Sustainability

West Chester University

 

The science of atmosphere, weather & climate

The issue of climate change is politically charged and much conflicting information is bandied about. The attempt to create confusion is intentional, a strategy know as manufacturing uncertainty first pioneered by tobacco companies. Therefore, it is very important to make sure you find information from reliable sources. Realclimate.org offers commentary by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. They provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. Their discussion is restricted to scientific topics.

For an example of the controversy, Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma believes climate change is a "hoax". You can read his opinion here, as well as a scientific response to his opinions here.

There is no longer any credible debate on whether human activity can cause global changes to our environment. The only debate that remains concerns the extent of the impact. Whether the impact is moderate or catrostrophic will depend on our decisions and our actions. The natural variations that lead to changes in climate cannot explain the systematic changes that have occurred over the last century. The impact of a changing climate are already being felt. Here is a video from the National Research Council that will introduce you to the state of our knowledge about what is happening and what we should do.

The Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States web page will introduce and lead you through the content of the most comprehensive and authoritative report of its kind. The report summarizes the science and the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.

The Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) is the primary climate-change data and information analysis center of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). CDIAC is located at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and includes the World Data Center for Atmospheric Trace Gases. CDIAC's data holdings include records of the concentrations of carbon dioxide and other radiatively active gases in the atmosphere; the role of the terrestrial biosphere and the oceans in the biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases; emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere; long-term climate trends; the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on vegetation; and the vulnerability of coastal areas to rising sea level.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to provide the decision-makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information about climate change. The IPCC does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters. Its role is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change, its observed and projected impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they need to deal objectively with policy relevant scientific, technical and socio economic factors. They should be of high scientific and technical standards, and aim to reflect a range of views, expertise and wide geographical coverage. They provide a range of links for more information, as well as a glossary of terms, press releases, graphics and presentations, and reports.

The United Nations Foundation Scientific Expert Group report on Climate Change and Sustainable Development can be found here.

Highlights of the resulting report include:
  • To avoid entering a regime of sharply rising danger of intolerable impacts on humans, policy makers should limit temperature increases from global warming to 2-2.5ºC above the 1750 pre-industrial level. It is still possible to avoid unmanageable changes in the future, but the time for action is now.
    • Temperatures have already risen about 0.8ºC above pre-industrial levels and are projected to rise approximately 3-5ºC over pre-industrial levels by 2100.
    • Avoiding temperature increases greater than 2-2.5ºC would require very rapid success in reducing emissions of methane and black soot worldwide, and global carbon dioxide emissions must level off by 2015 or 2020 at not much above their current amount, before beginning a decline to no more than a third of that level by 2100.
  • The technology exists to seize significant opportunities around the globe to reduce emissions and provide other economic, environmental and social benefits, including meeting the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. To do so, policy makers must immediately act to reduce emissions by:
    • Improving efficiency in the transportation sector through measures such as vehicle efficiency standards, fuel taxes, and registration fees/rebates that favor purchase of efficient and alternative fuel vehicles.
    • Improving design and efficiency of commercial and residential buildings through building codes, standards for equipment and appliances, incentives for property developers and landlords to build and manage properties efficiently, and financing for energy-efficiency investments.
    • Expanding the use of biofuels that do not compete with food production through energy portfolio standards and incentives to growers and consumers.
    • Beginning immediately, designing and deploying only coal-fired power plants that will be capable of cost-effective and environmentally-sound retrofits for capture and sequestration of their carbon emissions.
  • Some level of climate change and impacts from it is already unavoidable. Societies must do more to adapt to ongoing and unavoidable changes in the Earth's climate system by:
    • Improving preparedness/response strategies and management of natural resources to cope with future climatic conditions that will be fundamentally different than those experienced for the last 100 years.
    • Addressing the adaptation needs of the poorest and most vulnerable nations, which will bear the brunt of climate change impacts.
    • Planning and building climate resilient cities.
    • Strengthening international, national, and regional institutions to cope with weather-related disasters and an increasing number of climate change refugees.
  • The international community, through the UN and related multilateral institutions, can play a crucial role in advancing action to manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable by:
    • Helping developing countries and countries with economies in transition to finance and deploy energy efficient and new energy technologies.
    • Accelerating negotiations to develop a successor international framework for addressing climate change and sustainable development.
    • Educating all about the opportunities to adopt mitigation and adaptation measures.

The United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) is a group of businesses and leading environmental organizations that have come together to call on the federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse Effect

The EPA has a great deal of resources on climate change and the greenhouse effect, and the following can be found at their Climate Change - Science site.

Energy from the Sun drives the Earth's weather and climate. The Earth absorbs energy from the Sun, and also radiates energy back into space. However, much of this energy going back to space is absorbed by "greenhouse" gases in the atmosphere. Because the atmosphere then radiates most of this energy back to the Earth's surface, our planet is warmer than it would be if the atmosphere did not contain these gases. Without this natural greenhouse effect, temperatures would be about 60ºF lower than they are now, and life as we know it today would not be possible.

During the past century humans have substantially added to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, oil and gasoline to power our cars, factories, utilities and appliances. The added gases - primarily carbon dioxide and methane - are enhancing the natural greenhouse effect, and likely contributing to an increase in global average temperature and related climate changes.

Weather

Find out more about our local weather at our Weather & Climate page.

The Weather Underground and Weather.com have lots of general information on weather and climate.