We’ll be posting a series of posts covering the frequently asked questions regarding climate change. Splitting these questions into multiple posts allows us to focus on providing answers that will hopefully make the topic more accessible. Only by understanding what climate change is, and how it affects us, can we hope to do our bit in countering it.
“The damage that climate change is causing and that will get worse if we fail to act goes beyond the hundreds of thousands of lives, homes and businesses lost, ecosystems destroyed, species driven to extinction, infrastructure smashed and people inconvenienced.” - David Suzuki
If you understood everything in the video above, feel free to skip the rest of the post :)
What is the difference between weather and climate?
The short answer would be that weather is a short term description of the state of the atmosphere while climate describes the extended conditions prevalent at a given location or region. 1
We are usually concerned with the weather conditions in our day to day life. Activities like planning a trip, wondering whether to plan for rain/snow etc make us look up the weather. Weather can be described by taking into account temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, visibility, wind etc.
Climate is the long term average of weather patterns. This allows us to make some predictions about expected weather conditions in general. Thus we can say "Delhi will be very hot in May." with a fair degree of confidence. It also includes other statistical information useful in describing the climatic pattern.
What is climate change?
Since climate describes the extended weather pattern, climate change logically refers to variations in climate over even longer periods of time, as defined by a set of statistical and probabilistic properties. However in commonly understood terms, it has come to refer specifically to climate change caused by human activity.
Is this the same as global warming?
Not exactly. Global warming is the specific phenomenon of rising average temperatures on Earth’s surface. Climate change includes global warming, but refers to broader changes that are happening to our planet’s climate and ecosystems.These include rising sea levels, ocean acidification, shrinking mountain glaciers, accelerating ice melt at the poles, shifts in flower/plant blooming times, more extreme seasons etc.
What is the greenhouse effect?
The greenhouse effect is the way in which heat received from the sun is retained by the atmosphere close to Earth's surface instead of dissipating back into space. "Greenhouse gases" like CO2, water vapour, methane etc are especially good at trapping this heat.
Greenhouse effect in itself isn't bad. In fact it helps regulate our planet's temperature and makes it suitable for life. However an excess of greenhouse gases would tip the balance too far and lead to global warming, climate change and all its attendant issues.