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Climate Change. Global Warming. The Greenhouse Effect. What do they all mean?

There’s so much talk around that it can be hard to make sense of it all. Often the things that we hear around climate change, global warming and the greenhouse effect are difficult to understand.

Sometimes it’s easy to say, ‘It’s all too hard, a bit scary and I don’t want to know about it!’ The best way to understand is to learn what it all means. Find out what you can do about it.

How is climate change different to weather?

Climate change is when the long-term patterns of our climate shift. We’re not just talking about having the odd wet day in summer, or a few crazy warm days in winter. We’re talking about long-term changes to the climate that will affect rain patterns or temperatures over time. This will mean that in some places where there was lots of rain, now there will be less. In places of steady reliable rain it will now come all at once in a thunderstorm.

Why is climate change happening?

The climate changes naturally over time. It has changed many times in the past. These changes are very slow. Slow enough for people, plants, animals and our natural world to adapt to the changes.

The vast majority of climate scientists understand that changes taking place now are happening much faster than ever before. It is closely linked to human activity.

Since the Industrial Revolution we have been busy making greenhouse gases through industry, energy production, manufacturing, transport and growing our food. These gases are causing more heat to be trapped in our atmosphere. This extra energy in our weather system makes it more powerful and less predictable than in the past.

The Greenhouse Effect is a good thing – it keeps us at just the right temperature. It’s a bit like wearing a jumper to keep warm. Our planet is starting to wear too many jumpers and getting a bit hot and bothered.

The good news is that there are heaps of things we can all do to help stop the advance of climate change but we do need to get cracking.

‘We are upsetting the atmosphere upon which all life depends. In the late ’80s when I began to take climate change seriously, we referred to global warming as a “slow-motion catastrophe” – one we expected to kick in perhaps generations later. Instead, the signs of change have accelerated alarmingly.’

David Suzuki