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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 quite complicated and a bit overwhelming.

Sometimes it’s easier to say, ‘It’s all too hard, a bit scary and I don’t want to know anymore!’ The best way to overcome any fear and get a grip with these big, difficult concepts is to learn what it 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 affect rain patterns or temperatures over long periods of time. This will mean that in some places where traditionally there may have been lots of rain, now there will be less. In places of steady reliable rain it will now come all at once in powerful downpours.

Why is climate change happening?

The climate changes naturally over time it has changed many times in the past. But usually these changes are very slow; slow enough for people, plants, animals and our environment to adapt to the changes.

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists understand that the climate change that is taking place now is happening much faster than ever before, and that it is closely linked to human activities.

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