Stewardship Monday: Climate Change Month

This month of Stewardship Mondays we will focus on topics relating to climate change. Climate change is an important, and often controversial, topic that is becoming increasingly relevant. Part of being a steward is being knowledgeable about important environmental issues—the better informed you are, the more prepared you can be to make decisions that will impact your life, community and environment.

What are greenhouse gases?

Greenhouse gases are a natural part of the atmosphere. They absorb and emit radiation, causing what is known as the “Greenhouse Effect”.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H20), Methane (CH4)), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Ozone (O3), and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are the most abundant greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Clouds are also a major contributor to the Greenhouse Effect, but are not a gas. There are natural sources of greenhouse gases such as volcanic action, animal respiration, and decomposition. Humans produce these gases by burning fossil fuels, deforestation, agriculture, landfills, heating/cooling and other processes.

What is the Greenhouse Effect?

The Greenhouse Effect is a natural and beneficial phenomenon. Even though it is often associated with negative effects in the current climate, the Greenhouse Effect is essential for making life on Earth possible.

The Greenhouse Effect is a natural phenomenon that makes Earth habitable (left). On the right, elevated levels of Greenhouse Gases increase the effect, causing a change in global temperatures. Diagram courtesy of: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Energy from the sun comes to Earth through the atmosphere (made up of gases). Some of the energy is reflected back to space, and some is allowed through. Energy is reflected off of the Earth and some of it escapes out of the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap some of this reflected energy, which radiates back to Earth and contributes to warming the globe to a habitable temperature—the same way a garden greenhouse lets light in, but traps some heat to grow warm-weather veggies!

Concern about the Greenhouse Effect has grown because the level of Greenhouse Gases, particularly carbon dioxide, has grown. The sharp increase (40% for CO2) in greenhouse gases is widely accepted in the scientific community to have been caused by human activities (there are other natural sources of these gases, but such a high rate of increase cannot be attributed to them). With more Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere, more radiation from the sun is “trapped” and reflected back to Earth, causing a larger warming effect. This effect, known as Global Warming has resulted in a 1.5 °F (or 0.85 °C) increase in global average temperature since the late 19th century, which is currently about 59 °F (15 °C). This effect is felt unevenly across the globe (such as at the poles, where the effects are more dramatic).

Is Global Warming the same as Climate Change?

Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, Global Warming and Climate Change are two different (but related) issues. While Global Warming refers to the average global temperature rise, Climate Change refers to changes in weather patterns around the globe—which may include shifting averages and ranges of temperature and precipitation. Climate Change is in part driven by Global Warming, but also involves other processes that affect weather. This month on Stewardship Mondays we will continue to discuss other issues relating to Climate Change.

Resources:

At the end of last month the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) released a report on the state of the climate. You can download this report and read other analyses of the report as you begin to learn about the global climate.

To learn more about Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and to calculate your “Carbon Footprint”, visit the US Environmental Protection Agency website.

After calculating your carbon footprint, think about what your impact means to your community, local environment and to the global environment. How are your actions connected to the rest of the world? What are some simple changes that you can make as a steward to reduce your impact?

This month’s topics only scratch the surface of the available information and issues involved with a very complex global issue, if you would like to learn more about a particular topic relating to climate change please let us know by leaving a comment.

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