What is Climate Change?
and Why is it so Important?

Climate change is one of the transcendent environmental issues of our time. Global warming has the potential to exacerbate nearly every other environmental problem- including water and air pollution, biodiversity loss, and coastal erosion. Moreover, the measures we must take to reduce it, including improving energy efficiency, moving towards renewable sources of energy and away from fossil fuels, and preserving our natural forests, would be large steps towards solving many other critical ecological predicaments.

Human activities, especially the increased combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation, are changing the climate as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, trapping more heat close to the Earth's surface. The 1990's were the warmest decade of the last 1,000 years. Scientists estimate that over this century, the globe's temperature will increase by a further 2-6 degrees F., leading to more heat waves, floods and droughts, likely sea level rise, and many adverse effects on human health and ecosystems.

The rise in the duration and frequency of heat waves is expected to lead to increased human mortality rates, especially in developing countries where air conditioning is not widely available. Global warming is also projected to cause the spread of many infectious diseases, including malaria, dengue, and yellow fever, beyond their current ranges. While the United States and other developed countries may be able to withstand these developments because of their extensive public health infrastructure, developing countries without widespread and available health care systems may be hard hit. Agricultural production may decline in many regions, particularly in already arid zones of the subtropical and tropical world. With increased sea level rise and storm surges, many densely settled areas will be threatened with flooding, with the number of people whose land may be at risk of inundation approaching 100 million.

The rate and magnitude of climate change also represent a threat to some vulnerable ecosystems that are unable to adapt quickly. This is because the rate of warming, predicted to be faster than any occurring in the last 10,000 years, may outstrip the speed at which these ecosystems can adapt. In addition, in many cases human impacts will impede the ability of ecosystems to adapt. For example, in areas where sea walls are built to protect real estate from rising sea levels, coastal wetlands will be unable to shift inland and will be lost. Other types of vulnerable ecosystems include high alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains that may be lost to encroaching high-elevation forests, and barrier islands that may be lost to rising sea levels. (For more information on the science and expected impacts of global warming, see Common Questions About Climate Change, published by UNEP and WMO.)

This web site is devoted to offering you the tools you need to lessen your contribution to global warming as an individual, an employee, a business owner, or a consumer. It features simple strategies you can use at home and on the job to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and shrink your carbon footprint. It also suggests ways to offset your greenhouse gas emissions through cost-effective actions like planting trees and preserving forests. Join the SafeClimate community - we'll show you how easy it can be.

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