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Global Warming and Climate Change
Date: 2020
From: Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 3,268 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1400L

Full Text:
Though the terms global warming and climate change are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. Climate change
describes long-term shifts in the earth’s weather patterns that affect such factors as temperature, humidity, wind, cloud cover, and
precipitation levels. Global warming specifically refers to an increase in the Earth’s average surface temperatures caused by human
activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels.

Overwhelming scientific evidence supports the reality of both global warming and climate change, but a vocal minority disagree with
the consensus conclusion that these trends are being driven by human activity. The widely accepted scientific model posits that
global warming and climate change are being caused and accelerated by the continued use of carbon-rich fossil fuels, as carbon is
one of the gasses that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Opponents of this theory believe that current changes in climate and
weather patterns are the result of natural cycles that have repeated again and again over the course of Earth’s history.

Global warming and climate change are contentious issues with many political implications in the United States. Concerns about the
phenomena have inspired activism, laws, and international treaties while also sparking heated debate. The debate over climate
change has an influential effect on social and economic policy. Voters have demonstrated a growing willingness to cast ballots in
favor of political candidates who share their views.

Main Ideas
There is strong scientific evidence for global warming and climate change, but some people disagree the trends are
anthropogenic, or driven by human activity.
The Earth’s atmosphere contains several gases that trap heat from the sun in a phenomenon called the greenhouse effect.
These gases are commonly called greenhouse gases and include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated in 1990 that sea levels would rise at a rate of 1.9
millimeters per year, but data from NASA shows the actual rate between 1993 and 2019 was much higher at 3.3 millimeters
per year.
Massive wildfires devastated areas of California in 2018 and 2019. Global warming intensifies the ferocity and frequency of
wildfires due to the increased abundance of extremely dry vegetation and high temperatures.
The hurricane season of 2017 brought severe weather and sea surges that killed many people and caused more than $215
billion of property damage in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, as well as in several other southern states and countries near
the Caribbean Sea.
In June 2017 US president Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a 2015
global treaty aimed at limiting the rise in global temperatures that had been championed by his predecessor.

Causes of Climate Change

Earth’s atmosphere contains several gases that trap heat from the sun and prevent it from escaping into space. This phenomenon is
known as the greenhouse effect, and the gases are referred to as greenhouse gases. The main greenhouse gases that occur in
nature are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Without the greenhouse effect, Earth would be too cold to support life. Over
time, the amount of greenhouse gases trapped in Earth’s atmosphere has increased significantly, causing worldwide temperatures to
rise.

Natural processes on Earth constantly create and destroy greenhouse gases. For example, the decay of plant and animal matter
produces carbon dioxide, which plants then absorb during photosynthesis. This natural cycle stabilizes atmospheric levels of carbon
dioxide. Shifts in the planet’s crust and changes in ocean patterns impact weather, as do fluctuations in the sun’s output of radiation.

Volcanic activity also affects the climate because eruptions discharge greenhouse gases and other contaminants into the
atmosphere. Climate change scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other federal and
international agencies recognize that these natural factors continue to play a role in climate change, but they generally agree that the
impact of these factors alone does not explain the substantial recent rise in Earth’s temperature. Natural causes of climate change
are referred to as naturogenic, while causes of climate change related to human activity are called anthropogenic.

Earth’s vegetation releases and absorbs more than two hundred billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Human activities, such
as the burning of fossil fuels, add approximately seven billion more metric tons per year. Climate scientists believe the cumulative
effect of this additional carbon has had a dramatic effect on the atmosphere. In the past 150 years, the concentration of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by more than 30 percent. Deforestation has also played a role in this increase by eliminating
forests that would otherwise have absorbed many tons of carbon dioxide.

Increased levels of other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane, have also resulted from human activity. Several
agricultural and industrial processes, such as the use of certain fertilizers in farming, produce nitrous oxide on a mass scale. Methane
emissions come from the production of fossil fuels as well as landfills and livestock. Even though much smaller quantities of these
gases exist in the Earth’s atmosphere, some scientists believe they cause more harm than carbon dioxide, because they appear to
have a much greater per-pound effect on the Earth’s temperature. Methane, for example, is about twenty-one times as potent as
carbon dioxide at trapping heat. Beginning in October 2015, a methane gas leak from a California storage facility vented about five
billion cubic feet of gas into the atmosphere. The leak took more than three months to seal and was finally capped on February 18,
2016. The incident constituted the largest accidental discharge of greenhouse gases in US history, releasing the equivalent of the
yearly exhaust emissions from 572,000 automobiles.

Humans have also created and released greenhouse gases that do not occur in nature. These include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs),
perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). These gases, released during such industrial processes as aluminum
production and electrical transmission, trap thousands of times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Climate Change Predictions

Because climate science measures changes that occur on a regional or global scale over a long period of time, it can be difficult to
provide definitive answers to specific questions like “When did climate change begin?” However, since the 1990s, numerous studies
have provided evidence of a consensus in the scientific community that anthropogenic climate change is occurring. These studies
included surveys as well as analyses of peer-reviewed articles. At least 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists around the
world agree that human activities have contributed to rising global temperatures. Most also agree that the consequences may be
devastating, though the exact nature of the changes are difficult to predict.

No climate model formulated by scientists to chart climate patterns has had 100 percent accuracy in predicting changes. For
instance, most climate models failed to predict a slowdown in rising temperatures starting in 1998 and ending in 2012. Similarly,
some predictions have underestimated threats. In its initial assessment of rising sea levels in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) originally anticipated a sea level rise of 1.9 millimeters per year from that year onward. However, studies by
NASA have revealed that sea levels have in fact risen at a rate of 3.3 millimeters per year.

Because of the difficulties in creating completely accurate climate change models, skeptics of global warming and climate change
note that Earth has experienced cyclical changes in its climate patterns for eons. They also tend to believe that recent climatic shifts
are not as severe as indicated and may not necessarily be a direct consequence of human activity. Climate scientists contend that
such skepticism may stem from an unwillingness to face the scope of the threat posed to the planet by human activity. Additionally,
conservative donors, including several foundations established by wealthy families, have contributed large amounts of money to
organizations that promote climate change denial. For instance, the environmental organization Greenpeace claims that foundations
linked to the prominent Koch family have donated more than $127 million to such organizations between 1997 and 2017. In 2019
tech giant Google came under fire for making a “substantial” donation to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative
think tank that helped influence the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to abandon the US commitment to the 2015 Paris
Agreement on climate change.

However, acknowledgment of the effects of human activities on global warming and climate change has grown steadily in the twenty-
first century. According to a 2019 The Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, the majority of Americans accept that
anthropogenic climate change is happening. In addition, about half of Americans believe the United States is not doing enough to
prevent it and want immediate action on the issue. According to annual polls conducted by Gallup since 2001, the public’s beliefs
about global warming had shifted considerably by 2019. About 66 percent believed that global warming is caused by human activity
(up from 57 percent in 2001), that climate change has begun to take effect (up from 54 to 59 percent), and that global warming will
soon pose a serious threat (up from 35 to 45 percent).

Researchers have observed a strong correlation between people’s political affiliations and their levels of concern regarding global
warming and acceptance of climate science. In 2019 Pew Research Center reported that 84 percent of Democrats and Democrat-
leaning independents believe climate change is a major threat to the United States, compared to just 27 percent of Republicans and
Republican-leaning independents. Numerous Pew studies have yielded similar partisan trends on climate change–related issues,
while Gallup polling has also found that people aged eighteen to thirty-five are more likely than older respondents to believe that the
media underestimates the threat of climate change.

Effects of Global Warming

The current and potential future consequences of global warming remain an issue of great debate and uncertainty, and some
researchers predict dramatic and serious problems for future generations. Warmer oceans could result in stronger and more
frequent hurricanes. As temperatures climb, some regions could experience frequent heat waves along with devastating droughts
and wildfires. During the 1990s and the 2000s, many areas in the United States endured record-breaking heat and drought. In 2012
severe drought plagued the Wheat Belt of the United States, located in the North American Great Plains. Climate change has also
been linked to the severe drought that occurred in California between 2011 and early 2017. In 2018 and 2019 California also endured
massive wildfires that led to the displacement of thousands of residents, widespread destruction of property, and the deaths of at
least thirty-four people. Scientists have attributed the fires to high levels of extremely dry vegetation, desiccated by rising
temperatures, that created conditions enabling the fires to spread rapidly and burn with fierce intensity. Former California governor
Jerry Brown, who was in office during the 2018–19 wildfires, lamented that such incidents have become increasingly common in the
southwestern United States and warned that fires would likely become more intense as climate change continues.

Many coastal areas around the world could also face severe flooding due to rising sea levels. Low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean
would eventually become uninhabitable. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, sea level has risen about eight inches
worldwide. The hurricane season of 2017 proved to be the costliest hurricane season since 1900, with over $265 billion of property
damage in the United States and the tragic loss of life in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico. The 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons
all brought powerful category 5 hurricanes, indicating a possible trend toward increasing storm intensities.

Global warming could also have a major impact on ecosystems and wildlife habitats. Some areas that are currently well-suited to
farming might become too dry or too wet to support agriculture. Long periods of drought could turn fertile lands into deserts with little
vegetation. Plants and animals might not be able to survive the rapid changes caused by global warming and could become extinct.
Over the long term, such changes would negatively impact Earth’s biodiversity. Some ecosystems, such as coral reefs and coastal
mangrove swamps, appear likely to disappear completely.

Human populations would also face serious problems. Loss of farmland, for example, would cause major disruptions in the food
supply, bringing about famine in many areas. Scientists have noted that various species of disease-carrying mosquitoes have
expanded their habitats to areas where they could not have lived before the rise in average global temperatures. More frequent and
intense heat waves could result in more heat-related deaths, and changes in air quality could also affect human health. Other experts
warn of potential impacts on migration and geopolitical conflict as populations flee areas most impacted by climate change and rival
countries go to war over dwindling resources. A 2019 petition known as the US Call to Action on Climate, Health, and Equity, which
characterizes climate change as a global crisis and human health emergency and calls for prompt and dramatic policy action to
address it, was endorsed by dozens of high-profile agencies and organizations including the American Medical Association.

International Response

Economic and political issues influence how governments choose to respond to anthropogenic climate change. To reduce global
warming in years to come, nations may need to implement policies with the potential to inhibit their economies. Efforts to further
tighten restrictions on greenhouse emissions may include a market-based system such as a cap-and-trade program that limits a
firm’s total greenhouse gas output but allows a firm to purchase additional emissions credits. Regulations that place higher industry
standards on performance and technology offer another way to reduce emissions. Both approaches, however, have the potential to
reduce current production capacity, foreign investment, and household purchasing power, and they could also lead to higher prices
on consumer goods. For these reasons, governments have encountered great difficulty in agreeing on a global plan to deal with
Earth’s changing climate.

Wealthier countries produce far more greenhouse gases than poorer countries, thus contributing more to the process of global
warming. At the same time, the negative effects of climate change impact developing countries to a greater degree than developed
countries. Therefore, many people believe that industrialized nations should take on greater responsibility in reducing emissions of
these gases. In many cases, leaders of developed nations have resisted this idea.

Since 1995, the United Nations (UN) has hosted annual conferences to discuss climate change as part of its Framework Convention
on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was drafted in 1992 and ratified in 1994. In 1997, delegates gathered in Kyoto, Japan, to
negotiate an international treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol. This treaty required industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse
gas emissions by a certain percentage over a five-year period. The treaty was strongly supported by the European Union and other
developed countries. The United States opposed the agreement, however, claiming that it could harm the US economy and was
unfair because huge emitters such as China and India were not required to cut emissions because they were considered developing
countries. As of February 2020, 192 parties, composed of 191 countries and the European Union as a political-economic union, had
ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Notable exceptions from the list of signatories include the United States, which has never ratified the
treaty, and Canada, which announced its withdrawal from the agreement in 2011.

In 2015 world leaders set new climate goals at the UNFCCC conference in Paris, France. The resultant Paris Agreement aimed to
limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2° Celsius (approximately 3.6° Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels and provide
countries with the tools needed to counteract climate change. US president Barack Obama played a central role in brokering the
Paris Agreement and pushed for greater environmental restrictions during his presidency. On November 4, 2016, the Paris
Agreement went into effect with the commitment of the United States and seventy-three other parties.

In June 2017 President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, drawing
widespread criticism. Shortly after the president’s announcement, a bipartisan coalition of governors, tribal leaders, mayors, and
business leaders pledged their commitment to work toward the goals of the Paris Agreement by signing on to the We Are Still In
declaration. As of February 2020, the coalition included nearly 2,900 signatories, including ten state governments. Also as of

February 2020, each of the leading Democratic candidates for US president in the 2020 election addressed climate change in their
platforms and all pledged to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. Most supported a Green New Deal plan that would refocus the
economy to address economic inequality while setting a zero-emissions target to mitigate climate change. Some of their ideas for
addressing climate change include ideas for eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, concentrating on renewable energy sources, adding a
carbon tax, and banning fracking.

Critical Thinking Questions
In your opinion, should the United States continue its involvement in the Paris Agreement to limit the rise in global
temperatures? Why or why not?
Why do you think there is a correlation between political ideology and belief in the anthropogenic causes of climate change?
Explain your answer.
Should both developed and developing countries be required to greatly reduce their greenhouse emissions? Why or why
not?

Climate Activism

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement roughly coincided with climate change’s
resurgence as a major political issue. Beginning in 2018, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg (2003–) emerged as the face of a new
youth-oriented movement seeking to prompt global leaders to take dramatic action to fight climate change. Thunberg began her
protest against inaction on climate change issues outside Sweden’s parliament in the summer of 2018 with a simple sign reading
“School Strike for the Climate.” Within a year, Thunberg had become a global phenomenon, delivering powerful speeches attacking
world leaders for their lack of urgency in addressing the root causes of climate change. Time magazine named Thunberg its “Person
of the Year” for 2019 in recognition of her success in drawing major media and popular attention to climate issues.

On Friday, September 20, 2019, thanks in large part to Thunberg’s urging, four million people participated in a global climate strike.
The event was the largest climate protest in history, propelling Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” campaign to a high international
profile. The “Fridays for Future” movement represents a coordinated student-led effort to draw attention to climate change by leaving
class on certain Fridays to participate in protests calling for world leaders to take action to stop it. Among other goals, “Fridays for
Future” aims to disrupt the fossil fuel industry, discontinue fossil fuel consumption, and accelerate the transition to cleaner and
renewable energy alternatives.

As Thunberg’s celebrity grew, another climate group known as Extinction Rebellion (XR) began to receive increased attention in the
mainstream media. Launched in the United Kingdom in 2018, XR believes the current climate situation is an “unprecedented global
emergency” that represents a “crisis” that threatens all life on Earth. The group uses more dramatic and disruptive tactics, including
blockades and other acts of defiance, which are intended to entice police to make mass arrests of protesters. Though the strategy
proved useful in drawing attention to the group’s efforts, many commentators have noted that it also tries the public’s patience and
risks diluting support for XR’s objectives.

Thunberg and the “Fridays for Future” movement have also attracted criticism. Some commentators believe the climate protesters
who have embraced the “Fridays for Future” campaign have done little to advance any practical solutions or policy alternatives.
Thunberg’s activism has also been dismissed by some as idealistic, with many critics attacking her ideas as impractical and noting
that her high profile has been commercialized and co-opted by special interest groups seeking to advance their own agendas.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2021 Gale, a Cengage Company
Source Citation (MLA 9th Edition)
“Global Warming and Climate Change.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2020. Gale In Context: Opposing

Viewpoints, link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3010999211/OVIC?u=lincclin_hcc&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=3a3aea0a. Accessed 5 Oct.
2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|PC3010999211

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