Climate includes patterns of temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind and seasons. "Climate change" affects more than just a change in the weather, it refers to seasonal changes over a long period of time. These climate patterns play a fundamental role in shaping natural ecosystems, and the human economies and cultures that depend on them.
Because so many systems are tied to climate, a change in climate can affect many related aspects of where and how people, plants and animals live, such as food production, availability and use of water, and health risks.
For example, a change in the usual timing of rains or temperatures can affect when plants bloom and set fruit, when insects hatch or when streams are their fullest. This can affect historically synchronized pollination of crops, food for migrating birds, spawning of fish, water supplies for drinking and irrigation, forest health, and more.
Some short-term climate variation is normal, but longer-term trends now indicate a changing climate. A year or two of an extreme change in temperature or other condition doesn’t mean a climate change trend has been "erased.”
Worldwide, people are paying serious attention to climate change. In Washington state, climate change is already disrupting our environment, economy and communities. We can help slow it down, but we must take action now.
Frequently Asked Questions:
· Are climate change and global warming the same thing?
· Why is climate change a concern?
· Is climate change really happening?
· What causes climate change and global warming?
· What are greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect?
· How is weather different from climate?
· How is climate change different from ozone?
Are climate change and global warming the same thing?
Not exactly, but they’re closely related, and some people use the terms interchangeably. Global warming causes climates to change. "Global warming" refers to rising global temperatures, while “climate change” includes other more specific kinds of changes, too. Warmer global temperatures in the atmosphere and oceans leads to climate changes affecting rainfall patterns, storms and droughts, growing seasons, humidity, and sea level.
Also, while “global warming” is planet-wide, “climate change” can refer to changes at the global, continental, regional and local levels. Even though a warming trend is global, different areas around the world will experience different specific changes in their climates, which will have unique impacts on their local plants, animals and people. A few areas might even get cooler rather than warmer.
Why is climate change a concern?
All across the world and in our state, people are taking action because climate change has serious impacts, locally and globally. For example, in 2007, scientists from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that warming oceans and melting glaciers due to global warming and climate change could cause sea levels to rise 7-23 inches by the year 2100. Worldwide, densely populated coastal communities and infrastructure that supports them would be affected (such as city buildings and homes, roads, ports and wastewater treatment plants). Some would be flooded or more vulnerable to storm damage. In flat terrain, the shoreline could move many miles inland.
Other effects are also serious. In some places, floods and/or drought could become more frequent and more severe. Even seemingly less dramatic local changes in temperature, precipitation and soil moisture could severely impact many things important to human life and all life around us, including:
· natural ecosystems
· agriculture and food supplies
· human health
· water resources and availability
· energy use
Many people are concerned that we are losing time to make a difference. Climate change and its effects may be irreversible. (Link to NOAA study 2009?) Life could become very difficult for some populations—plant, animal and human. Species, cultures, resources and many lives could be lost.
For more about how climate change could affect our state, click these links:
· Climate Change Effects in Washington State
· Issue Up Close: Facing the Challenge of Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policy Makers; 2007