Background Information: Global Warming and Climate Change

Weather is the atmospheric conditions of a place at any given point in time. Climate is the weather conditions of a place over a long period of time. Climate change is the long-term shift of weather patterns around the world, including here in Central Virginia.

The atmosphere is the layer of gases that surrounds the planet and makes life on Earth possible. It is mostly – more than 98% – made up of nitrogen and oxygen. The rest is argon, carbon dioxide, and other trace gases. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, human activity like burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests has dramatically increased the amount of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. These gases act like a blanket over the Earth and trap heat from the sun, similar to how the walls of a greenhouse work. The extra heat and energy trapped in the atmosphere from the excess greenhouse gases is the cause of climate change. The average global temperature has risen about 1.1 degrees Celsius (or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. That may not seem like a lot when we are thinking about the weather, but it makes a big difference related to the climate. The Earth will not stop trapping heat and getting warmer until we are able to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Learn more: What's the Big Deal with a Few Degrees? (video)

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