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Why does climate change?

Last updated 21 June 2005
Originally answered 18 April 2000

Full Question

Why does climate change?

Answer

Climate fluctuations are the result of complex interactions of a number of factors, including natural changes such as variations in the Earth’s orbit (known as Milankovitch theory), volcanic eruptions, fluctuations in solar energy and anthropogenic (human-caused) influences, such as the burning of fossil fuels, which releases so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Climate changes can occur over periods as short as a year or as long as several thousand years. For more information, take a look at the following resources:


The above entry is posted under the following topic(s): Global Change ScienceClimate Variability and Change

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Where is information on U.S. energy demand and related greenhouse gas emissions?

Last updated 16 June 2005
Originally answered 18 June 2004

Full Question

Where can I find information on U.S. energy demand and related greenhouse gas emissions?

Answer

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Annual Energy Review 2003 (2004) is a good basic source of information on U.S. energy demand.  See especially the chapters on Energy Consumption by Sector and Environmental Indicators.  For more detailed data on energy-related emissions, see the EIA's Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States, 2003 [PDF] (published in 2004); or the Environmental Protection Agency's Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2003 (April 2005).


The above entry is posted under the following topic(s): Mitigation of Climate ChangeEnergy End-Use and InfrastructureEmissions data and trends

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How can the average citizen help science document the impact of climate change on wildlife?

Last updated 02 November 2004
Originally answered 2 November 2004

Full Question

How can the average citizen help science document the impact of climate change on wildlife? Are there any specific monitoring projects that we can help with?

Answer

Good question. Here are some possibilities. While many of these are not exclusively or specifically focused on the impacts of climate change, they provide information that is useful in documenting impacts (and in understanding and anticipating potential future impacts). I include opportunities in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. For additional opportunities, search the Web, contact natural history museums, science centers, wildlife organizations, etc.

Project Feederwatch. Operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership with the National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada, and Canadian Nature Federation. "Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each species they see at their feeders from November through early April. FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance."

Global Change Expeditions organized by the Earthwatch Institute, an organization that "engages people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment."

Frogwatch USA. Long-term frog and toad monitoring program managed by the National Wildlife Federation in partnership with the United States Geological Survey. Through the program, volunteers can monitor frogs and toads and report their observations.

Audubon Society:

  • Christmas Bird Count. More than 50,000 observers participate each year in this all-day census of early-winter bird populations. The results of their efforts are compiled into the longest running database in ornithology, representing over a century of unbroken data on trends of early-winter bird populations across the Americas. Simply put, the Christmas Bird Count, or "CBC", is citizen science in action."
  • The Great Backyard Bird Count. "The data that you collect will be combined with Christmas Bird Count and Project FeederWatch data to give us an immense picture of our winter birds."

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Citizen Science . "From backyards and city streets to remote forests, anyone who counts birds can contribute to the Lab's research. Data from the projects described below are used to monitor bird populations and outline conservation efforts. It's easy and fun--join us!".

Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project. "a citizen science project involving volunteers from across the United States and Canada in monarch research. It was developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota to collect long-term data on larval monarch populations and milkweed habitat. The overarching goal of the project is to better understand how and why monarch populations vary in time and space, with a focus on monarch distribution and abundance during the breeding season in North America."

Nature and Wildlife Volunteers (Canada). Opportunities sponsored by Environment Canada.

Climate Watch (Canada). From Hinterland Who’s Who, sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Canadian Wildlife Service, who have "joined forces to provide every Canadian with an opportunity to learn about Canadian wildlife and share ideas on how to make a difference in the classroom and community." In this project, "students participate in a national survey of biological indicators of climate change by gathering data on local plants and animals."

NatureWatch (Canada) . is a suite of community based or "citizen science" monitoring programs that are administered through a partnership between the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network, the Canadian Nature Federation, and the University of Guelph. Includes:

  • FrogWatch . "Tracking changes in the geographic range, the beginning and ending of the calling season, and the population of frogs and toads in Canada can help us understand changes occurring in the environment. The most effective way to track changes in frog and toad populations is to listen for their calls during mating season in the springtime."
  • PlantWatch . "The PlantWatch program enables "citizen scientists" to get involved by recording flowering times for selected plant species and reporting these dates to researchers through the Internet or by mail. When you submit your data electronically, it's added instantly to Web maps showing bloom dates across Canada, so your observations make a difference right away! "
  • WormWatch. "WormWatch is an accepted program for biodiversity monitoring program by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technology and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), the advisory body to the Conference of the Parties for the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is also the `Canadian Contribution to the UNESCO Program on Man and the Biosphere'."

Citizen Science (Canada). "An Online Community for People Involved in Monitoring."

UK Phenology Network. Sponsored by the Woodland Trust and the Center for Ecology and Hydrology (of the U.K. Natural Environment Research Council). As the network's Web site explains, is "the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena especially in relation to climate." Citizens can participate by noting certain events (such as when a tree's first leaf fully opens in the Spring) and transmitting their observations to the network.


The above entry is posted under the following topic(s): Global Change ScienceEcosystemsImpacts, Adaptation, VulnerabilityEcosystems

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What is global change?

Last updated 01 November 2004
Originally answered 1 November 2004

Full Question

What is the definition of “global change?”

Answer

According to the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990, global change is defined as:

“Changes in the global environment (including alterations in climate, land productivity, oceans or other water resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems) that may alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life.”

The U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 is the public law that established the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and the U.S. Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO).


The above entry is posted under the following topic(s): Global Change: General

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What can individuals do to slow climate change?

Last updated 22 June 2004
Originally answered 19 April 2000

Full Question

What can individuals do to slow climate change?

Answer

As a first step, you can quantify your own energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).  This will help you identify the most promising opportunities for reducing emissions.  There are several Web sites that can help you do that, most of which are conveniently listed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Calculators Web site. 

Alternatively, you can start with national emissions data and compute per capita or per household emissions. There are relatively recent emissions data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration's Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2003 and from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2003. Should you wish to calculate per capita or per household emissions from those reports, note that in 2000 there were 281.4 million people and 105.5 households in the U.S.

For estimates of household emissions, there are other sources of information that use older data -- but that present it in a more useful manner in the context of our question.  For example, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) provides information on Average Greenhouse Gas Emissions per U.S. Household using 1998 data.

There is a lot of information available on ways individuals and households can slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Many of the online "calculators" mentioned above include practical suggestions.  Here are a few other Web sites with accurate and useful information:

 


The above entry is posted under the following topic(s): Mitigation of Climate ChangeEnergy End-Use and InfrastructureTransportationBuildingsOther

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