If you think the weather is getting weirder and wilder than it used to be, you’re probably right. The reason why: climate change. Climate change is real. Climate scientists say greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, methane and other gases – are causing average temperatures to rise worldwide. These greenhouse gases act like a blanket wrapping the earth and trapping energy – heat – in the atmosphere.
Around the world, global warming is disrupting weather patterns and causing severe rainstorms, hurricanes, droughts and other extreme weather conditions. Scientists say this trend will continue and worsen unless action is taken to reduce the global use of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and industry.
It’s getting hot in here
In the last 100 years, average temperatures worldwide have increased about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. This increase may not seem large, but it has already had an enormous impact on weather and air quality worldwide. By examining tree rings, lake and marine sediment, ice cores and other data, scientists determined that the three decades from 1983 to 2012 were the warmest in the last 1,400 years. In the coming 100 years, temperatures could rise as much as another 11.5 degrees, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Examples of recent severe weather phenomena
Warmer than usual sea-surface temperatures helped fuel Hurricane Sandy in 2012, causing billions of dollars of destruction in the Northeast U.S. Abnormally severe rainstorms this year in the U.S., China and elsewhere were attributed to the effects of global warming. In late April some parts of Florida and Alabama received 11 inches of rain in one 24-hour period.
While some areas of the U.S. are receiving record rainfall, other areas are experiencing record droughts, including the Western states. Droughts, along with the hot temperatures and dry conditions that cause them, increase the frequency of wildfires.
Abnormal weather patterns affect air quality
These increasingly common occurrences of extreme weather can have a major impact on air quality and the health of those living in affected areas:
Pollen. Pollen from plants such as ragweed increase in the hot, soggy conditions associated with increased rainfall. Pollen seasons are becoming longer and pollen-producing plants are spreading geographically. Asthma and allergy sufferers are among those most affected.
Mold. The proliferation of mold growth in the wake of rainstorms and hurricanes is a major air quality concern. Hurricane Sandy flooded tens of thousands of homes and business in New Jersey, causing what mold inspectors said was the worst widespread mold problem they had ever seen.
Inversions. Earlier this year, Paris restricted cars from entering the city for five days in a row while an inversion trapped smog above the city. Authorities offered free public transportation to Parisians during the crisis in an effort to reduce pollution during the inversion.
Droughts and wildfires. In areas of drought, wildfires spread and choke the air with ash and particulates as well as gases. In Western regions of the U.S., several major wildfires have already occurred in 2014 as a result of hot weather and ongoing drought conditions.
How you can help combat global warming
Climate experts say only a major change in the way individuals consume energy will slow or stop the warming trend. The most important step a person can take to fight global warming is to reduce personal energy consumption. Here are some actions that can help:
- 1. Choose renewable energy. In many regions, consumers can choose energy suppliers that generate power from wind, solar and other clean sources. Check with your local power company for your options.
- 2. Drive less. Taking public transportation, carpooling, and walking or biking whenever possible will result in less pollution and fewer greenhouse gases as a result of your personal transportation.
- 3. Drive a high-mileage car. Hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars dramatically cut oil consumption and help reduce greenhouse gases. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates hybrid use over the next 10 years can cut global warming pollution by more than 350 million metric tons.
- 4. Weatherize your home or apartment. Heating and cooling a home or apartment consumes about 40% of all the energy used in a home. Weatherizing a home against drafts reduces energy usage by up to 20%.
- 5. Use the thermostat wisely. Reduce energy costs and cut greenhouse gas production by turning the thermostat up in summer (air conditioning) and down in winter (heating).
For more information on the causes of global warming and other steps you can take to help reduce it, visit the Natural Resources Defense Council online at www.nrdc.org/globalwarming.