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Climate Change Facts: Answers to Common Questions

This page answers some of the most commonly asked questions about climate change and its
impacts. Explore more questions using our Frequently Asked Questions Database.
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Is there a scientific consensus on climate change?
The major scientific agencies of the United States including the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) agree
that climate change is occurring and that humans are contributing to it. In 2010, the National
Research Council concluded that "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human
activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems". [1] Many
independent scientific organizations have released similar statements, both in the United States and
abroad. This doesn't necessarily mean that every scientist sees eye to eye on each component of the
climate change problem, but broad agreement exists that climate change is happening and is
primarily caused by excess greenhouse gases from human activities.

Scientists are still researching a number of important questions, including exactly how much Earth
will warm, how quickly it will warm, and what the consequences of the warming will be in specific
regions of the world. Scientists continue to research these questions so society can be better
informed about how to plan for a changing climate. However, enough certainty exists about basic
causes and effects of climate change to justify taking actions that reduce future risks.

Learn more about climate change science.

What is the evidence that proves the climate is changing?
The global average temperature increased by more than 1.4F over the last century. [2] In fact,
according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the decade from 2000 to
2010 was the warmest on record, and 2010 was tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record. [3]
Rising global temperatures have also been accompanied by other changes in weather and climate.
Many places have experienced changes in rainfall resulting in more intense rain, as well as more
frequent and severe heat waves. The planet's oceans and glaciers have also experienced changes:
oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. [4] All
of these changes are evidence that our world is getting warmer.

Learn more about the indicators of climate change.


Are human activities or natural variations in climate responsible for the climate change being
observed today?
The Earth does go through natural cycles of warming and cooling, caused by factors such as changes
in the sun or volcanic activity. This has been closely examined, and the warming we have seen in the
past 50 years cannot be explained by natural factors alone. [5] This figure illustrates one piece of
evidence that shows that recent global warming is primarily a result of greenhouse gas emissions
from human activities.

Learn more about the causes of climate change.

View enlarged image

This figure shows the observed average global temperatures from 1900 to 2000 (black line) along
with the temperature ranges predicted by climate models. The blue band shows the expected
temperature range based on climate models that account only for natural forces. The pink band
represents the temperature range predicted by climate models that also include emissions of
greenhouse gases from human activities. The recent increase in average global temperatures aligns
with the predicted temperatures from the model that includes the greenhouse gas emission.
Source: USGRCP 2009
Is climate change influenced more by human activities and excess greenhouse gases or changes in
the sun's energy?
The sun has natural periods of warming and cooling. With satellites, scientists have measured
fluctuations in the sun's energy and found that these recent variations have been small in
comparison to human influences in the last several centuries, with no increase in solar energy in the
past 50 years. [2] Thus, changes in the sun's energy cannot explain the warming we have seen over
the past several decades. In contrast, the warming we are observing is consistent with the warming
properties of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that we are adding to the atmosphere.

Learn more about the causes of climate change.

Learn more about greenhouse gases.

How can carbon dioxide hurt us?

Carbon dioxide is a necessary ingredient for plants to perform photosynthesis, and a critical
component of our atmosphere. However, you can have too much of a good thing. The excess carbon
dioxide we are adding to the atmosphere increases global temperatures, leading to climate changes
that can harm plants, animals, and humans.

Learn more about the impacts of climate change on society and ecosystems
How can a change of one or two degrees in global average temperatures have an impact on our
Changing the average global temperature by even a degree or two can lead to serious consequences
around the globe. For about every 2F of warming, we can expect to see

515% reductions in the yields of crops as currently grown

310% increases in the amount of rain falling during the heaviest precipitation
events, which can increase flooding risks

510% decreases in stream flow in some river basins, including the Arkansas
and the Rio Grande

200%400% increases in the area burned by wildfire in parts of the western

United States [6]

Global average temperatures have increased more than 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 100
years. [2] Many of the extreme precipitation and heat events that we have seen in recent years are
consistent with what we would expect given this amount of warming. [5] Scientists project that Earth's
average temperatures will rise between 2 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. [1]

Learn more about the future of climate change.

Do a few extra cold or snowy winters in your hometown mean that climate change is not happening?
A few extra cold or snowy winters in your hometown doesn't mean that global warming isn't
happening. We know thatglobal average temperatures are rising. However, even with this global
warming, at the local or regional level, we can expect to have some colder-than-average seasons or
even colder-than-average years. For example, in the Eastern United States, the winters of 2010 and
2011 were colder than the average winters from the previous decades. In fact, extra snowy winters
can be expected. In a warmer climate, more water vapor is held in the atmosphere causing more
intense rain and snow storms. As the climate warms, we do expect the duration of the snow season
to decrease however, as long as it is still cold enough to snow, a warming climate can lead to
bigger snowstorms. [5]

Learn more about weather and climate.

How does water vapor in our atmosphere contribute to global warming?
Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause Earth
to warm. Warmer temperatures increase the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Because
water vapor is a greenhouse gas this leads to even further warming. In this way, water vapor actually
magnifies the warming caused by excess carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. [5]

Learn more about the causes of climate change.

Do emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities have a big impact on Earth's climate?
Plants, oceans, and soils release and absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide as a part of the
Earth's natural carbon cycle. These natural emissions and absorptions of carbon dioxide on average
balance out over time. However, the carbon dioxide from human activities is not part of this natural
balance. Ice core measurements reveal that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than
they have been for at least 800,000 years. [5] The global warming that has been observed in recent
decades was caused by elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere, due primarily to human activities. [1]

Learn more about the recent role of the greenhouse effect.

In the past, has Earth been warmer than it is today? If so, does that mean we shouldn't worry about
global warming?
There were times in the distant past when Earth was warmer than it is now. However, human
societies have developed and thrived during the relatively stable climate that has existed since the
last ice age. Due to excess carbon dioxide pollution, the climate is no longer stable and is instead
projected to change faster than at any other time in human history. This rapid climate change will
expose people to serious risks. Sea level rise, increasing droughts and wildfires in some regions and
increasing flooding in others, more heat waves, and other effects of climate change all pose risks to
human health, infrastructure critical to our homes, roads, and cities, and the ecosystems that
support us. [5]

Learn more about the impacts of climate change on society and ecosystems.
Is the hole in the ozone layer related to the climate change we are seeing today?

The ozone hole and climate change are essentially two separate issues. The "ozone hole" refers to
the destruction of a layer of ozone molecules found high in Earth's atmosphere. When healthy, this
ozone layer helps to shield Earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. The ozone layer has
become thinner because of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons that were once commonly used in
products ranging from spray cans to foam furniture cushions. A thinner ozone layer allows more
ultraviolet rays to reach Earth, increasing the risk to humans from skin cancer, cataracts, and other
health impacts. This, however, has only minor effects on climate change.

Learn more about the science of stratospheric ozone depletion.

Will a small rise in sea level affect people (even in the United States)?
A small rise in sea level will affect many people, even in the United States. The amount of sea level
rise expected to occur as a result of climate change will increase the risk of coastal flooding for
millions to hundreds of millions of people around the world, many of whom would have to
permanently leave their homes. [7] Global sea level has risen approximately 9 inches, on average, in
the last 140 years. [4] This has already put some coastal homes, beaches, roads, bridges, and wildlife
at risk. [5] By the year 2100, sea level is expected to rise another 1.5 to 3 feet. [6] Rising seas will make
coastal storms and the associated storm surges more frequent and destructive. For example, in New
York City what is currently termed a once-in-a-century coastal flooding event could occur as
frequently as once per decade. [5]

Learn more about the impacts of climate change on coastal areas.

Are the temperature records showing global warming is happening reliable?
Multiple temperature records from all over the world have all shown a warming trend, and these
records have been deemed reliable by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),
and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among others. [8] Other
observations that point to higher global temperature includes: warmer oceans, melting arctic sea ice
and glaciers, sea level rise, increasing precipitation, and changing wind patterns. [4]

Learn more about climate change indicators.

Is it too late to do anything about climate change?
It is not too late to have a significant impact on future climate change and its effects on us. With
appropriate actions by governments, communities, individuals, and businesses, we can reduce the
amount of greenhouse gas pollution we release and lower the risk of much greater warming and
severe consequences. Many of the actions that we can take to address climate change will have other

benefits, such as cleaner, healthier air. In addition, communities can take action to prepare for the
changes we know are coming.

Learn more about adapting to climate change and what you can do to combat climate change.

How Much Do You Know About Climate Change?

1) The difference between climate and weather is that Earth's climate is the average condition in a
given place over many years, whereas, weather includes only the immediate conditions for a specific


2) The atmosphere is a relatively thin layer of gas that scientists divide into four sections based only
on chemical composition.


3) Greenhouse gases (GHGs) act like a blanket in the atmosphere, trapping heat and warming the


4) The following gases are not GHGs: nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), water vapor (H20) and
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).


5) Climate change refers only to the increasing temperature of the earth's surface.


6) Without the human race, GHGs would not exist.


7) Human-caused emissions of carbon come from both the burning of fossil fuels and from land-use
changes such as deforestation and land-clearing.


8) The majority of human-caused carbon emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels.


9) Climate change is predicted to greatly affect the natural resources (such as water) that people
depend on.


10) Individual actions, such as replacing all of your old light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent light
bulbs, will help reduce the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere.