Global warming: The conversation we need to have

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Posted January 16, 2014
Global Warming: The Conversation We Need to Have
Change in heat content in the upper 2000 m of the world’s oceans. Credit: NOAA
We all know the earth’s climate is changing. The effects are inescapable no matter where we live. Here in New England, some changes are subtle (more humidity, consistently warmer nights), dramatic (more intense rainfall events), confusing (bigger snowfall events), and dangerous (more powerful hurricanes). The science tells us these are expected in a warming world, and indeed, we see them.

We also know that we are in the driver’s seat for these changes. Our burning of oil, coal, and natural gas – fuels that have been extracted from fossil reserves buried in Earth’s crust – is changing the composition of the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases constitute a tiny fraction of the atmosphere, but their ability to trap heat has made the difference between Earth being a frozen ice-ball of a planet and the relatively balmy one we inhabit. Greenhouse gases do this by preventing heat from escaping to space, just as a blanket tucked around a child at night keeps her warm. We are adding to this greenhouse gas blanket, and earth is warming up.

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