Global Warming 101

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Americans are feeling the impacts of global warming now—they’re clear, costly, and widespread. With damaging floods, devastating wildfires, record drought, and natural disasters like superstorm Sandy—which cost hundreds of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars—we can’t afford to wait any longer to act. For the health and welfare of Americans, our economy, and the environment, it’s time to reduce pollution from America’s power plants, dramatically increase energy efficiency, and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Heat-trapping air pollutants, most notably carbon dioxide, are changing the climate. The amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has increased by 41 percent since the beginning of the industrial era, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. Around the world, temperatures have risen as a result. According to thermometer records, the 1980s were the hottest decade on record across the globe—until they were surpassed by the 1990s and then the 2000s. The hottest year on record in the United States was 2012.

Although local temperatures fluctuate naturally, over the past 50 years the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. Climate scientists say that unless we curb the emissions that cause climate change, average U.S. temperatures could be 3o to 11o F higher by the end of the century.

What causes global warming? We do.

The primary cause of global warming is human activity— most significantly the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas—to generate electricity, fuel transportation, and operate businesses and homes.

Coal-burning power plants are the biggest culprit. In the United States, electric power plants emit approximately 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year—roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total emissions. The second largest source of carbon in the United States is transportation.

The Environmental Protection Agency has taken important first steps by setting standards that will cut carbon pollution from automobiles and trucks nearly in half by 2025. But we have yet to tackle the carbon pollution from hundreds of existing coal-burning power plants in the United States.

The high cost of inaction

Global warming means significant costs for the health of our families, communities, and environment. Scientists warn that if we do not aggressively curb climate change now, the results will likely be disastrous.

According to the 2013 National Climate Assessment, a report produced by 13 federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and NASA, we’re already seeing some of the consequences of global warming, including more severe storms, floods, and droughts, and increased illness and death from more severe heat waves and worsened air pollution.

Global warming is projected to change where crops are able to grow and cause the spread of insect-borne diseases. It is already causing more acidic oceans, which can affect the very base of the food chain. In fact, the Pentagon views global warming as a major national security threat because of the many ways it can increase global geopolitical instability.

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