Information on Climate Change for Students and Teachers
If you’re studying climate, you’ve come to the right place. We cover all aspects of climate change for students, with in-depth articles on a wide variety of topics, and we include references for further research wherever possible.
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We Cover All Aspects of Climate Change for Students
We explain Earth’s climate system that distributes heat and cold around the globe. We also describe how Earth’s energy balance works and how it is being destabilized by our burning of fossil fuels, like coal, petroleum and natural gas. We explain how the combustion of these hydrocarbons releases enormous quantities of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the troposphere – the layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface.
This trapped heat drives the climatic mechanism known as the greenhouse effect, which causes Earth’s temperature to rise. It is this rise in global temperatures – a phenomenon we call global warming – that is the basis of our current climate crisis. However, we should also pay attention to the root cause of climate change because we need to start behaving more responsibly.
We review all the main effects of global warming, including its impact on regional weather systems and on extreme weather events such as heatwaves, hurricanes and flooding. We also outline the consequences of rising temperatures on Earth and describe what is likely to happen in future. We examine a number of key climate reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the world’s leading authority on climate science – and review their global temperature projections plus the scenarios behind them.
In addition, we look at the climate feedbacks that amplify warming – see for instance how do clouds affect climate? – as well as several dangerous climate tipping points that experts believe might lead to irreversible change. We also explain some of the principles behind climate change adaptation and the new green infrastructure being developed, such as “sponge cities” and other environmentally friendly forms of urban architecture.
We Need Clean Energy
All climate change mitigation strategies emphasize the need to decarbonize our energy systems. Only by reducing our dependence on dirty fuels like coal (or peat), petroleum products and the slightly-less dirty natural gas, can we hope to lower our greenhouse gas emissions and regain control of our climate.
The generation of electricity is a crucial issue. For example, electric vehicles (EVs) may not emit exhaust fumes, but they are no good unless their batteries are recharged with electrical power generated from renewable energy sources. To get the benefits of renewable energy, we need to ramp up our supply of green electricity.
No one is saying that renewable energy can replace fossil fuel overnight, but more investment in solar and wind power, as well as biomass, wave and tidal energy, is essential if we are to close the emissions gap, and reduce our carbon footprint to a safe level by 2100.
Is nuclear energy a replacement for fossil fuels? It seems not, due to safety and waste issues. Also, hydroelectric power is coming under scrutiny for its lifetime cement emissions and other ecological impacts. But Nuclear Fusion (not fission), which involves the fusion of two isotopes of hydrogen, may yet prove to be sustainable.
More worrying is the fact that a question mark still hangs over the feasibility of carbon capture and storage, a key mitigation technology in the battle to reduce emissions and slow down global warming.
Note: students of climate change must always try to stay objective and not be influenced by wishful thinking. Fossil fuels can’t be wished away just because they are climate forcings that are doing damage to our planet. Also, be aware that greenhouse gas statistics are often presented in a confusing and inconsistent way.
We Must Preserve Our Carbon Sinks
We also need to preserve our stores of carbon in forests and the northern permafrost, to stop them being released into the air as carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4). Deforestation nullifies the carbon capture benefits of photosynthesis, while inappropriate land use can be worse. Both the Amazon Rainforest and the Congo Rainforest are losing significant amounts of carbon, as are forested areas in South-East Asia.
Ocean Warming is Causing Huge Problems
Global warming is causing immense harm to mangrove forests and tropical coral reefs, both hugely important for their blue carbon and ecological biodiversity. Ocean acidification is on the rise, so too is ocean deoxygenation. All this impacts directly on the marine food web, and the environmental health of the ocean. Our keystone articles on marine issues include the effects of global warming on oceans and how oceans influence climate change.
Polar Ice Melt: the Doomsday Scenario
When glaciers melt, sea level rise is inevitable. Now, glaciers on the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland are losing mass at an alarming rate, raising fears of a 2-meter (6 ft) rise in sea levels. A rise of six feet is likely to inundate cities like Miami, Houston, Shanghai and Mumbai, leaving hundreds of millions homeless. A critical article is: Antarctic Ice Sheet: How Fast is it Melting? Meantime the loss of Arctic sea ice may cause problems for thermohaline circulation deep-water currents that distribute cold water around the globe.
Damage to the Biosphere
As global warming gets more severe, scientists are becoming more and more concerned about the potential loss of biodiversity among the world’s flora and fauna.
We look at the effects of climate change on animals and their habitats, including 10 birds threatened by climate change in different parts of the world. In addition, we explain the 10 reasons why plants are important and describe 7 effects of climate change on plants. We ask is more CO2 is good for plants, or will a combination of drought, extreme heat and less water availability lead to lower crop yields and less food.
Already, the readiness of modern humans to exploit Earth’s resources, raising fears of a “sixth mass extinction”, has led to calls for our era to be renamed the Anthropocene Epoch.
Before the Industrial Revolution (c.1780-1840), the main biogeochemical cycles incurred few if any changes, except over geological time periods. Today, fossil fuel combustion is upsetting the carbon cycle, excessive use of fertilizer is unbalancing the nitrogen cycle, and anthropogenic warming is damaging the water cycle. Up in the atmosphere, the ozone layer has already been badly damaged by CFCs, while the sulfur cycle is now causing acid rain and other toxic problems.
Planet Earth is suffering widespread climatic and ecological damage from the environmental effects of fossil fuels. In particular, outdoor air pollution in the form of smog is affecting urban areas across the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Asia where the Asian brown cloud chokes cities in India, Bangladesh and China. The health effects of air pollution in these areas are widespread and life threatening.
Climate Change Action
Despite a number of international climate treaties like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (1992), the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Agreement (2015), very little effective climate action has occurred – at least at government level. 1
The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (2018) is the latest authoritative statement on the urgency of the situation and the risks we face if no proper action is taken. 2 Meantime the climate change denial movement derides global warming as a hoax.
As well as articles on global warming for students, we also produce a range of materials on climate change for beginners and other groups.
NEXT: See our Climate Change Essay in 1,000 words.