Climate Change

What is climate change?

Carbon Dioxide – the greenhouse gas mainly emitted by human activity – is the major focus of policy discussions to reduce emissions. Many scientists believe that carbon dioxide emissions increase the earth’s warming effect, bringing about changes in climate. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 85 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are carbon dioxide.

Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of electricity without emitting carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. America’s commercial power reactors provide about 20 percent of our electricity – and nearly three-quarters of the nation’s clean-air electricity generation.

By using nuclear power instead of fossil fuel-based plants, the U.S. nuclear energy industry prevented 681.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2005. For perspective, the volume of the greenhouse gas emissions prevented at the nation’s 103 nuclear power plants is equivalent to taking 96 percent of all passenger cars off America’s roadways.

Climate is the long-term average of a region's weather events lumped together. For example, it's possible for a sunny and mild winter day in Buffalo, New York to occur, however the average weather — the climate — tells us that Buffalo's winters mainly consist of cold, snow and rain. Climate change represents a change in these long-term weather patterns.

The Earth has warmed by 1ºF over the past 100 years and may advance to 2 to 6ºF over the coming 100 years. Though this may not seem like a lot, you will be surprised to know that the temperature was only 7ºF colder than it is today during the peak of the last ice age, 18,000 years ago. Though it is possible that the Earth is getting warmer on its own, or due to the sun's increasing rays, scientists believe that human activities are increasing the earth's temperature and causing climate change.

Though scientists cannot be too sure, many believe these increasing temperatures are caused by something called the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is the rise in the Earth's temperature, caused by certain gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, for example, that are released into the atmosphere and trap energy from the sun. Scientists know that greenhouse gases make the Earth warmer by trapping energy in the atmosphere, just as an actual greenhouse's glass panes do. Sunlight enters the atmosphere by passing through the greenhouse gases, the earth's land, water and biosphere absorb the sunlight's energy, then once absorbed, this energy is ideally sent back into the atmosphere. However, instead, the greenhouse gases have been trapping heat, thus causing the Earth's temperatures to increase. This is why recent emphasis has been placed on making a conscious effort to decrease greenhouse gases within industries. (1) For instance, while the fossil fuel industries are exerting 86 percent of carbon dioxide emissions today, the energy industry emits zero greenhouse gases owing to nuclear energy (the other 14 percent comes from energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass). (2)

According to Mayor Bloomberg's Inventory of New York City Greenhouse Gas Emissions April 2007 projections, carbon dioxide is projected to increase by 27 percent between 2005 and 2030 due to greenhouse gases released by combustion vehicles, electricity and heating fuels. (3) Increased reliance on non-polluting nuclear energy represents our best chance of meeting the southeast region's clean air goals. The critical difference between nuclear power and “new renewables” is that nuclear energy is the reliable, clean energy source. This is because nuclear energy is not subject to unreliable weather or climate conditions, unpredictable cost fluctuations, or dependence on foreign suppliers. (2)

So, looking at the bigger picture; if an excess amount of greenhouse gases continue to be released into our atmosphere, causing temperatures to continue to increase, we could have a bigger problem on our hands. That problem is known as Global Warming. Global warming refers to an average increase in the Earth's temperature, which in turn causes changes in the climate. If the Earth continues to warm, it may lead to changes in rainfall patterns, a rise in sea level, and a wide range of impacts on plants, wildlife, and humans. When scientists speak of climate change, their concern is directed toward global warming caused by human activities.

What happens if we don't take action?

Scientists are still uncertain what climate changes may occur. Though some changes may seem like a turn for the better, it is actually the result of damage being done to our Earth. For example, a person living in a colder climate will probably welcome warmer temperatures, however these warmer temperatures are a direct result of the greenhouse effect and just one of the symptoms of global warming that could be potentially dangerous to our environment.

People's health will also be affected. Directly, people may become unable to adjust to the warmer climates, causing a variety of problems including heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Indirectly, people's health will be affected by ecological disturbances, air pollution and changes in food and water supplies. How people and nature adapt to climate change will determine how seriously it impacts human health.

Climate changes could also alter the ecosystem and habitat. Living things rely on these places to live, and these places rely on the weather to flourish. If warmer weather causes the habitats and ecosystems to change, animals may not be able to adapt as quickly and will not survive.

Global warming could potentially cause sea levels to rise, as well. As the warm weather increases, glaciers may melt, thus adding more water to our oceans. Sea levels are predicted to rise as high as 3 feet, causing flooding and damage to our environment.

How can we make a difference?

Our goal is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere every day by making minor adjustments in our daily activities:

  • Instead of driving to work every day, car pool or take the mass transit. For shorter commutes, you can ride a bike, rollerblade or walk.
  • Conserve electricity by turning off the lights, television and computer when they are not in use. Unplug any appliances you don't use regularly. Reducing the amount of electricity in use help alleviate tress on the grid strong, thus preventing brownouts or blackouts.
  • Plant trees! Trees help absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the air.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle! This will help save natural resources such as trees, oil and aluminum. To learn more about what you can and can't recycle, visit Reduce, Reuse Recycle.
  • Consumer industries are making it easier for people to buy environmentally friendly products. There are green household cleaners, energy safe stereos and VCRs, hybrid cars and energy safe solar panels, which can be used to heat homes and create electricity. These products are now being clearly labeled by the ENERGY STAR® logo, making it for shoppers to know which products are energy safe. (1)

(2) VY Power Point for Legislature WITHOUT Kermit
(3) Mayor Bloomberg's Inventory of New York City Greenhouse Gas Emissions April 2007