The Pentagon recently advised the US government that the biggest threat to America was climate change, not terrorism! With general consensus that the planet is getting hotter, the question has now become 'how hot, how soon, and with what consequences?' Lucy Andrew reports.
Most climate scientists now believe global warming is a direct result of burning fossil fuels for energy and transport. Image: Reuters
If you're like most people, when you listen to the evening weather report you think of it as more of a general guide rather than absolute fact. And if you think how hard it is to predict tomorrow or next week's weather, imagine being a climate scientist who's trying to predict the weather for the next decade or century.
Given the difficulties of long range weather forecasting, it's not surprising that there is disagreement in the scientific community when it comes to global warming. Some scientists don't believe there is enough evidence to suggest that global warming is happening, while others accept the Earth is getting hotter but attribute the temperature rise to natural phenomenon that is independent of human activities. However, the majority of climate scientists now agree that global warming is happening and it is caused by the human activity of burning fossil fuels for energy and transport.
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Climate change is not new. A long term look at the Earth's climate over millions of years reveals a history of variation. The Earth has experienced hot, steamy periods and long cold Ice Ages. What is new is the speed at which we are heating up the planet.
In the last 100 years the temperature has increased by 0.6 degrees C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts the planet will continue to warm by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C by 2100 and the impacts will spread far and wide.
Hot and cold
Global warming may bring relief to places like Peru where in 2002 freak cold temperatures killed 59 people. Image: Reuters
Global warming implies that the whole Earth will simply get hotter, but it's more complex than that, with some places expected to cool down.
Climate change involves changes in temperature, rainfall, ocean currents, melting ice and anything and everything to do with the earth's climate. These changes will be different for everyone - depending on where you live, your livelihood and you and your country's ability to cope with the changes.
People living at high latitudes may benefit from global warming, warmer weather may boost agriculture and less harsh winters will be easier to live through.