Understanding Climate Change

Let’s think warm thoughts. Let’s think childhood summers, when we ran around barefoot, caught fireflies, went swimming and maybe tried camping out—maybe some of us still do these things. Maybe we didn’t realize it as children but all these activities depend on a healthy environment. You don’t have to love hiking or rafting or learning about types of trees to love the environment. You could simply like to take a walk during your lunch break or enjoy birds on your walk home from the train.

Recently words like ‘sustainability,’ ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ and ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ are thrown around so often that I wonder, for instance, how many know that climate and weather are not interchangeable. The reason we refer to ‘climate change’ as climate change is because patterns in weather changed over a long period of time, about 50 years. For instance, the summer of 2012 in Wisconsin was ridiculously hot with very little rain—great summer to be biking to a gardening internship. This was an odd weather pattern. This past summer was unusually cold, again odd weather. When these patterns become more common they can be used to help explain the climate of a region.

These strange patterns are linked to ‘global warming’ due to an abundance of ‘greenhouse gas emissions.’ Global warming does not mean that everywhere in the world is going to heat up, in some places it might even get colder. Among other contributors, global warming is the result of people adding too much carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. Yes, global warming is not a natural phenomenon, but caused by the habits and actions of people. This addition of carbon dioxide results in more heat trapped between the surface of the Earth and the atmosphere (I apologize for getting technical here, please post if something is unclear).

‘Greenhouse gas emissions’ are the result of the burning of such gases as carbon dioxide, (the most widely used and concentrated gas), methane and nitrogen. The emissions from our cars, power plants, buildings, livestock, etc create this ‘greenhouse’ effect. The trapping of these gases, like I mentioned before, heats up the earth like an unnatural greenhouse. When the gases are trapped, along the heat from the sun, it warms the earth, melts the ice, messes with climates and creates the issues that change the way we have to live.

In other words, individually we have to cut our own carbon emissions in order to live more ‘sustainably.’ This doesn’t mean you have to give up your car forever or only eat foods that come from within 25 miles of your home year round; this is unreasonable. If we’re ever going to make a difference we have to start smaller. Even if all meat eaters ate beef only once a week that would be a huge improvement. Likewise, if everyone with cars used them fives times a week that would reduce about 1,600 pounds of carbon emissions per week per person according to the EPA.

The point is that you don’t have to change your life completely in order to reduce how much you contribute to global warming. For instance, I always use reusable bags when I go to the grocery store and I never buy coffee or tea unless I have my reusable mug with me (by the way, both of those make great gifts). These are easy ways to cut down on pointless trash. The good news is that these are easy changes we can make in our everyday lives. Making simple changes will bring more fireflies and simple summer nights for future generations.

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