Just For Kids
Although we are not sure exactly why, the Earth has warmed by about 1ºF over the past 100 years. Some think that the earth is getting warmer on it’s own, but most the world’s leading scientists are sure that people are doing things that make the Earth warmer too. To better understand what is happening to the world around us, first we need to understand the difference between Weather and Climate. Click on the titles to learn more!
When wake up in the morning one of the first things we might ask is, how is the weather today? Is it warm or is it cold outside? Is it raining or even snowing? Our weather describes what is happening outdoors on any given day or any given time. Depending on where you live, the weather can change very quickly over a very short period of time, hours or even minutes.
Climate describes the average pattern of weather for a particular area of the world over a period of years. That average includes weather events that are common in the area you live. If you live in the southern part of the United States you would expect a warm and humid climate. If you live in the southwest part of the United States, it would be warm and dry, or if you lived up north you would see snow much of the year.
If you live in area that has a lot of rain for most of the year, it is likely that on some years it might not rain as much. It is also likely that any area of the world could be warmer or colder at times. If those changes occur and remain over a long period of time, this could tell us that a climate change is happening.
The Earth has warmed about 1ºF in the last 100 years. During this period of time the world’s oceans have risen about 8 inches, mostly due to the melting of ice on the earths north and south ice caps. The eight warmest years, since we have been keeping records in 1850, have all occurred since 1998, with the warmest year on record being 2005. Although many factors could be involved, most of the world’s scientists think that greenhouse gases are making the Earth warmer.
Many greenhouse gases occur naturally, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Although many gases do occur naturally, people have caused those gases to increase, especially since the start of the Industrial Age, the period of our history that began in the early 1800’s, when man began the use of machines and engines that released greenhouse gases. For instance, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by the burning of solid waste, wood and wood products, and fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal). Nitrous oxide emissions occur during various agricultural and industrial processes, and when solid waste or fossil fuels are burned. Methane is emitted when organic waste decomposes, whether in landfills or in connection with livestock farming. Methane emissions also occur during the production and transport of fossil fuels.
Have you ever seen a greenhouse? Most greenhouses look like a small glass house. Greenhouses are used to grow plants, especially in the winter. Greenhouses work by trapping heat from the sun. The glass panels of the greenhouse let in light but keep heat from escaping. This causes the greenhouse to heat up and keeps the plants warm enough to live in the winter. The Earth’s atmosphere is all around us. It is the air that we breathe. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere behave much like the glass panes in a greenhouse. Sunlight enters the Earth's atmosphere, passing through the blanket of greenhouse gases. As it reaches the Earth's surface, land and water absorb the sunlight’s energy. Once absorbed, this energy is sent back into the atmosphere. Some of the energy passes back into space, but much of it remains trapped in the atmosphere by the greenhouse gases, causing our world to heat up. Without the greenhouse effect, the Earth would not be warm enough for humans to live. But if the greenhouse effect becomes stronger or too strong, it could make the Earth warmer than usual. Even a little extra warming may cause problems for humans, plants, and animals. We need to do all that we can to keep our greenhouse effect in balance. By allowing too many greenhouses gases to escape into the atmosphere could cause a change to the earth’s climate to warm up too much, something we call global warming.
Global warming refers to an average increase in the Earth's temperature, which in turn causes changes in climate. A warmer Earth 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 talk about the issue of climate change, their concern is about global warming caused by the increase in greenhouse gases.
Whenever you watch TV, play a video game, or listen to your stereo, you produce a greenhouse gas. It also happens when you wash clothes, dry your hair, or turn on a light. To perform many of these functions, you need to use electricity. Electricity comes from power plants. Most power plants use coal and oil to make electricity. Burning coal and oil produces greenhouse gases. Riding in a car also creates greenhouse gases. Driving a car or using electricity is not wrong. We just have to be smart about it. Some people use less driving or carpool with other people to work. The trash that we send to landfills produces a greenhouse gas called methane, it is also produced by the animals we raise for dairy and meat products. Whenever we drive or ride in a car, we are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. And, when factories make the things that we buy and use everyday, they too are sending greenhouse gases into the air.
Whenever we use electricity, we help put greenhouse gases into the air. By turning off lights, the television, and the computer when you are through with them, you can help a lot.
You can save energy by sometimes taking the bus, riding a bike, or walking.
Talk with your family and friends about climate change. Let them know what you've learned.
There are many ways we can reduce the amount of carbon gases we produce, but there is one way we can actually reduce carbon gases that are here right now, and that is by planting trees. Like most plant life, trees actually remove carbon, a greenhouse gas, from the air. Planting trees are fun and a great way to reduce greenhouse gases. If we are smart, we can plant trees around areas that need shade in order to help other plants and animals to live.
Recycle cans, bottles, plastic bags, and newspapers. When you recycle, you send less trash to the landfill and you help save natural resources, like trees, oil, and elements such as aluminum.
There are lots of ways we can improve the environment. One of the ways to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that we put into the air is to buy products that don't use as much energy. By conserving energy, we help reduce climate change and make the Earth a better place. Some products – like certain cars and stereos – are made specially to save energy.
Did you know that you can help the environment if you buy recyclable products instead of non-recyclable ones? Look for the recycle mark – three arrows that make a circle – on the package. Recyclable products are usually made out of things that already have been used. It usually takes less energy to make recycled products than to make new ones. The less energy we use, the better.
Imagine that it's a hot summer day. You put a scoop of ice cream on the sidewalk, and it melts. Why? Well, you probably know that the sun causes the ice cream to melt. But you may not know that the sun produces solar energy. Solar energy is a fancy way of saying "energy that comes from the sun." Solar energy can be used to heat homes, buildings, water, and to make electricity. Today, more than 200,000 houses in the United States take advantage of the sun's energy.
Cars are an important part of life for most people. But cars also cause pollution and release a lot of greenhouse gases into the air. Fortunately, there are some cars that are better for the environment. These cars can travel longer on a smaller amount of gasoline. They don't pollute as much, either. Using these kinds of cars can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the air.
Many things, like computers, TVs, stereos, and VCRs, have special labels on them. The label says "Energy" and has a picture of a star. Products with the ENERGY STAR® label are made to save energy. Buying products with ENERGY STAR® labels will help protect the environment.
This section of the EarthCredits site was produced for kids. Much of the information is a summary of information gathered at http://epa.gov/climatechange/kids/index.html. This EPA site has lots of information and many activities for teachers and students. Another great site with many activities is http://globalwarmingkids.net/web_sites/index.html
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