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Scientists and governments now globally concur that

  • the earth is warming.
  • Climate change is happening and it is caused in large part by human activity, and it will have many serious and potentially damaging effects in the decades ahead.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from cars, power plants, and other human activities, rather than natural variations in climate are the primary cause of contemporary global warming. Due largely to the combustion of fossil fuels, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, are at a level unequaled for at least 800,000 years. The greenhouse gases from human activities are trapping more of the sun’s heat in the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in warming.
  • Over the last century, average global temperatures have risen by more than 1°F and some regions warmed by as much as 4°F. The oceans have also warmed, especially in the upper layers. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases always have been present in the atmosphere, keeping the earth hospitable to life by trapping heat. Yet, since the industrial revolution, emissions of these gases from human activity have accumulated steadily, trapping more heat and resulting in the enhanced greenhouse effect. In 2005, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations had increased by 35 percent compared to pre-industrial levels, and concentrations of other greenhouse gases had grown significantly as well.

As a result, global average temperatures have risen both on land and in the oceans, with observable impacts already occurring that presage increasingly severe changes in the future. Polar ice is melting at record rates. Glaciers around the globe are in retreat. Storms, including hurricanes, are increasing in intensity. Ecosystems around the world already are reacting as plant and animal species struggle to adapt to a shifting climate. Scientists project that if the increase in man-made green- house gas emissions continues unabated, temperatures could rise by as much as 11°F by the end of this century, likely causing dramatic (and irreversible) changes to the climate, with profound consequences for humanity and the world as a whole. Water supplies in some critical areas will dwindle as snow and ice disappear. Sea levels will rise, threatening coastal populations. Droughts and floods will become more common. And hurricanes and other powerful storms will cause more and more damage. Agricultural production may increase with slight warming, but will decrease thereafter due to changes in precipitation, weather extremes, and the spread of crop pests and diseases. Changing weather patterns will also change the distribution and incidence of insect-borne and waterborne diseases, such as malaria and cholera. Human health will be jeopardized by all of these changes.

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