e. But one doesn’t have to wait 10 years to see that prediction shake out: Almost daily there’s more news about climate change
, or creating cultural shifts like refugee crises because farms become deserts or
as sea levels rise.
As more of a spotlight is focused on these pressing issues, so, too, appear a myriad of associated buzzwords—from fossil fuels and carbon to biofuels and ozone. And as the climate change conversation becomes increasingly ubiquitous and complicated, it’s helpful to have a grasp on some of its most significant terms—starting with the definition of “climate change” itself.
At its most fundamental, climate change refers to new weather patterns sustained over time (decades to thousands or even millions of years) because of fluctuations in the Earth’s climate system (atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere). The planet has gone through many significant (and natural) climate changes over the past 4.5 billion years, including ice ages and global melts. Then, about 12,000 years ago, the climate reached stable temperatures hospitable to humans. The resulting farming and settling that occurred led to a need for fuel to power newly invented machines; people found it in coal. But as the coal burned, it released the carbon it held. Then came the oil industry in 1859, when Edwin L. Drake drilled the first oil well. All that burning of fossil fuels for industry and transportation—and methane from livestock and the burning of natural gas—has sent much higher levels of emissions into the air than ever before, fueling a period of global warming that is happening faster than at any time in the past 2,000 years. After thousands of years with average temperatures barely fluctuating by more than a degree Celsius, many experts agree the world is likely to experience three degrees of warming by the end of this century. That’s because for the first time, we’re seeing what civilization’s effect on the Earth’s climate system is—and how it affects all of us.
Stacker compiled 25 terms related to climate change, their meanings, and their significance in the context of today’s warming climate. This gallery is not inclusive (thousands of terms relate to the climate change discussion), but is meant as a starting point to better understand what is arguably shaping up to be the most pressing issue of the near—and distant—future.
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