September 1st, 2021

6 things for students to know about climate change

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A 2016 analysis University of Washington researchers and funded by NASA found that the timing of the sea ice break-up and freeze-up is changing in all areas in a direction that is harmful for polar bears. Photo by Mario Hoppmann/via NASA


by Cecilia Curran, NewsHour EXTRA’s intern and Amherst College sophomore 


The news about climate change and extreme weather can sometimes be overwhelming. But what actually is climate change? As defined by NASA, climate change is “a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates” and that humans can change climate too.”

Many factors can cause climate change, according to NASA, including the Earth’s distance from the sun; the sun can send out more or less energy; oceans can change and when a volcano erupts — and human activity:

“People drive cars. People heat and cool their houses. People cook food. All those things take energy. One way we get energy is by burning coal, oil and gas. Burning these things puts gases into the air. The gases cause the air to heat up. This can change the climate of a place. It also can change Earth’s climate.”

The United Nations states climate change is a “change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” The U.N. provides definitions for several key environmental terms here.

Waterfront condo buildings are seen June 3 in Miami, Florida. South Florida is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images


The overall term ‘climate change’ may seem vague, so here are 6 facts to verse you in how climate change affects the environment. 

1. Climate change is much older than you think it is…  Climate change first became a concern around the 1960s — specifically that the effects of greenhouse gases began to add up. While the natural greenhouse gas was first potentially recognized in the 19th century, it started to become more profound in the late 20th. What showed up as unusual weather, crop failures, droughts and floods were attributed to bad weather and other factors. Some scientists noticed the changes early on, however, climate change did not get the attention nor the discussion it needed. Those who did come forward with their findings on potential climate change were brushed aside.

2. In 2020, the world broke good and bad records alike… At the start of the pandemic residential solar panel installations dropped 20 percent, a record drop, but by the end of the year, the sector bounced back as the U.S. added 19 gigawatts of solar power. For context, one gigawatt of power is equivalent to 110 million LED lights, or 1.3 million horses. Nineteen gigawatts is a lot of renewable energy. Beyond the expansion in solar power mentioned above, more than 70 percent of the electricity generated will be from renewable (solar and wind) sources. 

Related: Lesson plan: Solar invention makes safety and production levels shine

3. Climate change isn’t just about the weather. It can negatively impact human populations and wildlife in a number of ways… While already widely understood, the most recent U.N. climate report reaffirmed that those least responsible for global warming will suffer disproportionately from its effects. Currently, the global community is not prepared to deal with the effects of climate change, according to a 2021 report by the United Nations, and many people will face chronic hunger, water scarcity and homes taken by rising water levels as a result.

A 2016 analysis University of Washington researchers and funded by NASA found that the timing of the sea ice break-up and freeze-up is changing in all areas in a direction that is harmful for polar bears. Photo by Mario Hoppmann/via NASA

4. Solutions are being found to offset our current climate problems… While the climate of the planet is in crisis, there are small solutions arising. One of which is a new study that shows that converting agricultural land to rainforest can boost summer rains, which in turn can offset the drier conditions that come with climate change. On the trend of trees, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson aims to plant 30 million new trees a year by 2025. With the climate crisis of carbon emissions in the atmosphere, the rise of trees can help the world toward a goal of not only cutting back on carbon emission but also actively removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Related: Lesson plan: Design a thermoelectric generator to help meet UN Sustainable Development Goals

5. However, 2021 is a “make or break year” for climate change… Any optimism aside, the world finds itself at a crossroads in 2021. According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “To avert the worst impacts of climate change, science tells us that we must limit global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees of the pre-industrial baseline. That means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050,” and that “we are way off track.” There was a time where we believed the world global temperature would rise no more than two degrees celsius, now scientists are predicting three. The responsibility of change primarily falls on the G7 and G20 countries who have promised both money and concrete action.

16-year-old Swedish Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

6. It’s getting easier to be more sustainable as an individual… While the effects and outlook of climate change may seem overwhelming at times, there are more and more small ways that each individual can do their part. While concrete climate change will mostly rely on the decisions of governments and large corporations, that doesn’t mean individuals can’t look at their own level of sustainability. Even little solutions like recycling, buying second-hand, donating used items and researching how sustainable the companies you purchase from are. For more ideas on how to be a sustainable individual, visit here or here.

Hopefully, you now feel more versed in climate change and the environment, but to test that knowledge, try out our Kahoot!

Dig deeper:

Cecilia Curran is a sophomore at Amherst College and NewsHour EXTRA’s intern. She is a prospective double major in Asian Languages & Civilization and Psychology looking to work in Public Health. Local to northern Virginia, Cecilia has loved PBS and her local PBS station WETA for years and is ecstatic to work with NewsHour this summer.

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