific body on the planet.
Heat-trapping greenhouse gases are now at record-high levels in the atmosphere compared with the recent and distant past. (EPA, 2011)
So What Does This Mean For Us?
A particular year can experience record-breaking highs and lows in any given location, but, as a whole, the global climate continues to warm, following a 30-year-plus trend. And the ratio of record highs to record lows has increased from 1:1 (without warming) to 2:1 between 2000 and 2010, to 3:1 in 2011, meaning the dice are loaded for warmer weather events.
Overall, we’ll see shorter winter seasons with more precipitation in some regions, but unfortunately, with warmer temperatures, that precipitation will most likely be rain, especially at lower elevations. Skiing, as we know it is on borrowed time.
If the climate continues to warm and more moisture is deposited in the atmosphere, we’ll steadily see more loading of the dice, resulting in more extreme storms in all seasons. We’re already seeing more above normal weather events: tornadoes, rain, floods, fires, wind and snow. Extreme weather events are unavoidable, but a warmer climate–with more energy and more moisture in the atmosphere–means that many of these events will be more severe–the new “normal” in many areas of the globe.