• The Story of Climate Change

    Want to understand climate change, it's origins, and why this matters? We've partnered with ClimateSchool.com to give you a primer.

  • Our Earth is warming.

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "Earth's average temperature has risen by 1.4°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 2 to 11.5°F over the next hundred years."

     

    That seems like a small number - an average of only 1.4°F. It is much less than we usually experience as morning turns into afternoon, evening and night. How could such a tiny temperature change be important? Besides, might it not actually be a good thing? A little more warmth on the earth might give us more and better crop yields. Winters might be a little less difficult. So what's the big deal?

     

    Yet that small rise, known as anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, is important, both because it has already had a damaging impact on much of the earth as we know it today and because it is just the first part of a further rise in temperature that is certain to come. Another 2 to 11.5°F will not be a good thing for humanity or for the plants and animals with which we share this earth.

     

    Although natural disasters occur without human involvement, climate change has now increased the devastation and severity of these natural disasters. Today, anthropogenic climate change has created a host environmental issues that regularly affect us morally, socially, politically, and economically. With the global average of 405 ppm (parts per million) of carbon in the atmosphere, the highest amount in scientific recorded history, Earth’s average temperature consecutively and consistently becomes hotter every year after the next.

     

    Check out NASA's research on the scientific origins of climate change.

  • 0-1750

    The rise in the Earth's temperature is mostly attributable to one primary cause: human use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Although humans have used fossil fuels in one form or another for various purposes for many thousands of years, it has only been since the beginning of the industrial age, which started around 1750, that the use of these fuels has been sufficiently massive to cause substantial climate and environmental problems.

     

    When fossil fuels burn, they produce carbon dioxide, among other products. Once carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it tends to stay around for a long time (hundreds of years). One of its properties is that it acts as an insulating blanket, reflecting some heat from the earth back toward the earth, rather than letting all of that heat freely escape into space. This is a good thing when the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is right for maintaining an average temperature favorable for human civilization. However, when excess carbon dioxide is present, the average Earth temperature rises. That phenomenon is called "The Greenhouse Effect", and the results of its influence are what we are starting to see more and more in the Earth's climate patterns today.

     

    There are other gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect, in addition to carbon dioxide. These include methane (natural gas), ozone, and nitrous oxide. Collectively, these gases are referred to as "greenhouse gases" (GHG), and some, such as methane, are even stronger than carbon dioxide in their power to trap heat and keep it from escaping from the earth.

     

    In scientific terms when referring to Earth’s climate, this would be considered the “pre-industrial” era and is concluded that global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is between 280 ppm and 290 ppm. This is the way it's been for millennia prior; we know this because of work conducted by dozens of independent researchers analyzing fossil and soil samples.

  • 1760-1870

    The initial stages of the Industrial Revolution begin to take place and completely alter the way humans live and interact with their environment.

     

    The use of coal as fuel becomes universal due to the mass adoption of steam-powered ships and trains. This will sharply increase the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.

     

    Improved sanitation practices, as well as more efficient agricultural practices, lead to an exponentially increasing human population. Human population reaches 1 billion roughly around the year 1804. By 1870, the global atmospheric CO2 is 287.7 ppm.

  • 1870-1910

    The final stages of the Industrial Revolution come to an end with even more life-altering advancements. Electricity and the light bulb are invented which substantially changes the way cities are constructed and navigated. Coal mining increases sharply to meet the new demand for electricity. Pesticides like DDT, fertilizers, and other chemicals for agriculture are invented and heavily utilized. Simultaneously, humans begin using more efficient agricultural practices, subsequently using and consuming livestock at a higher rate.

     

    Learn about the correlation between agriculture and climate change.

  • 1914-1918

    World War I occurs and produces a heavy industrial economy in which causes more air pollution. The War will kick off a global culture of heavy industrial development. Global atmospheric CO2 is now 302.8 ppm after World War 1 has officially ended.

  • 1901-1930

     

    An oil boom in Texas and the Persian Gulf generates an incredible amount of cheap energy, causing much of the world to become dependent on oil as a fuel source. Although the first gasoline-powered cars were invented in 1876, they only become popular in the 1920's thanks to the availability of cheap oil. This is where our modern reliance on the automobile begins.

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    Check out this article explaining the Texas Oil Boom, and this article on cars and air pollution.

     

    Human population reaches 2 billion. Global atmospheric CO2 reaches 307.5 ppm once the Roaring Twenties comes to an end.

  • 1939-1959

    World War II occurs and boosts the industrial culture faster than ever before both during and after the war.

     

    In 1945, the US Office of Naval Research funds numerous fields of science and gives scientists a chance at better understanding climate change. From this point, various breakthroughs and discoveries will occur to shift our views on science and the environment.

     

    Global atmospheric CO2 rises to 310.3 ppm at the conclusion of the war.

     

    In 1957, the Soviet Sputnik satellite is launched and causes more tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, but also becomes a way for more scientific studies on climate to begin.

     

    Human population reaches 3 billion, and global atmospheric CO2 becomes 316 ppm.

  • 1965-1970

     

     

     

     

    In 1965, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences organizes a conference to understand the causes of climate change. The notable part of the conference is a quote stating: “We are just now beginning to realize that the atmosphere is not a dump of unlimited capacity.” Global atmospheric CO2 rises up to 320 ppm.

     

    In 1970, President Richard Nixon establishes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), resulting in a more serious effort to tackle environmental issues (including climate change) on a federal level in the United States. Learn more about the origins of the EPA.


    Simultaneously, the world’s leading funder of climate change research, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is established, and the first Earth Day occurs to spread awareness about environmental issues. Global atmospheric CO2 levels at 325.54 ppm.

  • 1973-1976

     

    In 1973, the first energy crisis takes place during the Arab Oil Embargo, where access to oil from the Arabian Peninsula is suddenly cut off. For the first time in history, there is broad concern about whether or not there are sufficient reserves for sustaining the planet’s increasing dependence on oil. What is the Arab Oil Embargo?

     

    In 1974, US scientist Wallace Broecker introduces the world to the term "global warming" in the title of one of his scientific papers. Read Wallace Broecker’s paper.

     

    More scientific studies indicate that methane, ozone, and CFCs affect and contribute to the greenhouse gas effect. This will then lead to the creation of more laws banning such chemicals. What are CFCs?

     

    Global atmospheric CO2 becomes 331.36 ppm. The world population reaches 4 billion.

  • 1979-1986

    In 1979, another energy crisis occurs, this time thanks to a new semi-governmental organization called OPEC. (Learn more about OPEC). This time around, because the price of oil is so high for so long, consumers and companies begin to care strongly about energy efficiency. Nuclear energy rises to the forefront as a highly efficient power source.

     

    The same year, a nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island power plant melts down, becoming the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history. The Three Mile Island accident, broken down.

     

    A few years later, in 1984, the Bhopal Disaster (also known as the Union Carbide Incident) takes place. As a result of corporate negligence and a series of employee mishaps, over 30 tons of methyl isocyanate is released, killing over 16,000 people and injuring over 500,000. The incident instantly becomes one of the worst industrial accidents in history. What is the Bhopal Disaster?

     

    Then, in 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine experiences a catastrophic nuclear meltdown, becoming the worst nuclear disaster in history and rendering an entire region of Eastern Europe uninhabitable.


    Watch an explanation of Chernobyl and learn about it's environmental effects.

     

    Global atmospheric C02 is now at 347.15 ppm.

     

  • 1987-1992

    In 1987, the Montreal Protocol is finalized and imposes restrictions on the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) to protect the stratospheric ozone layer.

     

    Further scientific studies evaluating ice cores from Antarctica found that there is a consistent correlation between high amounts of CO2 (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere and higher global temperatures. How do scientists learn about the climate through ice cores?


    The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill occurs in 1989 and is marked as one of the biggest oil spills in history. Learn more about the spill.

     

    In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During the conference, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established. The UNFCCC’s goal was "to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a low enough level to prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e. human] interference with the climate system."

     

    Human population reaches 5 billion. Global atmospheric CO2 is now at 356.42 ppm.

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    1997-2001

    In 1997, Toyota, a Japanese car company, releases the world’s first mass-produced electric hybrid car, the Prius. That year, in Kyoto, Japan, 164 countries agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A few years later, in 2001, US President George W. Bush renounces the Protocol. Learn more about the Kyoto Protocol.

     

    A major El Niño occurs in 1998 and becomes one of the hottest years on average in history. What’s an El Niño?

     

    The European Union (EU) agrees to reduce emissions by an overall 8%. Human population is 6 billion and global atmospheric CO2 is 371.15 ppm.

  • 2003-2005

    Europe experiences its hottest summer in 500 years. More on Europe’s heatwave.

     

    Researchers conclude that ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland are melting and will result in catastrophic sea level rise.

     

    In 2005, after years of unsteadiness, the Kyoto Protocol goes into full effect (not in the US) targeting developing countries.

     

    Hurricane Katrina hits the United States and causes massive devastation in the most active tropical storm season yet. The event initiates debate about whether or not anthropogenic climate change is a factor in such storms.

     

    What was Hurricane Katrina’s environmental impact?

     

    2005 becomes the hottest year in recorded history. Global atmospheric CO2 rises to 380 ppm.

  • 2006-2010

    In 2006, Al Gore's film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” is released and becomes the 4th highest-grossing documentary in US box-office history. The film introduces climate change to the general public. Check out this article analyzing its impact.

     

    China becomes the number one emitter of CO2, surpassing the United States. The world’s Arctic ice caps become smaller than they ever have in history with the North West Passage becoming completely ice free.

     

    In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurs in the Gulf of Mexico and causes major environmental and economic damage. Read more about the incident.

     

    Global atmospheric CO2 rises to 386.6 ppm.

  • 2011-2018

    In 2011, the Paris Agreement is signed by 175 parties (174 countries and the European Union) and sets the goal of limiting global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius. The US later withdraws its support. What is the Paris Agreement?

     

    In 2018, US President Donald J. Trump defunds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reducing the government's ability to protect the environment. Read about this.

     

    The human population exceeds 7 billion. Global atmospheric CO2 reaches an astounding 400 ppm.

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