Have Climate Questions? Get Answers Here.
Climate change is tremendously complex and were here to help. The climate desk at The Times has been collecting reader questions and has started answering them here. Type your question in the search box to see if weve covered it yet. If you dont find an answer, dont worry: Were following your great questions and will add more in time. Ask your question here: Theres overwhelming evidence that the world has been warming since the late 19th century, when the burning of fossil fuels became widespread and resulted in large-scale emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This evidence is largely in the form of data from weather stations, buoys, ships, satellites and other sources. The most basic measurements of temperature show that the world has been steadily getting warmer. On average, surface temperatures are 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than a century and a half ago. And the rate of warming has accelerated in recent decades. Temperatures in the top layer of the worlds oceans have increased as well. The oceans have absorbed much of the heat trapped in the atmosphere. There is also plenty of evidence showing the consequences of this warming. Tide gauges and other instruments show that sea levels have risen by about half an inch per decade since 1900 (mostly because water expands as it warms). Satellites that measure gravitational changes show that trillions of tons of ice have melted from the worlds ice sheets and glaciers. Rainfall data shows that heavy downpours have increased in the United States and elsewhere, because warmer air holds more moisture. And not all of the evidence comes from instruments. Scientists doing field research around the world have documented other effects of climate change. Ornithologists, for instance, have shown that warming is affecting many bird species changing when they nest, breed and migrate, and even where they are able to live and thrive. Botanists see similar signs of the effects of climate change on crops, forests and other vegetation. Over many decades, thousands of scientists have studied the warming planet. Theyve reached an overwhelming consensus: The burning of fossil fuels by humans is the primary cause of global warming today. Even scientists employed by oil companies have . One put it this way: The odds of current global warming occurring without human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are less than 1 in 100,000. Heres how the science arrived at this place. First, its important to understand the main forces affecting climate. The big ones are the sun (whose energy can fluctuate over time), ocean circulation patterns (which can change how heat is distributed around the planet), volcanic activity (which pumps material into the sky that can have either warming or cooling effects) and the overall amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Each of these forces has played a role at different times in history. For example, 56 million years ago, a giant burst of greenhouse gases from volcanoes or vast deposits of methane (or both) abruptly warmed the planet by at least 9 degrees Fahrenheit, triggering mass extinctions. About 12,000 years ago, major changes in Atlantic Ocean circulation plunged the Northern Hemisphere into a frigid state. And 300 years ago, a combination of reduced solar output and increased volcanic activity cooled parts of the planet enough that Londoners regularly ice-skated on the Thames River. Volcanoes can have a cooling effect when they shoot out stuff that blocks solar radiation. In studying the cause of todays climate changes, scientists have looked at all of these factors. The first three (solar energy, ocean patterns and volcanic activity) havent varied enough in the last 150 years to account for todays rapidly rising temperatures. Thats especially true in the second half of the 20th century, when solar output actually declined and volcanoes had a cooling effect. Rather, scientists have found that the warming is best explained by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, put there by humans burning vast amounts of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas since the start of the Industrial Revolution. From having studied bubbles of ancient air trapped in ice, scientists know that before 1750, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was roughly 280 parts per million. That number is now above 420 parts per million. Carbon dioxide acts like a blanket in the atmosphere, trapping the suns heat and warming the planet. Climate change is already harming plant and animal life in ways that scientists are racing to understand. Warmer oceans are killing corals. Rising sea levels are threatening the beaches that sea turtles need for nesting. Summers are becoming longer, and winters shorter seasonal shifts that endanger countless animal and plant species by disrupting food supplies, mating seasons and other variables. And then there are the polar bears, long symbols of what could be lost in a warming world. One , with large segments of ecosystems collapsing in waves as the world warms. The phenomenon has already started in coral reefs, scientists say, and could begin in tropical forests by the 2040s. However, despite these grim predictions, climate change isnt currently the biggest driver of biodiversity loss. On land, the largest factor is the reshaping of the terrain itself, as people have created farms and ranches, towns and cities, roads and mines on what was once habitat for myriad species. At sea, the main cause of biodiversity loss is overfishing. These issues habitat loss, overfishing and climate change are interlinked. For example, ecosystems like peatlands and forests not only support a wide variety of life but also pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in plants and in the ground. Destroying them both harms biodiversity and complicates the fight against climate change. A climate tipping point refers to a threshold beyond which small changes to global temperatures can have big, irreversible effects. For example, youve probably heard that scientists are concerned about the melting of the huge ice sheet that covers Greenland. If the world isnt able to rein in global warming, the melting will eventually become self-sustaining and irreversible, researchers have determined. Thats a tipping point. If this threshold is crossed, the melting could raise sea levels by as much as 23 feet over the course of several centuries, swamping coastal cities around the world. The idea of climate tipping points has been around for decades, although there is debate about how many there are and at what temperatures they will be reached. The big ones, however, are generally accepted to include the melting of the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland; the thawing of Arctic permafrost; the collapse of a major ocean circulation system; and the shrinking of the Amazon rainforest. that some of these changes may start to occur once global warming reaches between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial average temperatures. And the world is already 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in the 19th century. The effect of volcanic eruptions on warming is minimal. Volcanic activity generates between 130 million tons to 440 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the United States Geological Survey. Human activity generates far more, about 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year 80 times as much as the high end of the estimate for volcanic activity, and 270 times as much as the low end estimate. And thats just carbon dioxide. Human activity also releases other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, like methane, in far greater quantities than volcanoes do. Heres one way to think about it. The largest volcanic eruption in the past century was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. If an explosion of that size happened every day, NASA has calculated, it would still release only half as much carbon dioxide as daily human activity does. Volcanoes can also have a short-term cooling effect, when they blast material into the atmosphere that blocks the suns energy. But regardless, there is no evidence that volcanic activity has increased over the past 200 years. There have been more reports of eruptions. But researchers at the Global Volcanism Program of the Smithsonian Institution have attributed that increase not to a rise in actual eruptions, but to increased reports from the growing number of people who live near a volcano. In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the climatic effects of volcanic activity were inconsequential over the scale of a century. You can read the findings . Talk of global warming usually focuses on rising temperatures in the atmosphere. But most warming is actually occurring in the oceans. Thats because the oceans are an enormous heat sink. They cover two-thirds of the Earths surface, and water can absorb much more heat than air, so about 90 percent of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is taken up by the oceans. Without the oceans, the atmosphere would have warmed far more than the 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) it has since the late 19th century. And currents distribute the oceans heat around the globe, playing a critical role in regulating the climate. But warming of the oceans has caused its own problems. Water expands when it warms, which contributes to rising sea levels. Warming oceans cause coral reefs to die, add energy to hurricanes, making them more destructive, and melt the leading edges of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica from underneath. And just as with land-based life, warming in the oceans has affected the range and distribution of many species of fish and shellfish. Oceans dont just absorb heat; they also take up carbon dioxide. This, again, is not all bad the huge current that encircles Antarctica removes much carbon dioxide that would otherwise stay in the atmosphere and trap more heat. But as the carbon dioxide concentration of the oceans increases, the water becomes more acidic. This change in water chemistry harms many small ocean organisms that are a fundamental part of the marine food chain. Raising animals to feed people has a significant effect on climate change (and the environment in general), and its not just about belching cows. Cattle get a lot of the attention because of their burps: The specialized digestive system of cattle (and other ruminants, including sheep) produces methane that is released into the atmosphere, mostly through belching. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that digestion accounts for about 40 percent of the emissions from animal agriculture. However, a wide range of other emissions are related to the production of feed, animal transportation and other activities. Overall, that, globally, the raising of livestock of all kinds is responsible for nearly 15 percent of all emissions related to human activity. Cattle raised for meat and milk account for about two-thirds of total emissions, and pig production accounts for about 10 percent. Buffalo, chicken (for meat and eggs) and other animals like sheep account for smaller amounts. When measured by unit of protein produced, beef has by far the largest carbon footprint. The production and processing of animal feed forage crops like hay, as well as corn and other grains accounts for even more emissions than digestion. Some of these come from the burning of fossil fuels (to run agricultural equipment and heat or cool barns and other facilities), some from activities like fertilizer production and some from the land-use changes that often accompany the expansion of the beef industry and other enterprises. An analysis by Our World in Data, a scientific publication affiliated with the University of Oxford, found that agricultural land use could be , to one billion hectares from four billion, if the world adopted a plant-based diet. When a rancher or beef producer clears a forest to create grazing land, large amounts of carbon in the felled trees is released, either quickly, through burning, or more slowly, through decay. With worldwide demand for beef and other meats rising, this kind of deforestation is increasing in some parts of the world, notably in the Amazon rainforest in South America. Brazil is the perennial leader in acres of tropical forest lost to deforestation, according to the World Resources Institute. Two other significant, if smaller, sources of emissions are manure and the processing and transportation of the finished animal products. These are the names of two different but related climate phenomena that originate in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and come and go every few years, influencing weather around the world. An El Nino period tends to bring rainier, cooler conditions to much of the Southern United States, and warmer conditions to other parts of North America. Elsewhere around the world, El Nino can create warm, dry conditions in Asia, Australia and the Indian subcontinent. Parts of Africa and South America can be affected as well. In 2023, scientists announced the start of the latest El Nino. With it comes increased chances in 2024. Then theres La Nina, its opposite. La Nina often brings warmer and drier conditions in the Southern United States, and cooler, wetter weather in parts of the North, especially the Pacific Northwest. Parts of Australia and Asia can be wetter than normal. La Nina can also lead to more hurricanes in the North Atlantic. Both El Nino and La Nina occur on average about every two to seven years. They can last the better part of the year, though sometimes longer. Some research suggests that exceptionally strong episodes will occur more frequently than they do now as the world continues to warm from emissions of greenhouse gases. Both are defined by changes in sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, as well as changes in atmospheric high-pressure and low-pressure zones. When sea-surface temperatures there are about 1 degree Fahrenheit or more above average, El Nino can develop. When temperatures are below average, La Nina can form. (When temperatures are at or near average, neither develops.) The temperature changes are also accompanied by differences in atmospheric air pressure that can influence powerful trade winds, affecting rainfall and temperatures far and wide. Simply put, climate models are computer programs that simulate part or all of the worlds climate. They help scientists better understand what might happen in the future in this case, how the global climate may change over time. But climate models are far from simple. The software has to replicate, as closely as possible, the physics of climate elements like the atmosphere, the ocean, land surfaces and ice sheets. Even more critically, it must accurately simulate how all of these elements interact over time. The simulations combine actual data (temperature, precipitation, humidity and other real-world observations) with tweakable elements like carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere or variations in the suns intensity. This allows scientists to explore various what-ifs for example, what might happen to sea levels if greenhouse gas emissions increase or decrease. No computer model, of the climate or anything else, is perfect. No computer can do enough calculations fast enough to show how the climate will change every minute in every cubic inch of the world for the next 50 years. But computer models can be extremely useful, and theyre steadily improving. And even older and less complex models to be accurate at forecasting climate change. Short answer: Maybe. But its hard to know for sure, and the effects would likely be small. Heres a longer answer. Earthquakes occur because of changes in the stresses along a fault line a fracture between blocks of rock underground. Anything that causes changes in stress levels could push a stable fault to the point where the blocks suddenly move past each other. Thats an earthquake. Stresses in a fault build up naturally, a result of the slow movement of Earths large crustal plates. But stresses can be affected in other ways as well. For example, injection of wastewater from oil drilling into was found to have caused many earthquakes, most of them small. And anything that alters the mass above a fault impounding of water behind a dam, for example can potentially alter stresses. Extraction of gas from a large natural gas field in Soviet Uzbekistan is thought to have in 1976 and 1984. Faults are far enough underground that the warming of the atmosphere and the oceans from emissions of greenhouse gases wouldnt affect them. But global warming may affect earthquakes indirectly. More intense and frequent droughts could result in more evaporation of water from the ground, potentially changing fault stresses. The melting of ice sheets and glaciers, which are extremely heavy, might alter stresses below them as well. But since the effects likely would be small, and since scientists dont precisely know pre-quake stress conditions within faults, no one is able yet to confidently say whether such indirect warming-related effects pushed a given fault past the breaking point and caused an earthquake. This is one of the most common and vexing questions: Can one persons actions really make a difference? The problem is so big that the fix has to come from powerful nations and policymakers, right? First of all, its impossible to separate the two things: Personal actions and international cooperation are inextricably linked. The answer also depends on whose actions were talking about. The actions of a middle-class American matter a lot more than the actions of, say, a farmer in Bangladesh. Why? Because people in wealthy countries consume much more than people in poor countries, and so their choices matter more to global emissions. What can individuals do? Heres . A few examples: Transit: What car a person buys or whether a person even owns a car matters tremendously, because transportation is the single biggest source of emissions in most American cities. Air travel: Long-haul and first-class trips in particular increase a persons carbon footprint. Food: If people were to simply waste less food, it would make a significant difference in emissions. Stuff: Avoid the disposable. Purchase things that last. In our homes, one of the most effective (but sometimes complicated) things that can help is to with . Gas stoves, too, , although to a lesser degree, but also have other . Changing what you do can also influence others. Research shows, for instance, that people tend to conserve more electricity when their utility bills show how their power use compares with their neighbors. And its worth noting that individual action is a prerequisite for collective action. Without individual activists getting together, there would be no Sunrise Movement camping out in the halls of Congress. And, of course, voting is an individual action that can be an important force for change. On the whole, though, humans tend to be bad at altering their behavior today to address risks tomorrow. This present bias, as cognitive scientists call it, makes it hard for us, as individuals, to carry out lifestyle changes now to prevent a catastrophe down the road. Because the world has deferred climate action for so long, it must now cut greenhouse gas emissions drastically and swiftly. It can be hard to imagine how those cuts can be made without ambitious government policies. Still, its not too late to make a difference. While its true that we have already dangerously warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels for generations, the future isnt set in stone. Many futures remain possible. Its up to us to decide which one plays out. If youre asking whether the climate has already changed and is already causing grievous harm to millions of people, the answer is yes. If youre asking whether humanity is destined to some vague and awful fate, the answer is no. Unequivocally no. Much is being done to slow the pace of warming. More can be done. Thats what scientists implore policymakers to do. Its never too late to stop punching ourselves in the face, as Adam Levy, an atmospheric physicist, says (while punching himself). Lets first look at where we are. The average global temperature is about 1.2 degrees Celsius higher today than it was at the start of the industrial age, mainly because of the burning of fossil fuels. Thanks to all the greenhouse gases that have already accumulated in the atmosphere, the planet will heat up more in the coming decades. How much more? That depends on the actions of the countries that emit the most (essentially, the 20 largest economies, led by the United States and China). There are ways to keep planetary warming on a safe trajectory. The shorthand for this, established by global scientific consensus, is to limit global average temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial times. Until recently, we were on a very bad trajectory: The global average temperature was on track to warm by more than 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. Thats no longer the case, thanks to ambitious policies spurred by public pressure, technological advances and the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy. The pace can still be slowed a lot more. It requires slashing the burning of fossil fuels. It requires plugging leaks of methane (an extremely potent greenhouse gas) from oil and gas facilities. It requires growing food without mowing down more forests. There are many pathways, spelled out by rigorous research. Each has tradeoffs. For some of us, it might be easier to subscribe to doomism. It lets us off the hook to change how we do things. Or to imagine how the world might function differently. Nihilism is cheap. Dont buy it. By some estimates, the worlds food system is responsible for . It happens because forests get cleared to make room for farms and livestock. Cows and rice paddies emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Fossil fuels are burned to power farm machinery, make fertilizer and ship food. Anyone focused on the climate effects of diet should keep a few broad things in mind. First, beef, lamb and cheese tend to have by far creating the most greenhouse gases per gram of protein in part because cows and other ruminants are more resource-intensive to raise. Pork, chicken, eggs and many types of fish typically have smaller effects on emissions (though they can create ). Plant-based foods usually produce the fewest emissions of all. So the most straightforward way of reducing diet-related emissions is to consume less meat and dairy and more plants. Its especially the case if you live in the United States, where red meat consumption is much higher than in many parts of the world. According to a World Resources Institute , if the average American simply replaced a third of the beef they eat with lower-emissions pork or poultry or legumes, their food-related emissions would fall 13 percent. Moreover, a of have found that people who currently eat a meat-heavy diet could shrink their food-related footprint by one-third or more by going vegetarian. It sounds like a no-brainer, but the other big way to shrink the climate effect of your diet is simply to waste less food. According to , Americans throw out roughly 20 percent of the food they buy. Other popular strategies are less clear-cut, at least when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Studies differ on whether grass-fed beef, for instance, is any more climate friendly than conventional feedlot beef, although some argue its better for animal welfare. Organic crops than traditional crops, which could lead to more emissions if such farming results in more deforestation. As for debates over locally grown produce, or paper vs. plastic bags, those are relatively small in the grand scheme of things, since transportation and packaging are of foods climate effects. And, of course, there are other concerns besides climate change. For example, when compared with meat, wild fish can be a lower-emissions option. But that comes with a caveat: The world is already catching about as much wild fish as it possibly can. Most fisheries are being fished at their maximum sustainable level, while others are being . So more people switching to fish could require, among other actions, the number of sustainable fish farms worldwide. The Times has written extensively about food, diet and climate change including what you might want to know about almond milks and soy milks . Heres an excerpt with the gist of it: Almond, oat and soy milk all have a smaller greenhouse gas footprint than cows milk does. But, as always, there are caveats and trade-offs to consider. Almonds require a lot of water to grow, and this has been a problem in places like California. Soy milk tends to be fairly low-impact, as long as the soy is sustainably farmed. In addition, weve written a separate entry in this F.A.Q. about generally. This is one of the most common lines of questioning we see: Should I move? Is one place safer than another? The simple fact is that no place is invulnerable to climate change. And although some parts of the world might be better than others, better isnt perfect, because global warming has effects everywhere. Experts point to when youre considering whether another place would be better suited for dealing with climate change than wherever you live now. The first is geography. Consider this example from the United States. The Midwest is inland, away from rising sea levels and warming ocean waters that will cause more flooding and intensified hurricanes. Midwestern states are also farther north than many others, which means naturally lower temperatures than places to the south. The Great Lakes region, and surrounding rivers, have the potential to provide reliable sources of water, offsetting some of the worst effects of drought. These factors also apply to much of the Northeast United States and the northern Great Plains and, outside the U.S., parts of Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. The second factor is the ability of a place to accommodate new arrivals. Does an area have enough housing or can it support more? Are residents welcoming to newcomers? Are local and regional governments preparing for population increases? If the answer to at least some of these questions is yes, you may have identified a potential destination. Some cities in the U.S. meet these standards. Detroit, Cincinnati and Buffalo, N.Y., are common examples. They are in regions with more climate-friendly geography. And they have another thing in common: Their populations have shrunk by the hundreds of thousands since the 1950s. Overall, relocating in the face of climate change is a profoundly complicated problem that the world is only beginning to fully understand. For one thing, many people, particularly in poorer countries or regions, cant afford to move even if they wanted to. Despite that, some communities may be uprooted by disaster, forcing climate migration and the social, political and economic upheaval that can entail. The bottom line is that the planet will continue warming in the coming decades, according to the most recent projections. And even wealthier places arent always prepared for climate extremes. That makes it all the more important to consider points like geography, and a communitys preparedness for the future, when thinking about relocating. Now were getting personal. First of all, if youre trying to work through the climate consequences of bringing new life into the world, youre in . It is our modern take on a question thats probably been around since the dawn of humanity: Will my children have a safe and fulfilling life? If youre worried about the future your child will grow up into, thats a legitimate concern. Climate change affects people , starting at . But whether we are rich or poor, the social and economic tumult the world faces as the planet warms is all but certain to touch us. If your concern is with the actual climate toll of child-rearing, researchers have tried to tackle that question. One that having a family does indeed take a significant environmental toll, though, as you can imagine, to try to put a number to. But heres an important point to consider. More people in the world more greenhouse gas emissions, if the world can find a way to stop burning fossil fuels. That cuts to the very heart of the worlds climate crisis: Can, and will, the world do what needs to be done in time for future generations? Ultimately, the choice to have a child or not comes down to the act of balancing a host of profound moral and individual considerations, starting perhaps with: Does parenthood deeply interest you? Because the right decision cant be just about numbers, or carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions, or the uncertainties of an unknowable future. As we all know, its easy to find friends, relatives perhaps even (we hope!) our own parents who will declare raising their children to be one of the most important and satisfying choices theyve made. And its also easy to find folks who are living the richest of lives while choosing not to have a family. Plastic is a technological marvel that has transformed the human experience. We have plastic to thank for our cellphones, sippy cups, automobiles, surgical gloves, elastic underwear bands and countless other things. Its also responsible for some 4 percent of . Thats more than whats produced by all of the worlds airplanes . Plastic is, after all, usually made from fossil fuels. And its more than a climate problem: Plastic litter is killing marine life. And pollution (not only in the form of plastic) is one of the of biodiversity loss. Plastic-related chemicals can disrupt human metabolism and inhibit hormones. And theyre . shows that more than 40 percent of the plastic we use comes in the form of packaging, generally single-use, and a lot of it isnt recyclable. In fact, only about 9 percent of all plastic ever made has been , according to the United Nations Environment Program. Recycling is notoriously difficult, starting with the little recycling symbol were all familiar with the three arrows forming a triangle. Many people assume it means something is recyclable. But guess what: It doesnt mean that. More on this big problem . What plastic isnt recycled ends up going to landfills, or it becomes litter, or it gets burned, polluting the atmosphere. The fossil fuel industry, worried about declining demand for oil, is trying to pivot to of the stuff. Plastic waste going into waterways is , perhaps even triple, by 2040. Some governments are creating laws to put the burden on companies to handle plastic waste, and are banning some single-use plastics. There is also movement toward a with a goal of getting nations to agree on a legally binding plan to improve recycling, clean up waste and curb production. How to do that, though, is . Its worth the effort. But the key word here, unfortunately, is effort. Figuring out whether something is recyclable or simply whether anyone near you actually accepts recyclables is far too confusing. You cant even trust the familiar recycling symbol (those three little arrows forming a triangle) because it a thing is recyclable. But theres hope! Americas big recycling companies do want your recycling, or at least some of it. For starters, we built a to explain how you can figure out if various pieces of plastic are actually recyclable. In order to know what you should throw in the bin, it can help to think like the recyclers. Recycling, after all, is not a public service in many places its a business. So whether a material gets recycled depends on whether money can be made from it. Materials like glass and metals have a long history of recycling and can be endlessly reprocessed. The United States also has good infrastructure for recycling paper products like cardboard, which has a recycling rate above 90 percent. Plastic is different. One of the biggest barriers is that its often cheaper to simply make new plastic. That said, there is a good market for rigid plastics, the kinds in the triangular symbol. These represent items like milk jugs and detergent tubs, and nearly 30 percent of these are recycled. One set of items must almost always go into the trash: flexible, or soft, plastics like shopping bags, bubble mailers or foil-lined chip bags. For one thing because they can jam up machines at sorting plants. So, yes, try to recycle clean paper products, metals, rigid plastics and glass, if its accepted in your local recycling program. To improve recycling, environmentalists say it can help to support legislation such as , laws that to make products more recyclable or measures aimed at reducing single-use products. Reducing food waste can definitely make a difference. The United Nations Environment Program says food waste accounts for of greenhouse gas emissions globally. And thats not to mention the emissions associated with food production, which add up to about of the global total. But when tossing food or scraps simply cant be avoided, composting can play a role. Composting can reduce greenhouse gases by improving carbon sequestration in the soil and by preventing methane emissions through aerobic decomposition, according to the . Thats because methane-producing microbes arent active in the presence of oxygen, the E.P.A. explains. Organic material decomposing in a landfill, on the other hand, produces lots of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Some cities and states are trying to make composting easier. Municipal brown bins can be found in parts of New York City, and California has requiring every jurisdiction to provide organic waste collection. Around the world, to tackle the problem and the related issue of hunger. If your local government hasnt set up a program, you can sometimes find community gardens or farmers markets that will accept compost. And weve written a guide on how , even without a yard. To answer the big question right up front: It doesnt smell. While we have you on the topic of food waste, another thing to consider is what you buy, and where. Weve written about apps that help for cheap. Think of those perfectly edible peaches and tomatoes that get passed up because theyre not pretty enough. If you find yourself thinking, Im just one person, whats the point? you might be inspired by this story of . A New Yorker from the Bronx, Mr. Morales created a program to bring composting to public housing, home to New Yorkers. And if you still have more questions, check out the entries in this F.A.Q. about and . People sure do love their gas stoves. But they have their downsides, particularly compared to , which are far more efficient and also dont release pollutants into the home from the burning gas. Heres how to think about making a change. First of all, if youre looking to reduce household emissions of greenhouse gases, there may be more effective things that you could do before ditching the stove. The best thing to start with is an energy assessment, which is when you bring in a licensed professional to look over the home and identify the biggest ways to reduce energy use. ( has information about finding one.) Often they will suggest things like fixing leaky windows or doors, which can save a surprising amount of money over time. If your home has a gas- or oil-burning furnace, replacing it with a heat pump would have a far bigger impact on household emissions than replacing your stove. That can be a costly project depending on many things, such as the size and age of the house. However, to soften the blow, in the U.S. you may be eligible for financial . But back to your gas stove. Is it time to say goodbye? Evidence of the of gas stoves has grown, including a link to childhood asthma. The reason is that the flames emit various poisonous gases including nitrogen oxide, which is thought to trigger asthma. Stoves can also sometimes leak small amounts of natural gas even when theyre off. There are ways to minimize the risk, such as making sure the range hood is turned on while cooking, or by buying a room air filter. has more details. Gas ranges also, obviously, burn gas, which is a fossil fuel and contributes to global warming. If youre going to switch, induction stoves are the most efficient choice. They can cost a lot more than a traditional electric range, and for technical reasons, only certain kinds of pots and pans will work on the burners. But since induction ranges are powered by electricity they eliminate the issue of indoor pollution from gas. And depending how your local utility generates electricity, they can be much greener. If you decide to do it, you may also be eligible for incentives . Climate change is likely to make your childs life experience much different than what youve known. So even though it might feel like a daunting subject to bring up with your kids, it may also be one of the most important. The first and most critical step is to stay positive. Remind your child that they have a role to play as a nature lover and a climate leader, whether its in their backyard, their school, their community or beyond. Second, dont feel daunted by the science. To help, we created which explains the basics of climate science, as well as actions we can all take. Third, remember that your approach will largely depend on your childs age and interests. For young children, one way to start is by inspiring a love of the natural world. Over time, you can try to connect what they are noticing, whether its migrating birds or the leaves changing color, with concepts like seasons and weather. By elementary school, kids may have already heard the phrase climate change, so it can be important that they dont start associating it with fear. Explain the basic facts of climate change and the worlds finite resources. (Again, our childrens book might come in handy.) Empower your kids with actions they can take on their own, whether its turning off the lights when they leave a room, or , or taking care of a tree in the backyard. Science museums, zoos, and aquariums are great places to explore together, since many now connect their exhibitions with the wider effects of climate change and biodiversity loss in a child-friendly way. For kids who do receive formal instruction on climate change, it will . At home, you might watch for opportunities to connect it with phenomena they are noticing in the community, whether its heat waves or changes in local flora or fauna. For teenagers, it might help to familiarize them with videos or who are working on solutions. Reassure them that there are , and take the opportunity to help them understand about misinformation and the value of reliable sources of information about climate change, but also about the world in general. Finally, let experts do your homework for you. Here are some kid- and teenager-friendly resources that have been vetted by climate scientists and science educators. is a database of resources supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. offers news articles and lesson plans written for fifth graders and up. And of course The New York Timess Learning Network thats designed for teachers but may also be helpful for parents. Eco-anxiety, climate grief, despair, dread, anger. This is a serious phenomenon, and weve written about how climate change . Therapy can indeed be a helpful way to work through feelings like these related to the climate crisis, although sometimes it can be costly for a person without insurance to cover it. This describes some useful, affordable resources. As one , action can also be an antidote to anxiety. And you might be inspired about a growing chorus of young people trying to focus more on solutions to counterbalance the seeming drumbeat of gloomy news on climate change. Or this profile of and what theyre doing and why. This F.A.Q. also covers the topic elsewhere, from a slightly different angle, in our answer to the question, We also have an entry on about climate change. Theres a whole lot of climate misinformation out there, thanks to deniers, special-interest groups and also the numerous people who buy into it not realizing that its bad information. The climate has always changed. Its snowing outside, gotcha! Sunspots are to blame and volcanoes too. These are all flawed arguments or attempts to misrepresent the science, cherry-pick facts or spread conspiracy theories about whats known or how climate systems work. Once you recognize them, they are pretty simple to dismiss or ignore, and usually the flaws in the arguments are pretty easy to understand. Here are some resources that list examples of these kinds of bad information, and explain whats wrong with them. is a nonprofit website focused on science education that keeps a long list of false claims and rebuttals about climate. Heres a written for broadcast meteorologists to help them debunk climate misinformation. Carbon Brief, a climate news site based in Britain, occasionally about spurious claims in the news. The worlds wealthiest countries have historically contributed the most to global warming. Just , including the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and much of western Europe, are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry since 1850, despite accounting for just 12 percent of the global population today. Thats because these countries industrialized earlier than much of the rest of the world and therefore have been burning oil, gas and coal for energy for longer than everyone else. When gauging responsibility for current warming, experts look at historical emissions, because once carbon dioxide is in the air it can affect the atmosphere for centuries. Today, China is by far the worlds largest single emitter, accounting for from energy and industry in 2022. However, its responsible for just 14 percent of all planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions since 1850. There are other ways to look at responsibility. Even within an individual country, a persons carbon footprint (or the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by ones lifestyle) typically depends on income and wealth. In the United States, according to , the top 10 percent of earners emits roughly 75 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year, while the bottom 50 percent emit about 10 tons per person. For comparison: In China, the top 10 percent emits about 36 tons per person, while the bottom half averages 3 tons per person. Some environmentalists prefer to focus on the fossil-fuel producers themselves. One found that more than 70 percent of global emissions since 1998 could be traced back to oil, gas and coal sold by just 100 companies, including China Coal, Saudi Aramco and oil giants like Exxon and Shell. But others point out that these companies hardly acted alone the world bought and burned their products. To limit warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times the more ambitious of the two climate goals endorsed by world leaders in the Paris agreement emissions and countries need to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around 2050. That is a daunting task. In 2021, the International Energy Agency compiled a long list of to get there. Theres no silver bullet, but here are a few of the main recommendations: Countries should immediately stop approving new coal plants unless they can trap the plants emissions and (a technology barely in use). By 2025, governments should start banning the sale of new oil and gas furnaces to heat buildings, shifting instead to . By 2030, electric vehicles should make up 60 percent of new car sales globally. Worldwide, the annual pace of installing solar and wind power needs to quadruple between now and the early 2030s. Other short-term measures could make a big difference, such as , a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations, farms and landfills. Finding ways to conserve energy, such as improving insulation in homes, could also be a fast way to cut emissions. There has been some good news on climate change. Not enough. But good news nonetheless. First of all, over the past decade or so, several major economies including the United States have shifted away from burning coal to generate electricity. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, and historically speaking a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. There are still coal power plants being built in the world, but the overall trend away from coal toward cleaner options, like solar, is progress. The cost to build solar power plants has fallen enough that, in some cases, it is now one of the most price-competitive options for generating electricity. This is a significant financial milestone. Cars that burn gas are a major contributor to planet-warming greenhouse emissions, but in the past few years some of the worlds largest automakers have launched aggressive efforts to pivot to making more electric vehicles while phasing out gasoline models. The importance of a significant polluting industry embracing this change, and competing with one another to be better at it, cant be underestimated. Car buyers have been responding. As recently as a half-decade or so ago, electric-car sales were negligible in many parts of the world, but have risen rapidly since. Electric vehicles arent perfect of course, but as a general rule theyre cleaner than gasoline cars. (If youre interested in reading more about that, see the entry in this F.A.Q. for ) The spread of electric vehicles also means that some of the difficulties of owning one (for example, finding charging stations nearby) will likely resolve themselves more quickly as demand grows from drivers. That, in turn, could encourage sales. In 2022 the United States passed new legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, that is widely considered the most important legislative effort to fight climate change in the nations history by encouraging a transition to cleaner energy and offering a range of incentives to businesses and individuals to clean up their act. ( explains how you might be able to claim some of that money by, for instance, buying an electric car or installing a heat pump.) Lastly, heres a big one: For reasons like the above, in the past decade or so the world has made significant progress toward slowing global warming and avoiding particularly extreme consequences from climate change. Not nearly enough progress, mind you, but significant nonetheless. Specifically, before the 2015 Paris Agreement, put the world on track to warm in the range of 3.6 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times. Scientists widely agree that if average global temperatures were to increase that much, it would be devastating socially and economically. Now, however, according to in 2022, the world is on track to heat between 2.1 degrees and 2.9 degrees by 2100. Thats still very dangerous. However, if the nations of the world act as aggressively as they promise, there remains a chance to hold that increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, according to scientists. Thats a big if, of course. It would require a tremendous amount of work by the nations of the world, on an extremely swift timetable over the next decade or two, to hit the lower targets for limiting global warming. However, since you asked about good news, lets keep it positive. Even if theres a lot of hard work to do, progress has been made on important fronts. Theres now even a movement, , that basically says, stop it with the gloomy takes and focus on things that will fix the problem. In the 1970s, caring for the environment wasnt such a partisan issue in the United States. Consider that back then Democrats and Republicans worked together to create the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency. But when it comes to tackling climate change today, that kind of cooperation seems hard to imagine. in 2022, for example, showed that 9 percent of registered Republican voters considered climate change to be very important to their vote in the congressional elections, compared with 68 percent of registered Democrat voters. That divide didnt come from nowhere. Fossil fuel companies and political interest groups have long to try to cast doubt on overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is happening and as a result of human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels. That message has been successful with many conservative politicians and voters. The science is clear: Even scientists for Exxon, the oil giant, made of how burning fossil fuels would warm the planet. Yet, for years, Exxon and others on climate science. Supporters of the fossil fuel industry have included the Koch family, billionaires based in Kansas who to groups that helped politicize the science of climate change over the years. President Donald J. Trump mocked climate science, withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement and that were designed to curb emissions. In the aftermath of the Trump presidency, something of a regrouping occurred among Republicans. Party leaders increasingly acknowledged the science, and some started policy platforms they said would address climate change. However, many of the proposals remained largely opposed to the solution that scientists say is needed: moving away from fossil fuel energy. The diversity of the worlds plant and animal life is under threat worldwide for many reasons development, overfishing, climate change. Scientists know how to solve the biodiversity crisis, at least theoretically. The problem is, the solutions would involve transformative changes in how people live. A 2022 laid out a path forward, starting with conservation of places that are home to high biodiversity, restoring some degraded areas and putting more of the planet under protection. The targets also include: Manage wild species so people can hunt and fish without depleting them. Make agriculture, fisheries and forestry sustainable by using practices that are friendly to biodiversity. Have companies and financial institutions monitor and disclose how their activities affect biodiversity. Cut in half. Eliminating subsidies for agricultural and industrial practices that harm biodiversity would be another significant tool. Doing so would not only reduce damage to species but also free up money for governments to spend on biodiversity protection. Many of these changes would require regulators or elected officials to act. But individuals can also do their part. Limiting meat and dairy intake, and consuming only sustainably managed fish are important steps because overfishing and agriculture related to livestock are major drivers of biodiversity loss. An analysis by Our World in Data, a scientific publication affiliated with the University of Oxford, found that agricultural land use could be , to one billion hectares from four billion hectares, if the world adopted a plant-based diet. (That would with climate change, too.) Great question. Weve written about airline offsets . Whats a carbon offset, exactly? Offsets seek to compensate for emissions for example, from passenger airplanes by funding emission reductions or carbon removal somewhere else, like by planting forests or supporting renewable energy projects. But a joint investigation by the Guardian and other outlets found that 90 percent of offsets approved by a leading certifier are . Weve written about how tree-planting is booming, and how that , depending on how its done. The New York Times Magazine explored how the task of planting the number of trees required to make a difference is . Dont get us wrong, there are lots of great reasons to plant trees. For example, trees can help reduce effects and . You may also be interested in reading about how tree species , and how people can help forests adapt. A parting thought on offsets: Be wary of greenwashing. Here are some tips on . President Bidens 2022 Inflation Reduction Act was one of the most consequential pieces of climate legislation in U.S. history. It invests nearly $370 billion over 10 years into clean energy, with the goal of pivoting the nations power plants, automobiles and heavy industry away from fossil fuels while jump-starting new markets for things like American-made batteries and hydrogen power. Along the way the Biden administration also vowed to take a chunk out of greenhouse gas emissions and reshape energy policy to make it more beneficial to low-income communities. A lot of that will take time. But some big measures took effect straightaway. Early on, the Department of Energy agreed to a conditional commitment of $700 million to develop a lithium mine in Nevada with the aim of building up the domestic supply of lithium for electric car batteries. The Environmental Protection Agency also announced the availability of $100 million in grants to assist communities disproportionately affected by industrial pollution and other hazards. The law provides looking to buy an electric vehicle or make their home more sustainable, including rebates for heat pumps, electric stoves, insulation and electric wiring. Through 2032, households can claim a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of certain energy-efficiency projects, like weatherization and home energy audits, up to $1,200 per year. New rebates for buying electric vehicles also went into effect early on, allowing for a $7,500 credit for a new electric car and up to $4,000 for a used one. To qualify, the automobiles must be assembled in North America. helps navigate the program. In December 2015, nearly every country in the world agreed to a global treaty aimed at reducing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases. It was a landmark achievement in global diplomacy. Some 195 nations signed on to its terms. The idea of the treaty, which is known as the Paris Agreement because it was negotiated in Paris, is that every country, rich or poor, will set goals to curb its emissions in an effort to avert the worst effects of climate change. Individual countries agreed to set timetables for cutting their emissions, and those schedules were to become more ambitious over time. Countries also pledged to work together to help finance global adaptation to the threats of climate change. The agreement set a target of limiting the average increase in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, compared with preindustrial temperatures, and to preferably hold the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Currently, global temperatures have risen about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century. And growing scientific evidence suggests that the stricter aim under the Paris accord limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is necessary to avoid a far greater likelihood of devastating consequences like widespread crop failures and the collapse of polar ice sheets. The Paris Agreement has a major shortcoming: It lacks an enforcement mechanism if a country falls short of its commitments. And found that, as of 2021, none of the nations with large-scale emissions had instituted climate pledges in keeping with the 1.5-degree target. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a United Nations body that produces a comprehensive overview of climate science every six to eight years. The I.P.C.C.s work is widely considered some of the most authoritative climate research available. Each report is thousands of pages long and written by hundreds of experts from around the globe. A summary of each reports key findings is approved, line-by-line, by nearly 200 world governments before it is released to the public. The most recent I.P.C.C. overview consisted of three reports that were published in 2021 and 2022. The first described scientists latest . The second looked at how climate change was and the natural world. The third laid out strategies that countries could pursue to . Since 1995, representatives from nearly every nation have gathered once a year to grapple with the threat that affects them all climate change. The event is known as take a deep breath the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Mercifully, that gets shortened to COP. Tens of thousands of people typically attend the event, including protesters, environmental groups, corporate executives, representatives of fossil fuel companies and, increasingly, celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio. The two-week event takes on a festival vibe, with delegates wearing native dress rubbing shoulders with government officials in business attire and activists dressed as polar bears. The goals vary from year to year, but, generally, nations try to reach consensus on ways to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. It can be a messy diplomatic scramble because every party must sign off on any final agreement, and nations often have widely different ideas about what those agreements should, or should not, say. In the closing days of the event, negotiations are all but guaranteed to stretch into the night and toward dawn. At 2015s COP, the Paris Agreement was born the pact among nations to try to limit the average increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial levels, and to ideally hold it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Since then, every COP has given the world a chance to measure its progress against that goal. Like the Olympics, COP changes its location for each event. In 2023, it will be the United Arab Emirates turn to host. Short answer: yes. More helpful answer: Technically, according to our calendar apps, Earth Day comes around once a year, on April 22, when people worldwide hold marches and parades, and issue calls to protect the environment. The notion of a special day to celebrate the environment was born more than a half-century ago in the era of acid rain, smog-blanketed cities, dying bald eagles and rivers bubbling with sludge. The basic idea: Humans have only one planet, so wed better clean up our act. A lot has changed since . Back then a main target was pollution. Climate change was not part of the discussion at that time, said Denis Hayes, an original Earth Day organizer, in this New York Times . Thats no longer the case, of course. Today global warming is a big focus of Earth Day events. The movement sparked historic changes in environmental policy in the United States. The Clean Air Act was one direct result. Heres a look at 10 of the in the decades since the first Earth Day and also the failures. The bald eagle has bounced back, for one thing. Still there are many new challenges. One last thing: Why was April 22 chosen? Turns out it was picked as a between spring break and university final exams, making it easier for students to participate. Since then, though, the date has taken on extra meaning. In 2016 the signing of the Paris Accord the agreement among nations to fight global warming was symbolically set for April 22. In general, scientists have no doubt that heat waves around the world are becoming hotter, more frequent and longer. In June 2023, temperatures were at their highest levels in decades. The spike reflects two factors that are shaping what forecasters say could be a for the planet: humans continued emissions of heat-trapping gases and the return, after three years, of the natural climate pattern known as El Nino. The 2018 National Climate Assessment, a major scientific report by 13 federal agencies, said that the number of hot days was increasing and that the frequency of heat waves in the United States had jumped from an average of two per year in the 1960s to six per year in the 2010s. The report also said that the season for heat waves had lengthened by 45 days since the 1960s. An important caveat: It takes careful scientific analysis to decide whether any single heat wave is attributable to climate change. But, broadly speaking, heat waves are worsening. Global warming also increases the likelihood of drought. Higher temperatures dry out soils and vegetation, making areas more prone to fires. Warming can also cause more precipitation to fall as rain than as snow, which can affect water availability for agriculture if a region relies, say, on snowmelt from mountains upstream for a steady supply of water in the spring or summer. Global warming increases the likelihood of drought. Higher temperatures dry out soils and vegetation more quickly. Warming can also cause more precipitation to fall as rain than snow which matters from a drought perspective because some places rely on snowmelt to provide water during the growing season. In addition, climate change can affect precipitation patterns around the world, making dry areas drier. In recent years, most of the western half of the United States has been in a drought, with conditions ranging from moderate to severe. In the Southwest, the drought has gone on for so long since 2000 that it is considered a megadrought. It constitutes the regions driest two decades in 1,200 years. There is no doubt: Wildfires in the Western United States are worsening. As weve , theyre growing larger, becoming more intense, killing a greater number of trees, spreading faster and reaching higher even . Climate change has its fingerprints all over it. The dryness, higher temperatures and longer fire season are all factors that make fires more extreme, according to . Its a global phenomenon. Continent-spanning have sent plumes of smoke to blanket cities and turn the skies pink-gray. The early 2023 Canadian fires triggered health concerns in Quebec and Philadelphia, Toronto and New York. Worldwide, in fact, worsening heat and dryness could lead to a 50 percent rise in devastating fires, according to a , or a global wildfire crisis. Its a health issue, too. Smoke from wildfires has worsened over the past decade, potentially in Western air quality that occurred thanks to the implementation of the Clean Air Act, research shows. If you want to see where fires are currently in the U.S., we . If you want to see where homes are at risk, we , too. Weve also written about how, despite fire risks, . Heres some information on for a fire and . How dangerous is wildfire smoke? Weve . Lastly, if youre interested in solutions, you might like to read about how a technique by can reduce the risk of catastrophic ones. More on other policy solutions toward the end of . Burning things whether its coal in a power plant, or trees in a wildfire can create a cocktail of pollution in the air we breathe. A standard way to measure it is the Air Quality Index. Heres what the index does, and how to interpret it. The A.Q.I. measures the density of five pollutants: , , , and . It was established by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States to help communicate the cleanliness of the air people are breathing. The scale runs from zero (very good) to 500 (very bad.) The simplest thing to remember is: If its under 100, then pollution is below the level known to cause adverse health effects. A reading of 100 or higher usually serves as a warning to people who have respiratory conditions. Children and some older adults might particularly want to take precautions, as well as people with heart and lung disease. A number above 200 is considered very unhealthy. Wildfires are a common cause of extended periods of unhealthy air. Fine particles in the soot, ash and dust can fill the air. When inhaled, these tiny specks can increase the risk of heart attacks, cancer and acute respiratory infections, particularly in children and older adults. The Air Quality Index tracks these fine particles with a measurement called PM 2.5, a reference to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. Some research suggests that wildfire smoke may be more toxic to the lungs than standard urban air pollution as it contains a distinct mix of particulates that activate inflammatory cells deep in the lungs while hindering other cells that can dampen the inflammatory response later. Standard N95 masks can help by filtering some of the particulate matter, but they wont block all wildfire pollutants. Greenhouse gas emissions arent just warming the atmosphere. Oceans are heating up, too, and thats making hurricanes stronger and wetter. The slightly good news: Theres little evidence that climate change is making hurricanes and typhoons more frequent. In fact, there might even be slightly fewer storms over time, due to shifting wind patterns. But of the hurricanes that do form, research suggests that more of them will be major storms rated Category 3 or higher on the hurricane-force scale. Thats because higher ocean temperatures provide more of the heat energy that fuels these storms as they move across the water. Warmer ocean water can also cause rapid intensification, which occurs when a storm becomes much more powerful over a very short period of a single day or even a few hours. A showed that rapid intensification had been increasing. Hurricanes are becoming wetter because warmer air holds more moisture that can then fall as rain. Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Houston in 2017, produced at least 15 percent more rain than it would have in a world without the human effects on climate. Climate change isnt just making the winter season warmer. It is also making it weirder. Winter temperatures have risen over the past several decades. According to a , the average winter temperatures have warmed in 97 percent of 238 locations in the United States since 1970. But dont put your snow gear away. Overall, the average snowfall is decreasing and instead, in many cases, falling as rain. However, at the same time the frequency of extreme snowstorms has risen across the eastern two-thirds of the contiguous United States over the past century, according to the . Heres why. Air that is warmer can hold more water vapor. So as winter temperatures get warmer, the storms have more available water vapor and then can produce more snow. So, while snow across the course of the winter may seem more sparse, the single snowstorms will be more intense, creating more disruption to daily life. And while the average minimum temperatures continue to rise, intense cold spells will undoubtedly exist. According to , the warming of the Arctic, enhanced by climate change, weakens the polar vortex a strong band of winds in the stratosphere surrounding the North Pole knocking it out of kilter and allowing colder Arctic air to spill south into the U.S., Europe and Asia. This data is specific to the United States, but researchers say similar effects are being seen in other parts of the world. While various factors (like local temperature increases, local geography and weather patterns) can change the effects at any given location, seasonal weather patterns work on the same general principles in other parts of the world. And with a large portion of the worlds population living across the mid-latitudes, similar to the United States, people living elsewhere will likely see similar instances of weird winter weather. Global warming has the potential to worsen flooding because warmer air can hold more water, which can then fall as rain. However, flooding is a complex phenomenon with many contributing causes. Floods can be affected by a range of factors, including land development (are there too many paved roads or parking lots worsening runoff?) and ground conditions. If the ground is already saturated with water from one storm, it cant absorb more from another. And in a prolonged drought, soils dry out, harden and become less permeable, so less of the water from a heavy rain soaks in. For reasons like these, linking any single flood to global warming requires extensive scientific analysis. That said, the potential for heavier rainfall driven by climate change is an increasingly important part of the mix. For example, scientists have determined that the record rainfall that led to devastating floods in Germany and Belgium in the summer of 2021 was made much more likely by global warming. The United States and other parts of the world have seen increases in the frequency of intense rain events. That is likely to continue as warming progresses. The most important reason for this is that warmer air holds more moisture for clouds to release as rain. In California and the Pacific Coast, for instance, storms known as atmospheric rivers have for centuries provided the region with much of its water supplies. But scientists say global warming is now of powerful, weekslong storm sequences that cause flooding and landslides. Scientific analysis can estimate how much climate change worsened any particular downpour. These attribution studies, as they are called, compare two sets of computer simulations of the same storm. One set is staged in a hypothetical world in which there have been no greenhouse gas emissions and thus no global warming. The second simulates the world we live in, complete with global warming. Scientists have not been able to determine whether there is a link between warming and the frequency or strength of tornadoes. Thats because tornadoes are relatively small, short-lived weather events, making them hard to incorporate into scientists computer models of the global climate. Researchers do say that tornadoes have become more likely to occur in clusters over the past few decades there might be fewer days each year with tornadoes, but on each of those days, there are more tornadoes. Other research has found that the region of the United States known as Tornado Alley, where most tornadoes occur, seems to be shifting eastward. The timing of tornado seasons is also becoming more unpredictable, researchers have found, with more early and late starts compared with decades ago. However, the reason for this is unclear. Cryptocurrencies can be astonishingly energy-intensive. This is because of their underlying technology, known as blockchain, which weve . Researchers at Cambridge University have said that the process of creating and maintaining Bitcoin, for example, can consume as much electricity as do. That process is known as mining, and it usually takes place in warehouses stacked with computers. Mining has also pushed up electricity prices for homeowners and small businesses. Recognizing the problem, some miners of Bitcoin have tried to as more eco-friendly. Some digital currencies are considered to be less energy-intensive than others. Etherium, for example, to a more energy-efficient infrastructure in 2022. But no matter. The climate impact of running all these computers has proven significant. In several places, including New York State, crypto companies have reopened once to power their activities, keeping older and dirtier plants pumping out greenhouse gases. Transportation is the single biggest source of emissions in the United States, and the transition to electric vehicles is widely viewed as a key part of the solution. Broadly speaking, modern electric cars generate significantly fewer than most cars powered by combustion engines. But the way we produce the electricity that charges up those cars still needs to get cleaner before electric vehicles are truly emissions-free: Coal-burning power plants obviously still generate greenhouse gases. One way to compare the climate effects of various electric and gasoline vehicles is through developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It incorporates the major variables, including the emissions involved in manufacturing the car itself and in producing the fuel, whether gas or electricity, that powers it. If you assume electric vehicles are drawing their power from the average grid in the United States, which most often includes a mix of fossil fuel and renewable power plants, then those cars typically produce less than half the emissions of a similarly-sized, gas-powered car. Electric cars are usually more emissions-intensive to manufacture because of their batteries. But over time they more than make up for that because electric motors are more efficient than traditional internal combustion engines. And electric vehicles should get cleaner as utilities continue to close coal-fired power plants. Electric vehicles can have other costs, too. The lithium-ion cells that power most electric vehicles require significant mining including for lithium, cobalt and other rare earth metals that can come with environmental or human rights concerns. But, of course, drilling for oil has serious environmental effects of its own. Key to the sustainability of electric cars will also be the . One last thought before you go: It might sound obvious, but one way to reduce the negative effects of both gas and electric cars would be to reduce dependence on driving, perhaps by focusing on better public transit systems. Buying an electric car can be exciting and bewildering. Thats a line from The Timess guide to buying an electric vehicle, and it couldnt be truer. walks through the main considerations when trying to decide whats the right choice. Will it be primary transportation, or a second car? How and where will it be charged? For readers in the United States, weve also tax breaks, other things from the federal climate policies for a variety of purchases including electric cars, which can help defray the cost a bit. Because electric cars are expensive, and that can be a big barrier to many buyers. The Times has reported in detail about how will be critical to the sustainability of electric vehicles. Our writers have also covered the environmental cost of battery production for example, the , which is critical for modern batteries. At the same time, auto makers and battery producers are the way these huge batteries are built because they are aware of the business advantages that improved technologies would give them. In addition, elsewhere in this F.A.Q. weve written a separate entry, If the goal is to slash greenhouse gas emissions by burning far less fossil fuel and it is then many of the technologies are already well developed. Wind turbines, solar panels, hydro plants and nuclear reactors all generate electricity while producing essentially no carbon dioxide. Solar and wind costs have fallen drastically in recent years, and the technologies are time-tested. For those plants that still burn fossil fuel, there are so-called carbon capture technologies to keep planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, although these have yet to be widely deployed. The basic process involves removing the carbon dioxide that is produced when the fuel is burned and storing it permanently underground. Battery-powered cars and buses are becoming more common, and large trucks are starting to be electrified as well. Many rail networks and transit systems already run on electricity. As power generation moves away from burning coal, and produces fewer emissions, these modes of transportation will become correspondingly cleaner. But sharply cutting emissions from aviation and maritime shipping is more difficult. Planes and ships are becoming more energy-efficient, but, as it stands, even the best batteries dont provide enough electricity for their weight to power large planes or cargo ships. Geoengineering refers to deliberately intervening in the climate to reduce global warming by, say, releasing chemicals into the sky to reflect some sunlight. The idea is that those kinds of techniques might buy the world time to eliminate the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet. The proposals generally fall into two categories. One is carbon dioxide removal, which would involve pulling some of the gas from the atmosphere and storing it so that it doesnt return. While a few companies have made machines for this purpose, and are now removing relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide, many scientists and policymakers think the process is too slow, requiring too many expensive, energy-gobbling machines, to be practical. The other category is solar radiation management, which would aim to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earths surface. Few people consider solar radiation management to be benign, and it comes with a lot of opposition. The most widely discussed method would use airplanes or other means to inject a chemical such as sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, where it would form aerosol particles and reflect some sunlight. This would mimic what happens in a huge volcanic eruption. Mount Pinatubo sent so much sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere when it erupted in 1991 that it cooled the planet by more than half a degree Fahrenheit for more than a year. The method would result in a quick fix for warming, and it wouldnt necessarily be that expensive. But it would do nothing about issues like the increasing acidification of the oceans as carbon dioxide is absorbed into the water, a process that has dire consequences for sea life. Opponents have other concerns as well, including about the possibility of unintended consequences: drier parts of the world turning wetter, for instance, and vice versa. Still, a number of institutions, including the National Academy of Sciences, into the idea, given how much the risks of climate change are increasing. There is no doubt that nuclear fusion is on the horizon. The problem is its been on the horizon for a long time. Scientists first realized nearly a century ago that it might be possible to mimic the force that powers the sun fuse two small atoms at enormous temperatures and pressures to release a huge amount of energy. (Fusion is different from fission, the basis for current nuclear power plants, in which a much larger atom is split to release energy.) Uncontrolled fusion was achieved in 1952 with the detonation of the first hydrogen bomb. To be useful as an energy source, though, fusion must be controlled, and that has proven tremendously difficult. If the released energy could be harnessed, fusion would have many potential advantages over fission. The fuel is more abundant, the process holds far less risk of a radioactive accident and the technology produces less hazardous radioactive waste. The obstacles are great. Until late 2022, no fusion experiment had ever achieved a very basic measure of success: generating more energy than it consumed. That was finally accomplished by a long-running experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which uses several hundred laser beams to implode a tiny capsule containing two isotopes of hydrogen. That success was rightly hailed. But creating fusion for an instant or two is a far cry from the continuous fusion needed to generate electricity. It will most likely take decades to commercialize either laser-initiated fusion or the other major fusion technology, which involves confining a high-temperature cloud of ionized atoms through powerful electromagnets in a doughnut-shaped device called a tokamak. Some companies are working on smaller fusion reactors that they claim might lead to the development of a commercial power plant within about a decade. But, for now, fusion power remains on the distant horizon. The terms global warming and climate change are often used interchangeably. But they can mean different, though related, things. Global warming refers to how much hotter the world has become since the late 19th century as a result of emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. Most of the emissions have come from the burning of fossil fuels, which became widespread as much of the world industrialized. These gases trap some of the heat that radiates after sunlight strikes the Earths surface, making the atmosphere warmer. Already, the atmosphere is about 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was in the late 1800s. Climate change is a broader term. Higher temperatures are one element of the worlds changing climate, but there are others that have resulted indirectly from the warming. Among these are changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns and in how much moisture the atmosphere can hold. Certain gases in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide and methane that trap some of the heat radiated from the Earths surface are known as greenhouse gases. The name comes from what happens in a greenhouse: Sunlight passes through the transparent roof and walls, is absorbed by whats inside the greenhouse, and is then re-emitted as heat. But that heat energy has longer wavelengths than sunlight, so it cant escape back through the roof and walls. Thats why the inside of a greenhouse warms up when sunlight hits it. In Earths atmosphere, greenhouse gases act a little differently, but the effect is the same. They absorb energy at certain wavelengths that correspond to those of the heat energy radiating from Earth. The gas molecules then re-radiate this heat energy, and while some heads off into space, much of it remains in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. Its the primary waste gas produced by the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil. Carbon dioxide makes up about four-fifths of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities. Methane, from oil and gas production and other sources, is the second most prevalent. It has a greater heat-trapping capacity than carbon dioxide, but persists in the atmosphere for a shorter time. Nitrous oxide is the next most common greenhouse gas. Then there are a slew of others, in very small concentrations, with high heat-trapping capacity, including hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas as well. And unlike the others mentioned here, it changes from gas to liquid, or vice versa, depending on the temperature of the atmosphere. So as the atmosphere heats up, the concentration of water vapor increases, which amplifies the warming. (Oxygen and nitrogen, which together make up 99 percent of the atmosphere, absorb only shorter-wavelength energy, so they are not greenhouse gases.) Emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and other activities have warmed the world by about 1.2 degrees Celsius, or 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the late 19th century. If you want to understand that better, go to the science section on this page. We explain how we know climate change is happening, and how we know humans are to blame. Sustainable sure sounds good, and claims of sustainability are ubiquitous. The problem is that the term can be interpreted in many ways, and its often not clear what a company or product is claiming. Consider the Sustainability On-the-Go gift box, a real product that contains wooden eating utensils and a tumbler wrapped in bamboo, or the toilet paper stand that encourages users to use less by dispensing one sheet at a time (another real product). Without independent verification and an agreed-upon definition, the term is all but meaningless. Worse, it can backfire, as in the case of , which have proliferated because they have an image as being more sustainable than, say, plastic disposable ones. But organic cotton bags must be reused 20,000 times for them to have a similar environmental impact as their thin plastic counterparts, . Its not just about consumer goods. Pick your industry airlines, restaurants, banks, fossil fuel companies, you name it and youll find sustainability being marketed, often with little to back up the claims. Is there a right way to do it? The United Nations defines sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Thats the opposite of a marketing buzzword. In fact, its a call for bringing humans into balance with the planet and its resources. By that definition, true sustainability requires transformative and societies. This is one of those important climate concepts that has been given a jargon-y name. Scientists have warned that global warming until humanity reaches net zero emissions that is, the point at which we are no longer increasing the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Getting to zero emissions would require stopping every single activity that releases greenhouse gases, but that would be very tough to do. So net zero refers to a situation in which some greenhouse gases are still being released, but theyre offset by other activities like planting more trees to pull carbon dioxide out of the air. So the net effect is zero emissions. Net zero. The term is everywhere. In recent years, a growing number of countries and businesses have been making pledges to be net zero by various dates. The United States and China both have net-zero promises. So do Amazon and Apple. In practice, the concept can be abused since its not always clear that the offsetting action the trees being planted or the technologies being promised to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are or even technically feasible within the time frames being discussed. And those offsets can be contentious. Trees can absorb carbon dioxide, of course, but they can also burn in wildfires, releasing carbon dioxide. Carbon-removal technology is still in its infancy. Critics worry that leaders and businesses may be using the uncertain promise of such offsets in the future to avoid making deeper cuts in their emissions today. And many corporate net-zero pledges have asterisks. Some companies, for instance, have pledged to clean up their offices but not their broader supply chains. At the same time, many countries net-zero pledges are vague and not yet backed by concrete policies to curb emissions as drastically as would be needed. Thats true of both the United States and China. Say you have a nice steak dinner. You might know that cows belch copious amounts of methane, a fact that helps make ranching a sizable source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. But that isnt all: Those glasses of wine, the bottled water for the table and the cheesecake for dessert all generated emissions when they were produced and when they were transported to the restaurant by train, truck or airplane. Those emissions can be described as your dinners carbon footprint, a measure of its contribution to global warming. Similarly, a tally of emissions related to everything in your life heating your home, driving to and from work, flying somewhere for the holidays defines your households carbon footprint. Here, carbon refers not only to carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, but also to all of the greenhouse gases that the relevant activities might generate. Researchers developed the idea of a carbon footprint in the 1990s as a research tool. It wasnt invented by an oil company, as some have suggested. However, critics say the fossil fuel industry has embraced the idea as a way to place some of the responsibility for the climate crisis on consumers, shifting attention away from the role of the energy industry or the need for wider structural changes, including a much faster transition to cleaner energy sources. A carbon footprint is a useful concept for comparing the climate consequences of various human activities. It allows us to see, for instance, that the carbon footprint of a typical American is many times that of a person who lives in a poorer country. It also enables examination of companies, industries and even entire nations. And, yes, individual actions matter. Frequent air travel, for example, comes with a huge carbon footprint. So it can help to tread more lightly. Mitigation is a term used by both climate scientists and disaster experts but for completely different scenarios. Which can be confusing. First, climate change. Here, mitigation refers to anything that reduces emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gasses. Think the shift from coal-burning power plants to wind and solar power generation, or the shift to electric cars or to more efficient home appliances like heat pumps and induction stoves. Among disaster experts and people who deal with emergencies floods, storms, wildfires mitigation means something else entirely. They use it to talk about protecting people against the effects of storms. (Confusingly, this is what climate experts sometimes refer to as adaptation.) One way to know what sort of mitigation is being discussed is to listen for more precise phrases like disaster mitigation or hazard mitigation. Adaptation is the counterpart to mitigation. And lets just say it: None of this language is user-friendly. But experts throw these words around, so we deal with it. Adaptation refers to steps aimed at blunting the current consequences of climate change intensifying storms, wildfires, heat waves and preparing for what happens as they worsen over time. Some good examples are adjusting how and where we build houses and roads; helping people move away from places vulnerable to flooding or wildfires; or planting different kinds of crops as weather patterns change. Adaptation is sometimes used interchangeably with resilience, but the terms have important differences. Resilience means maintaining a way of life, but with better protection. Adaptation means changing a way of life that is becoming too hard to sustain. Think of using a seawall to protect a beach town from hurricanes (resilience) versus helping people move somewhere else (adaptation). Adaptation used to be a dirty word among environmentalists, who viewed the notion as defeatist an admission of the failure to cut emissions or an invitation not to try. But, as the effects of climate change have worsened, that criticism has faded. The need to adapt, while still trying to cut emissions, has become indisputable. But the term still carries an element of privilege, especially because poorer communities and nations have far less ability to adapt than wealthier people do. The most straightforward way to keep carbon out of the atmosphere is to not burn fossil fuels. But since oil, gas and coal are such entrenched features of modern economies, engineers are exploring strategies to capture or remove the carbon dioxide those fuels produce. Carbon capture generally refers to any technology that can trap the carbon dioxide coming out of a factory or power plant before it escapes into the atmosphere and helps warm the planet. There are worldwide that do this. Some use chemical solvents that bind to and absorb carbon dioxide from a plants exhaust, allowing the gas to be compressed and shipped off in a pipeline. Once captured, the carbon dioxide can be permanently buried underground, where it will no longer act as a greenhouse gas warming the world. More contentiously, some energy companies have used captured carbon dioxide in what is called : injecting the gas into depleted oil wells to dislodge deposits of crude oil that are otherwise hard to reach. Critics say this runs counter to the whole point of carbon capture, since the technology is being used to extract more oil, which will be burned, producing more carbon dioxide. Some energy companies, however, say the process can be helpful for helping to fund early carbon capture projects. Carbon removal is slightly different from carbon capture it generally refers to pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere after it has been emitted. Trees can do this naturally. And expanding forest cover can be a form of carbon removal, although theres only so much land to go around and theres always the risk that trees will burn in wildfires, releasing the carbon dioxide theyd stored. Recently, many companies have been experimenting with high-tech approaches to carbon removal, such as direct-air capture. A company called Climeworks is , using giant fans and filters to pull carbon dioxide from the sky, allowing it to be pumped underground and locked away permanently. This kind of carbon removal is still in its early stages and faces many obstacles, including extremely high costs to make it work. Some scientists, though, say it may be necessary in order for the world to achieve the equivalent of zero emissions, or for there to be a large-scale effort to reverse at least some of the global warming that humans have caused. Some economists have long argued that carbon pricing is an elegant way to tackle climate change: Just give companies and consumers a financial incentive to clean up their acts by charging them for the greenhouse gas emissions they produce. In practice, that gets complicated. There are two main ways to impose carbon pricing. The simplest is a carbon tax, which is typically a flat tax levied on oil, gas or coal. Countries like Canada and Sweden have carbon taxes. However, these taxes sometimes come with exemptions and loopholes. And politicians are often reluctant to set a carbon tax high enough to have a significant effect on behavior, because they fear a backlash from voters. Theres also a cap-and-trade system, which typically works something like this: A government sets a cap on overall emissions and steadily tightens that cap over time. Companies receive permits that allow them to release limited emissions. But polluters have an added incentive to cut emissions because unused permits can be traded at a profit. And, as emissions caps tighten, those prices can rise. Both California and the European Union have versions of cap-and-trade systems, although it can be tricky to design these programs so that they work well. Editing and production by Sarah Graham, Rebecca Lieberman, Claire ONeill, Mike Peed, Jesse Pesta and Amelia Pisapia. Research and development contributions by Jack Cook. Illustration by Maria Chimishkyan. Reporting contributed by Manuela Andreoni, Maggie Astor, Winston Choi-Schagrin, Catrin Einhorn, Christopher Flavelle, Henry Fountain, Lisa Friedman, Adeel Hassan, Judson Jones, Brad Plumer, Julia Rosen, Somini Sengupta, Hiroko Tabuchi and Raymond Zhong. In 2022 we what they wanted to know about climate change. Their responses helped guide this resource, which was written and edited by the climate desk at The New York Times. The search function at the top of the page uses a combination of machine learning and human editing to understand questions and suggest relevant answers. The was developed by The New York Times Research and Development team. If we dont have an answer to a question you ask, the system takes note so that we can consider adding it. You can also tell us what you want to know using this . Produced by Jack Cook, Sarah Graham, Rebecca Lieberman, Claire ONeill, Mike Peed, Jesse Pesta and Amelia Pisapia.