Learn more: Climate Change Basics
Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been increasing (top graph), this has been closely followed by an increase in global temperatures (lower graph). (Robert Simmon/NASA)
Global warming is an increase in the Earth’s temperature caused by an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases make up the blanket surrounding the planet that keeps it habitable. These gases allow sunlight to pass through the blanket and hit the Earth. Some of this heat from the sun is absorbed by the Earth and is then radiated back to the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases absorb some of this radiated heat, warming the atmosphere to a comfortable temperature for life. Human produced greenhouse gases are accelerating this process, causing the planet to warm more than it should.
Carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants that we are releasing are collecting like a thickening blanket in the atmosphere and causing the Earth to warm. The more carbon dioxide we release, the warmer the planet will become.
Like the human body, the planet needs to stay within a small temperature range for life to exist comfortably. A small increase in our body temperature can make us feel ill while an increase of just a few degrees can result in our organs failing and even death. Similarly, small changes in the global temperature can result in huge and sometimes devastating consequences for life on Earth.
Rising global temperatures are wreaking havoc on the global climate system — hence the term climate change – causing more intense storms, more severe droughts and shifting rain patterns.