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Scope of Science: Climate in a New Era

Crops shriveled to dust this summer while thermometers hit continuous triple digits in the Midwest and Southwest regions. Yet, what about the current “snowmageddon” occurring in our mountain regions, and record lows on the east coast?

Global warming is the all-encompassing term for what is happening to our planet today. As we increase the amount of anthropogenic pollutants in the air, we trap heat within our atmosphere. Yet, this seems contradictory if the weather channel reports on freezing temperatures and cold fronts nationwide.

What defines global warming is climate, not weather. Weather is what we see on a 10-day forecast, what dictates the clothes we wear, and if our flight will be delayed. Climate, on the other hand, is a compilation of weather over a minimum time span of 30 years. This provides a baseline to compare historical climate patterns, and gives an overall picture of what the weather has been doing for three or more decades.

Numerous reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that the facts are undeniable: our climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. Scientists now examine ice cores that date back 400,000 years, which serve as “atmospheric fossils” after having trapped small air bubbles under layers of snow and ice. This historical data shows a global trend of increasing climate temperatures when compared to pre-industrial eras. Although natural events like the solar cycle alter climate, these occurrences alone cannot account for the rate of change that scientists see today.

The average global temperature is still increasing despite the cold winters we experience. The atmosphere is unable to let heat escape due to an increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and VOC’s that are released during many industrial processes. Once these gases enter the troposphere and stratosphere, heat is trapped close to the surface of the earth.

Earthjustice continues to push for strict regulations on power plants and cement kilns, two mega-producers of greenhouse gases. Learn more about the latest victories that promote stringent requirements for air standards and emissions.