To engage critically and accurately with the challenges and opportunities brought forward by climate change there are a few key terms everyone should be familiar with. Please review the terms below. All information on this page comes from The Climate Reality Project.
Key Terms to Know
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
The chemical compound carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. CO2 occurs naturally as a byproduct of animal respiration.
Humans have increased the prevalence of CO2 by first burning fossil fuels and secondly, by interfering with natural carbon sinks (forests or jungles such as the amazon rainforest) that would otherwise be able to manage the CO2 emitted by humans.
Greenhouse gasses include a number of chemical compounds such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapour, and other human-made gases. When in the atmosphere, these gases restrict radiation by the sun from reflecting off the earth and thereby trapping it in our atmosphere which translates into heat. Therefore, increased greenhouse gasses will expedite the effects of climate change such as global warming.
In the climate change space, emissions refer to greenhouse gases released into the air that are produced by numerous activities, including burning fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and melting permafrost, to name a few. These gases cause heat to be trapped in the atmosphere, slowly increasing the Earth’s temperature over time.
Weather vs Climate
Weather refers to atmospheric conditions in the short term, including changes in temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, brightness, wind, and visibility.
While the weather is always changing, especially over the short term, the climate is the average of weather patterns over a longer period of time (usually 30 or more years).
Global Warming vs Climate Change
Global warming is an increase in the Earth’s average surface temperature from human-made greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change refers to the long-term changes in the Earth’s climate, or a region on Earth, and includes more than just the average surface temperature.
Fossil fuels are sources of non-renewable energy, formed from the remains of living organisms that were buried millions of years ago. Burning fossil fuels like coal and oil to produce energy is where the majority of greenhouse gases originate.
Sea-level rise as it relates to climate change is caused by two major factors.
Water is released into the ocean as glaciers and land ice melts
The ocean expands as ocean temperatures increase.
Global Average Temperature
Long-term look at the Earth’s temperature, usually over the course of 30 years, on land and sea. This is useful to scientist as weather patterns differ from year due to natural cause and so the longer time period allows scientists to pick out larger trends.
Renewable energy is energy that comes from naturally replenished resources, such as sunlight, wind, waves, and geothermal heat.
COP and UNFCCC
UNFCCC: an environmental treaty that nations joined in 1992, with the goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.
COP: The annual Conference of Parties representing the UNFCCC signatories. Signatories come together to plot their next course of action in reference to carrying out their commitments in the UNFCCC.
INDC = Intended Nationally Determined Contribution lays out each countries respective plans to work toward their UNFCCC commitment by 2020.
IPCC is the acronym for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. First set up in 1988 under two UN organizations, the IPCC surveys the research on climate change happening all around the world and reports to the public about the current state of our scientific knowledge.
PPM stands for “parts per million,” which is a way of expressing the concentration of one component in the larger sample. Climate scientists and activists use the term to describe the concentration of pollutants, like carbon dioxide or methane, in the atmosphere. Many scientists agree that carbon dioxide levels should be at 350 PPM to be considered safe; we’re at about 400 PPM right now and this number is growing by approximately 2 PPM each year.
Pre-Industrial Levels of Carbon Dioxide
Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide refers to carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution. Scientists estimate these pre-industrial levels were about 280 PPM, well below where we are today.
Methane is another greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. Methane is often portrayed to be an alternative to oil as it remains in the atmosphere for a shorter amount of time. However, methane absorbs 84 times more heat making it an extremely dangerous greenhouse gas.
Mitigation refers to an action that will reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions, such as planting trees in order to absorb more CO2. It can also include developing and deploying new technologies, using renewable energies like wind and solar, or making older equipment more energy efficient.