climate science

Understanding climate change, even if you're not a scientist

A catchphrase has cropped up in discussions about climate change: “I’m not a scientist…”

You hear it from some elected leaders opposed to taking action to reduce climate risks. It’s usually followed by an argument that climate science is too hard to understand or there’s not enough information that climate change is a serious problem.

With this in mind, we’ve revamped our Science and Impacts webpages to ensure we’re providing understandable, up-to-date climate science information so that anyone can connect the choices we make in producing and consuming energy to the risks of climate impacts.

We started with The Basics, explaining the fundamentals of how and why the Earth is warming, the influence of human activity, and the impacts occurring as a result of warming. We draw on the latest information available, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report and National Climate Assessment.

We answer frequently asked questions about climate change and address the most common arguments against taking action to reduce emissions. We tackle the supposed slowdown in warming, explain the risks and damage of a warmer climate, and put to rest the myth that scientists don’t agree on climate change.

We map the most expensive extreme weather events since 2000 and detail how some events, including hurricanes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation, are connected to climate change. We also note that the connection between climate change and tornadoes is still uncertain and represents an important area of research.

To make climate science more accessible, we’ve also rebooted our Kids Corner.

The new page explains some of the simple physics behind the greenhouse effect, the ways climate change has been affecting the planet, and actions that we can all take to combat global warming

We hope this information helps you make informed choices about your own energy-consuming habits, as well as the big climate issues facing the nation and the world. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the basics of climate change – or to do something about it.

The State of the Climate

As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address, we believe it’s a good time to take a look at the state of our climate: the growing impacts of climate change, recent progress in reducing U.S. emissions, and further steps we can take to protect the climate and ourselves.

The consequences of rising emissions are serious. The U.S. average temperature has increased by about 1.5°F since 1895 with 80 percent of this increase occurring since 1980, according to the draft National Climate Assessment. Greenhouse gases could raise temperatures 2° to 4°F in most areas of the United States over the next few decades, bringing significant changes to local climates and ecosystems.

Getting clear on climate facts

With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) poised to release its Fifth Assessment of the science underpinning our understanding of climate change, it’s useful to take a step back and recap some of the “big picture” facts.

What is already clear from the science:

  • Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases act to warm the planet.
  • Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere due to emissions from human activities.
  • The Earth has been warming during the past century. The amount and speed of the warming is unusual compared to past records.
  • Humans’ emissions of greenhouse gases are largely responsible for this warming.
  • If emission rates continue, the warming in the 21st century will be much more significant than the warming in the previous century.
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