Climate change is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests. Fossil fuels release greenhouse gases which form a “blanket” over the Earth, preventing heat from sunlight from escaping. This process of trapped gases heating the planet, the greenhouse effect, has been known since the 19th century. With the increased use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, global warming has accelerated.

Other explanations of climate change such as changes in solar intensity, the planet’s orbital motion, and volcanic activity have been studied and do not explain the present warming. However, greenhouse gases have a particular “fingerprint” such as higher latitude warming, more warming at night, etc. which fits the present warming behavior perfectly. It is the only explanation which does.

Effects of climate change vary somewhat depending on location. For example, many hot regions are becoming hotter and drier, while the polar regions have warmed substantially more than mid-latitude regions. Seas are rising worldwide due to melting and the expansion of ocean water as it heats, affecting coastal infrastructure everywhere. Some regions are seeing more frequent and more intense wildfires. More ocean evaporation from heating is causing heavier rainfall and more flooding in many regions and at the same time more droughts as rain falls less often, and higher temperatures evaporate more moisture from the soil.

In New York State, average temperatures have increased about 3 degrees F, and winter night temperatures have been even higher.  Both the number of days above 90 degrees and the duration of temperature extremes are increasing. The number of intense rainfalls, defined as more than 1 inch over 24 hours, has risen dramatically over the past 30 years, with greater flooding effects. The Hudson River, connected to the ocean, has risen 15 inches in the last 100 years, causing more damage during flooding events and threatening water supplies. The results of warming can be seen in the number of species that have migrated from warmer climates to our region. Warming temperatures allow certain vectors, such as mosquitoes to migrate here from warmer climates.

It’s clear that immediate action is required to put the brakes on climate change.

Dr. William Makofske, Professor Emeritus of Physics (Ramapo College of NJ)