To help more kids better understand global warming, we collaborated with Nickelodeon to research children's and parents' attitudes and behaviors toward the environment.
There's a lot you can learn about global warming. To help, this page provides answers to six key questions about global warming, how it occurs, and how you can help to stop the process. For more tips on actions people can take, visit our What You Can Do page.
You can also explore other kid-oriented sites from the list on this page.
- Do scientists agree about global warming?
- What is causing global warming?
- What is the difference between "global warming" and "climate change?"
- What will happen if global warming continues?
- What is being done about global warming?
- What can I do about global warming?
Do scientists agree about global warming?
Scientists who study the climate are still arguing about how fast the earth is warming and how much it will warm, but they do agree that the earth is warming and that it will keep warming if we don’t do anything about it.
What is causing global warming?
Scientists agree that the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal cause greenhouse gases to escape into the air and that these gases are causing most of the warming. Another cause is deforestation (cutting down trees). Trees soak up carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases, from the air.
What is the difference between "global warming" and "climate change?"
"Global warming" refers to the increase of the Earth's average surface temperature, due to a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. "Climate change" is a broader term that refers to long-term changes in climate, including average temperature and precipitation.
What will happen if global warming continues?
There are already some changes happening because of global warming. Sea level is rising and some animals are already moving to new homes. It’s already too late to stop global warming completely.
If the warming gets worse, as scientists expect, there may be some kinds of plants and animals that become extinct (disappear completely) because they can’t move to new homes. There may be more storms and floods. Sea level may rise so much that people have to move away from the coasts. Some areas may become too dry for farming.
What is being done about global warming?
Global warming is a very difficult problem to fix. People are having a hard time agreeing on what to do about it. For example, everyone agrees that wasting energy is a bad thing to do. But some people think that the federal government should make laws about it, while other people think it should be up to each person or business to decide what to do.
Many states and businesses in the United States are not waiting until the federal government decides what to do. They have already started working on the problem.
What can I do about global warming?
You don’t have to wait until you are grown to do something about global warming. Scientists agree that the burning of fossil fuels is causing global warming. Since these fuels are burned for energy, and everyone uses energy, everyone can help stop global warming just by using less energy.
Think about the things you do each day that use energy. The lights in your house use electricity. The TV and computer use electricity. The washing machine, dishwasher and dryer all use gas or electricity. Every time you ride in your car, it uses gasoline.
There are some simple things that you can do to help stop global warming:
Wait until you have a lot of clothes to wash before using the washing machine. Don’t use the machine for one item just because it’s your favorite shirt.
Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Use fluorescent bulbs in your room.
Turn off your computer or the TV when you’re not using it. Unplug chargers when not in use.
Close the blinds on a hot day if the sun is shining in. Dress lightly instead of turning up the air conditioning. Or use a fan.
Dress warmly inside your house when it’s cold, instead of turning up the heat.
Bike or walk short distances instead of asking for a ride in a car.
Plant a tree.
Take shorter showers. Heating water uses energy.
Learn more about global warming so you can talk to people about it. See: Could it really happen?
For more tips, click here.
What is the IPCC and why is it important?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific review of the current state of knowledge on climate change.
Thousands of scientists from all over the world volunteer and are selected to review and assess the latest relevant scientific, technical and socio-economic data to understand climate change, its potential impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC aims to reflect a range of views and expertise in order to publish comprehensive and objective assessments.
The IPCC does not conduct independent research, rather it convenes climate experts from around the world every five to seven years to synthesize the latest climate research findings in peer-reviewed and published scientific/technical literature. The IPCC issued comprehensive assessments in 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007.
IPCC reports are never policy prescriptive but the conclusions are relevant to nations, states, and businesses interested in enacting policies to limit future warming and reduce the costs of climate change.
What is the Fifth Assessment report?
The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is the latest in a series of reports from the IPCC assessing scientific, technical, and socio-economic information regarding climate change. It will be released in three installments over the course of 2013 and 2014, and an additional synthesis report will be published in October 2014.
More than 830 scientists are involved in writing the reports and hundreds more will review and edit the draft reports.
AR5 will comprise three sections, or working groups:
- Working Group I provides a comprehensive assessment of the physical science basis of climate change: Released Sept. 27, 2013
- Working Group II assesses the scientific, technical, environmental, economic and social aspects of vulnerability to climate change as well as consequences for ecological systems, socio-economic sectors and human health: Release date March 31, 2014
- Working Group III assesses all relevant options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and taking actions to remove them from the atmosphere: Release date April 11, 2014
The syntheses report is scheduled to be released Oct. 31, 2014
Each working group report has a Summary for Policymakers that distills the key points from the hundreds of pages found in the respective full report. The Summary for Policymakers tend to be of most interest to the media and non-scientists.
What are the key points in the IPCC Working Group I Summary for Policymakers?
The Summary for Policymakers (SPM) includes the key conclusions from the longer report in a format suitable for a broader audience. The SPM will include observations of changes in the atmosphere, ocean, and cryosphere, including changes in sea level. It will also discuss our confidence in attributing climate change to human activities. The SPM will also include projections of global and regional climate change for the 21st century, including projected changes in the water cycle, extreme weather, sea level, sea ice, and the carbon cycle.
It answers such questions as:
- What is the state of the science in understanding and attributing climate changes?
- What are the primary drivers of climate change?
- How do recent changes compare to paleoclimatic records?
- In what ways is climate change is already occurring around the globe and how fast are these systems changing?
- What are models projecting for the 21st century climate and how accurate are they?
- Which types of climate changes might be irreversible?
What are the key points in the IPCC Working Group II Summary for Policymakers?
The IPCC Working Group II Summary for Policymakers (WGII SPM) includes important statements and conclusions from the WGII report and is aimed at a broader audience. The WGII SPM is divided into three sections: 1. Observed Impacts, Vulnerability, and Adaptation in a Complex and Changing World; 2. Future Risks and Opportunities for Adaptation; and 3. Managing Future Risks and Building Resilience.
The WGII SPM answers such questions as:
- What climate-related impacts are already being observed today?
- What are the key future risks in areas such as water resources, coastal and marine systems, food security, human health, security, and economic growth?
- Which groups of people are the most vulnerable?
- What kind of adaptation actions have already been undertaken and which actions could be taken to reduce these future risks?
- How can adaptation decisions be made when the future is uncertain?
- What constitutes effective adaptation action and climate-resilient development?
IPCC AR4 WGII: "Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability"
The second installment to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report was released April 6, 2007. The Working Group II installment to the report addresses "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability". The WGII report provides a detailed analysis of observed changes in natural and human systems and the relationship between those observed changes and climate change, as well as a detailed assessment of projected future vulnerability, impacts, and response measures to adapt to climatic changes for main sectors and regions.
According to the IPCC, the report from Working Group II on the impacts of climate change answers the following questions:
- What is the current state of knowledge on impacts of climate change?
- What is the state of knowledge on impacts under different levels of adaptation?
- What are the impacts under different levels of mitigation?
- What is the state of knowledge concerning observed effects?
IPCC AR4 WGI: "The Physical Science of Climate Change"
The first installment to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report was released February 2, 2007. According to the IPCC, the Working Group I Report, "The Physical Science Basis", assesses the current state of knowledge about the natural and human drivers of climate change, reflecting the progress of the climate change science in the observation of the atmosphere, the Earth's surface and oceans. It provides a paleoclimatic perspective and evaluates the Earth's surface and oceans. Main topics include changes in atmospheric composition, observation of various climate parameters, coupling between changes in climate and biogeochemistry, evaluation of models and attribution of climate change.
Working Group I Report, "The physical science basis", assesses the current state of knowledge about the natural and human drivers of climate change, reflecting the progress of the climate change science in the observation of the atmosphere, the Earth's surface and oceans. It provides a paleoclimatic perspective and evaluates future projections of climate change. Main topics include changes in atmospheric composition, observation of various climate parameters, coupling between changes in climate and biogeochemistry, evaluation of models and attribution of climate change..
According to the IPCC, the report from Working Group I on the science of climate change answers the following questions:
- What progress has been made in understanding and attributing climate change?
- What do observations of the atmosphere, oceans, sea level, snow and ice tell us?
- How has climate been behaving in the last hundreds of thousands of years?
- Which are the projections of future changes?
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Releases New Assessment Report on the Impacts of Climate Change
Statement by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
April 6, 2007
The IPCC Fourth Assessment “Summary for Policymakers” Working Group II report represents the IPCC’s strongest statement to date on the impacts of global climate change. Because of a dramatic increase in the number and quality of observations, this report concludes that, “it is likely [better than 2:1 odds] that anthropogenic warming has had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems.” The report also projects with greater confidence than in the past that many regions, including North America, will experience severe impacts in the future, even for moderate warming scenarios. Particularly vulnerable are low-lying coastal regions worldwide. Many poor countries at low latitudes are also particularly vulnerable because of a combination of strong climate impacts, low capacity for adaptation, and heavy reliance on climate-impacted resources, such as local food and water supplies.
The assessment is based on extensive published, peer-reviewed scientific literature. Today’s report is the second of three major studies that comprise the Fourth Assessment with input from more than 1,200 authors and 2,500 scientific expert reviewers from more than 130 countries. The first report, released in February 2007, examined the physical science basis for climate change. The third report, to be released in May 2007, will explore the solutions to global climate change, particularly options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Statement by Eileen Claussen, President Pew Center on Global Climate Change
April 6, 2007
This week began with a landmark decision by the US Supreme Court and ended with the release of the IPCC's 4th Assessment on climate change impacts. Following the Supreme Court's decision, it's clear that EPA has the authority – and should -- regulate CO2, and the IPCC report delivered the strongest statement to date on the consequences of climate change. Taken together with increasing calls from CEOs, states, and the public, the message is loud and clear: Read our lips - We need mandatory climate policy in the United States.
This figure shows emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by fuel source across all sectors of the economy. The fuels shown are coal, natural gas, petroleum, as well as the total emissions.
Overall, coal and petroleum consumption are down since 2007, while natural gas use has increased. In the electric power sector, natural gas, which emits about half the amount of CO2 as coal, is being used more extensively due to its lower price. In the transportation sector, petroleum consumption is down due to an increase in car and light truck fuel economy (for a similar number of vehicle miles traveled, year-on-year). Correspondingly, total emissions have declined since 2007.
Source: EIA (2012)
This figure shows the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels for electric power generation. The electricity-generating fuels shown here are coal, natural gas, petroleum and non-biomass waste. Natural gas, which emits about half the amount of CO2 as coal, is being used more extensively due to its lower price and displacing coal-fired generation, while petroleum-fired electricity generation continues to be retired.
Source: EIA (2012)
This figure shows the trend in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2010. Emissions increased by 10.5 percent between 1990 and 2010.
Greenhouse gas emissions declined in 2008 and 2009 for two main reasons:
- A larger share of electricity was generated with natural gas (and to a much lesser extent renewable energy). This offset coal-fired electricity generation, which emits about two times the amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) as natural gas-fired electricity generation per unit of electric energy.
- Economic activity decreased during the Great Recession, which ran from December 2007 until June 2009.
Emissions increased 3.1 percent from 2009 to 2010, as economic growth returned to the United States.
Source: Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2010 (EPA 2012)
In 2010, the United States emitted over 6.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases (CO2e). Greenhouse gases are emitted by all sectors of the economy, including electric power (34% of total), transportation (27%), industry (21%), residential & commercial (11%), and agriculture (7%).
Source: Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2010 (EPA 2012)