An Overview of Climate Change
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Climate change is rapidly altering our world in profound ways. Human activity has already increased the earth’s temperature by about 1.5°F over the past century, and as the planet continues to warm, the dangers intensify. Millions of people could be displaced, vital infrastructure could be destroyed, and violent conflicts could multiply. Climate change’s effects are far-reaching and varied and touch virtually every aspect of life on the earth: heat waves, rising sea levels, desertification, melting ice, and even mass extinction.

Because climate change poses such an extraordinary threat to the planet, it needs to be counteracted. There are no clear-cut answers to this global challenge, but it is not insurmountable. Countries are already taking steps to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects. Blueprints exist, but they need to be used more widely and more effectively, because the longer action is delayed, the worse climate change becomes—and the more difficult it will be to endure.

In this module, we will examine three basic questions on climate change:

What is happening?

  • Gain some scientific context by learning about the greenhouse effect and its relationship to climate change.
  • Understand the vast and varied effects of climate change, including through an in-depth look at how climate change is affecting ice melt patterns in Greenland.
  • See how climate change affects millions of people worldwide who depend on the coffee industry for economic survival.

Why is it happening?

  • Learn about the trade-offs of fossil fuels and alternative energy sources, and take a critical look at the mix of energy sources countries use.
  • Explore the lenses through which greenhouse gas emissions can be viewed.
  • Understand the historical division between developed and developing countries and the debate over responsibility for climate change.

What is being done?

  • Study the background, structure, and significance of the Paris Agreement, the first truly global climate action accord.
  • Take a tour of adaptation programs around the world, from Kiribati’s purchase of land in Fiji to Vietnam’s cultivation of salt-resistant rice.
     
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