Defined simply, climate change is the process of altering our planet’s current climatic conditions. This involves more than temperature; climate is determined by precipitation patterns, minimum and maximum temperatures, drought, storm intensity and more.
Although climate affects weather, climate is not weather. This is an important distinction to make. A region can have a hot and dry climate, but still experience occasional rainy weather or cold spells. By expanding this example, we can see that climate change will not eliminate the possibility of colder-than-average winters. Instead, climate change simply increases the probability of warmer-than-average winters in most areas.
The Earth’s climate is always changing. This is what causes ice ages, for example. In the past, climate change has been driven by geological factors, such as shifts in the Earth’s axis. Modern climate change, however, is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases.
The industrial revolution is commonly cited as the beginning of modern climate change, because this is when human societies began burning fossil fuels in large quantities. Those fossil fuel emissions contribute to climate change by essentially increasing the amount of insulation in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Review our regularly-updated list of current facts and data about the science of climate change, including observed and predicted temperature changes, climate change impacts, and ongoing greenhouse gas emissions. View the list.