Climate Science and Solutions

Over the past 800,000 years, carbon dioxide (CO2) and surface temperatures on Earth have remained at patterned and reliable levels. Now, mostly due to large-scale human fossil fuel use, atmospheric CO2 levels have surpassed historic levels, exceeding 400 parts per million (ppm). Because CO2 levels and temperature correlate, our world is already measurably warmer, and that is making hurricanes, floods, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires worse. Meanwhile, the CO2 dissolving into our oceans is killing coral reefs. The climate situation is already bad– people are already getting hurt– and unless we get CO2 concentrations back below 350ppm, things are going to get a lot worse.

Let’s take a step back. Here are the basics you need to know:

  • Weather is short-term. Think: how might the temperature, humidity, precipitation, clouds, visibility, and wind change in the next hour, day, or week?
  • Climate is long-term. Climate is the weather in a certain area averaged over a long period of time (30+ years), in which we can observe large-scale trends and changes.
    • What’s the difference? Think: climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.
  • Greenhouse Gases trap heat in our atmosphere. These include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide, among others. Without them, our planet would be substantially colder and would not support the ecosystems we know today.
  • Fossil Fuels are formed when organic carbon from ancient plants and animals is buried, heated, and compressed under high pressures over hundreds of millions of years in Earth’s crust. The burning of fossil fuels releases the stored carbon back to the atmosphere and increases the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere to more than we need, trapping more heat and warming up our planet.

And what kind of changes are we seeing?

  • Global temperature has increased 1.7F (0.9C) since 1880.
  • Arctic sea ice minimum has decreased 13.3% per decade since 1979 (when satellite records began). Note: ‘minimum’ means the extent of Arctic sea ice in September, when the ice levels are at their lowest.
  • Land ice has decreased 286 gigatonnes per year since 2002. Note: land ice means ice sheets (Greenland and Antarctica) plus glaciers.
  • Global average sea level has increased 7 inches (178 mm) over the past 100 years.
  • Want to learn more? Check out NASA’s Global Climate Change page on Vital Signs of the Planet.

 

Still Not Convinced?

More than 97% of scientists agree: Over the past century, the earth has been warming at an alarming rate, that is extremely likely due to the increased prevalence of CO2 caused by human activities.  Climate deniers report that there is still disagreement in this regard. Here’s a graph showing the what disagreement looks like. We call that consensus. After all, if 97 out of 100 doctors declared you had a major health issue, wouldn’t you believe them? You can learn more about this consensus from our friends at NASA.

What’s The Deal With 2°C?

16 of the 17 warmest years in the 136-year record have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998.

Scientists warn that global surface temperature rise should remain under 2°C. Among other issues, increasing global temperatures are causing glaciers to melt at a rapid pace. This rapid melting is adding more water and heavy ice chunks into our ocean, which contributes to sea level rise. An increase in sea level means disrupted weather cycles, and yes, shorter, less reliable ski seasons.

  • Sea level is rising 3.4 mm per year.
  • Oceans are predicted to rise 2-7 feet by the end of the century.

 

How Temperature Has Changed in Each Country Since 1900

 

Human-caused greenhouse gases mostly come from burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, and other industry activities. While fossil fuels have been helpful in global development for hundreds of years, it is now evident that the resulting emissions are a major problem. If we’re serious about climate change and avoiding serious warming, we must decrease our fossil fuel dependence and transition to clean energy sources.

This doesn’t mean we have to freeze in the dark or deprive developing nations of electricity, sanitation, and economic growth. But it does require a global commitment to clean technology and energy efficiency.

Here’s how the U.S. gets its energy:

 

The outdoor industry is responsible for 7.6 million jobs and $887 billion in annual consumer spending. The winter sports community alone generates $72 billion per year and supports 694,918 jobs. This massive sector of the U.S. economy generates more in consumer spending than the fossil fuel industry, and the snowsports industry alone employs more people than extractive industries in the United States.

Here’s the problem: climate change is threatening winter as we know it.  In the last decade, we have begun to see and feel climate change’s devastating impacts. Ski seasons are becoming shorter, more extreme, and less reliable. In addition to affecting snow conditions, abnormal weather patterns have increased drought, flooding, and extreme heat across the globe — none of which contribute to a thriving outdoor economy.

Here’s what to expect if we continue on our current trajectory:

The technology for clean, renewable energy is here, today. Embracing clean energy sources to address global climate change will drive innovation, create long term jobs, and improve our health and air quality. Globally, clean energy growth is outpacing fossil fuels. This widening gap will reduce electricity costs and make renewable energy more widely available.

Here at Protect Our Winters, our goal is to advocate for climate solutions that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Our Policy Agenda focuses on three main areas: set an economy-wide price on carbon, transition to a clean energy economy by investing in solar energy, and utilize innovative transit solutions to minimize emissions from the transportation sector. While we recognize there are many solutions, our community has chosen these three positive ways to combat climate change.

Fired up? Want to take action? Visit POW’s Climate Activist Roadmap to get started. Need further reading? Check out our top climate change book picks on our reading list.

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